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Friday, August 14, 2015

S.E.E. — Search, Evaluate, Emphasize

Following up on last week’s blog post, where I suggested that your photos would benefit by being closer to your subject, let’s move on this week to a related subject — what to photograph.

What to photograph? Often, the choice is clear — it’s a “who”, not a “what” — it’s your child blowing out her birthday candles. But even if you know ahead of time what the who or the what is, the following advice will apply.

I don’t know where I heard it put this way — “S.E.E.” — but it is sage advice put into a memorable mnemonic, an approach that I have adhered to for many years, whether consciously or intuitively:

  • Search
  • Evaluate
  • Emphasize

Let’s take it step by step.


One of the main reasons I love photography is that it gets me out of my brain — when I wander through life’s pathways, instead of only thinking, I am looking with a camera in hand — or, as this first of the three steps says, I am searching. For example, a walk to town becomes a search instead of a head-down mulling session.

So, do as I do:

  • hold your camera
  • walk about (always the best way to photographically travel), and
  • search

OK. You’ve found something! Now what? Quickly take a picture and move on? Sometimes, yes — if it’s a fleeting moment. If so, don’t even worry about blur and focus. Capture the moment before it is gone! But if not fleeting, take time to


Ask yourself: what was it that caught my eye? Was it the color of the child’s hair? Was it the shape of the tree branch? Was it the juxtaposition of the vase and the apple? Once you’ve answered that — evaluated it — you can move on to the third step:


Here’s where you will learn that a camera sees things differently than a human does. First off, when we look at something, we are very good at blocking out extraneous objects. This is an important vestige of the most ancient part of our brain (our “reptilian brain”) — focusing on what’s moving, what might be food, what might be a predator; nothing else matters.

But the camera doesn’t care about food or predators — it treats them just like it does asphalt. It is impartial. That’s why often your photograph doesn’t meet your expectations: you saw the child’s hair; the camera also saw the TV in the background. You saw the tree branch; the camera also saw the electric cables.

So, emphasize by moving yourself (with your camera of course) to remove those distracting objects.

You can also emphasize by working with light: is there an angle where the light falls better on what you want to emphasize?

You can also emphasize by working with the background or foreground: is there an angle where they can emphasize? A lighter background area that makes your child’s ringlets stand out?

And, as noted in last week’s blog post, getting closer to what caught your eye makes a world of difference. Don’t be shy!

And because “film is free” these days, don’t simply click the shutter and move on. Unless you are a really good shooter (one in a million), you probably won’t get what you were “seeing” with your reptilian brain, which lacks emotion and understanding (which is the essence of good photography).

Instead, take a moment. Step back. Capture. Step around. Capture again.

Try it this weekend. Let me know how things work out. Happy shooting! (With your camera.)