A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing

Hanoi, 2017

Dear friend,

To me, photography is all about a meditation on seeing. Of perceiving the world more wholly, more fully.


Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

First of all, you gotta look.

When we are children, we have curious eyes. When we get older, our eyes become jaded and dulled.

Hanoi, 2017

Some ideas:

Too much visual stimuli can dull our visual cortex:

Saigon, 2017

Too many blinking lights, Transformers movies with 3-second cut scenes, and constant scrolling through social media is harmful to us. The more ‘fatigue’ we get from visual stimuli, we need MORE AND MORE visual stimulus to interest our eyes. We seek shinier shit, more blinky shit, and more fast-cuts in films and movies and entertainment. Look at any kid playing a ‘screen tapping’ phone game— they cannot pay attention, or let their eyes wander.

Stop looking at blinky shit.

Hanoi, 2017 #cindyproject

Therefore, to SEE more — give your eyes a rest.

Trust me, I’m totally guilty of this. I often watch movies at 2x speed in VLC, because I get bored easily. I love watching films that are high-action, lots of explosions, and a lot of adrenaline for my eyeballs.

Hanoi, 2017

To SEE more as a photographer, or to SEE more photo opportunities, turn off your phone. Or put it to airplane mode.

Give your eyes a break.

Hanoi, 2017

Apparently our minds and brains are the most active when we are doing nothing.

Consider, if we were in the savanna. We are bored, sitting in the middle of a plain. Our senses are sharpened. We can hear the rustle in the bush (it might be a predator that might eat us alive). Or, we see the rustle in the bushes, which attunes us to the potentiality of being attacked by a lion or predator.

What intermittent fasting has taught me about the taste of food

Hà Nội, 2017

I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting— I don’t eat breakfast or lunch anymore. Only dinner.

I’ve discovered, because I eat less frequently, my taste buds are insanely sensitive now. I can taste every micron of taste. I can feel the texture of the food on my tongue. I can pick up different subtle taste notes.

Eating too often dulls our senses for taste and smell.

Boredom & Creativity

Hanoi, 2017

I am convinced: the best way to become more creative— let yourself get bored more often.

I have been letting myself get bored more often, and therefore I let my eyes wander. I see more things that I might have not noticed before.

Saigon, 2017

The biggest thing I have noticed when I’m bored: TEXTURE.

Hà Nội, 2017

Apparently if you get high off the drug mescaline (Aldous Huxley experimented with this and wrote a good essay on it), the things that get very interesting are:

  1. Texture: Looking at the folds of clothing is fascinating.
  2. Color: You see colors in another dimension, perhaps like a bumblebee or something.

By letting myself get bored (by not having a phone), I have seen more interesting textures in photography, and more vibrant colors.

Practical assignments

So some theories:

  1. Shoot more textures: I have an assignment— if you see an interesting texture, TOUCH IT then photograph it. Perhaps the memory of the texture in your fingers will transmit to your brain. Then photographing the texture— you might have a deeper connection with it.
  2. Shoot more colors: Photograph the rainbow. For a day, only shoot high-contrast and high-saturation JPEG images. Only photograph that which is colorful.

Look up

Another guide for seeing in photography — look up.

We all have ‘crooked neck syndrome’ — we are hunched over, staring at our phones. We never look up.

If you live in a big city, it is a visual feast for the eyes to look up. You look at these tall skyscrapers, muscular steel, reaching for the heavens. Before street photography, my passion was actually architecture photography.

You often notice a lot of interesting things when you look up in photography — trees, skies, clouds, buildings, and interesting architecture.

To see better, look up.

Look down

Oakland, 2016

Photograph random stuff on the ground. Crouch down, and get close to it.

Free yourself from the tyranny of the viewfinder

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

I’ve been shooting all my photos on the LCD screen of my Ricoh GR II. It has helped me be more creative— because I can be more flexible with my perspectives.

I can hold my camera up very high, and shoot down.

I can put my camera on the ground, and shoot up.

I can tilt my camera. I can use macro mode on my camera, and get into places that my face and eye can usually not fit into.

When shooting with a point and shoot camera, or with your phone, stretch out your arms. Move your arm in wild positions.

Imagine your eyes are detached from your head. You can see the world from different angles, perspectives, heights, and views.

Be a kid.

HAPTIC PRESS BOX x CINDY NGUYEN fulfills her childhood dream of a box company

Staring is NOT rude, even though society has socialized us into thinking so.

So stare more. Look more. If you are staring at someone, or something— and they look at you, just smile and wave. And then keep looking.

In and out, 2016 (shot on phone)

Your most valuable tool in photography are your two eyes. Don’t let distracting lights, or buzzing notifications get in your way.

Saigon, 2017


What are your tips for SEEING in photography? Share your images, thoughts, and personal philosophies in ERIC KIM FORUM.


Seoul, 2009

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