Seeing is Everything

When I worked in commercial photography, I used to love to assist women photographers. Photography — being an art form that required operating different machinery — usually attracted a lot of men; and women as fashion photographers were not very common. I loved working for women because their sensibilities were so different.

There were two photographers whom I was privileged to assist multiple times. One was Deborah Turberville who shot beautiful moody images for Vogue. The other’s name I won’t mention because she was told of a remark I made that was supposed to be a compliment and totally took it the wrong way and threatened me. So, I’ll compliment her again, but she will remain nameless.

The second photographer was not interested in the details of the lighting or the exposure. We would set up the lights and take meter readings. She was very concerned about how the light looked in the Polaroids and would have us adjust it to her liking.

Some assistants would claim that they did all her lighting as a kind put down. However, they would do it under her direction. She didn’t care about the technicalities — she had us to take care of that. She was only interested in her vision.


I’ve never been interested in giving workshops because I’m not interested in teaching techniques. Almost all the information to accomplish anything photographically is out there, and most things you can find for free online or in books. I’m more interested in teaching vision, or seeing.

And, vision or seeing is something that is unique to you. I can’t tell you what your vision is. I can only tell you what works for me.

Seeing for me requires a quiet mind. The more mental chatter, the less we’re able to see what’s in front of us. By quiet mind I mean no distractions — like “I want to take this kind of image,” or “I need this for my portfolio.” Seeing means having as few preconceptions and desires as possible. When I’m out with a camera, I’m just focused on what’s in front of me and around me. I react to my environment and allow myself to be moved by it.

When I am moved by something I might try to photograph it. Here’s only where technique comes in — technique and past experience. I might have tried photos like this before and failed. Maybe I’ve learned from that failure, to photograph it differently. I’ll use my past experience and technical knowledge to try to make a beautiful photograph. But before the technique and past experience, I have to see.

Seeing is everything. Everything else can be learned.

~ by danbaumbach on October 30, 2012.

2 Responses to “Seeing is Everything”

  1. I feel that photographers who keep in mind the ideas in your second-to-last paragraph, have a depth and feeling in their work that those without lack. I like the light and dark with fresh snow on the first image. Well seen.

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