There is an ‘art’ to reading pictures– not just looking at pictures.
Reading a picture vs looking at picture.
If you ‘read’ a picture– you analyze the picture, and try to figure out why it works. You try to analyze the composition, see if there are any diagonals, spirals, etc.
You read a picture by trying to analyze how you look around the frame. You ask yourself questions like:
- Who is the main subject in this picture?
- Is this picture interesting to me, or boring?
- If this picture is boring to me, why does the photographer like it? Does the photographer see something that I don’t see?
- What is happening in the foreground, middle-ground, and background?
- Are the elements in this picture overlapping, or not?
By ‘reading’ a picture– you are much more ACTIVE as a participant.
For example, when you watch a film– don’t just passively watch/consume the movie. Rather, READ the film. Analyze the film. Study the composition, the storyline– and write notes (either on a piece of paper, or in your mind).
For example, when I watch films I like (Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa is a favorite) — I take screenshots while I watch the film. And afterwards, I trace them, to understand the composition, and see how I can integrate those compositions into my own pictures.
When I look at pictures in a photo-book, I will often use my iPad to take pictures of the pictures I like, and then trace them afterwards. I look for the diagonals, and the composition. I try to study the ‘figure to ground’ (the contrast between the darks and the lights) in the frame. I also study color theory in pictures– trying to figure out what are the warm tones (orange, red, yellow) vs the cool tones (blue, violet, green).
I am trying to actively understand why a picture is good.
Therefore when it comes to ‘reading’ a photo book, try to think to yourself:
“If this photographer was a movie director– what kind of story are they trying to tell through this book?”
As you are looking through the photo book, try to make your own story– by READING INTO THE IMAGES.
Where do my eyes go?
Also ask yourself, how does the shot track my eyes? What direction do my eyes go?
“I wonder how the photographer took this picture?”
Also, whenever I see a picture I like, I think to myself:
“I wonder how the photographer took this picture?”
I try to analyze it, and break it down and deconstruct it– like how a child breaks down a toaster to figure out ‘how it works.’ I did this to my computer as a child, and also to my car– to figure out how it works, by breaking it apart, and trying to put it back together.
I then try to IMITATE the photographer, by re-creating the same picture. I try to find a similar scene, and try to re-create the composition, the lighting, or how the elements are spaced in the frame.
Or I will just trace the picture. And the more I trace pictures, the more I internalize in my brain, mind, and nerves– what makes a good picture.
As a reminder, for me– all studying art is for the purpose of IMPROVING MY OWN ART. I don’t study or read pictures/photos/philosophy for the sake of it. To me, all studying of art must be APPLIED TO ‘REAL WORLD’ practice. All photo books you study and consume must (in one way or another) affect how you make pictures.
Do you want to be a producer or a consumer?
Almost all children prefer to make art, rather than look at the art of their peers.
Why is it that as adults, we prefer to look at the pictures of other photographers– than make our own pictures?
Buy books, not gear
Trust me I love to buy shit, especially gear. I am always suckered by the ‘new new thing‘ — whether a new phone, camera, or digital tool.
Ultimately, the best way to motivate yourself as an artist is to invest in experiences, in photography books, and other educational resources or tools that will improve your eye, improve your visual understanding, and also will motivate you to make more of your own art.
So when you have extra money, invest it in a photo book, or any artistic– something, that will motivate you to make more of your own art.
Conclusion: The formula how to become a better artist/photographer
The simple solution to becoming a better artist:
- Consume, study, or analyze the artwork of others, as well as your own artwork (pictures you shot in the past) and trying to figure out why they are good pictures.
- Go out and practice, make pictures for yourself.
- Analyze your pictures post-mortem (after you shoot, once you get home), and ask yourself, ‘What did I do that worked well for me, and how did I fuck up? How can I improve next time?’
- Rinse and repeat.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Find inspiration anywhere, and everywhere.
- Study CINEMA
- Study the MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
- Study your own pictures (from the past, and figure out how to improve them)
Also for more inspiration, invest in HAPTIC TOOLS to help break you out of your artist’s block, and to MAKE MORE ART!
To find support, join ERIC KIM FORUM and ask for constructive critique on your pictures, and also provide constructive critique to your fellow peers.
To learn how to make better pictures, invest in an ERIC KIM EXPERIENCE.
If you’re new to photography, start here:
- Free Photography Bootcamp
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography
- 100 Photography Tips for Beginners
- The Spirit of Becoming a Photographer
- How to Make Better Pictures
- 10 Tips How to Take Better Photos of People
- How to Avoid Boredom in Photography
- How to Master Photography
- A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing
- PRETENTIOUS PHOTOGRAPHY
- Photography Energy Management
- How to Unlock Your Potential in Photography
- There Are No Good or Bad Photos
- The 5 Minute Photographer
- A-Z: PHOTOGRAPHY DICTIONARY by ERIC KIM
- Why I Want to Be a Photography Newbie Forever
- PHOTOGRAPHY FLUX.
- 10 Creative Photography Assignments to Re-Inspire You
- 50 Photography Tips by ERIC KIM
The Fundamentals of Photography
- How to Choose Your Best Photos
- GET CLOSER.
- Keep or Ditch?
- What Makes a Good Photo?
- Why Photography?
- Everyone is a Photographer
- How to take better pictures
- How to take better selfies
- How to Paint With Light
- Why Bokeh is Overrated
- What is the Perfect Camera For You?
- What to Consider When Buying a Camera
- More Megapixels, More Problems
- How to Take Better Photos
- How to Capture Emotion in Your Photos
- How to Create a “Curiosity Gap” in Your Photos
- Composition Lesson #1: Triangles
- Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground
- Composition Lesson #3: Diagonals
- 40 Practical Photography Assignments
- 15 Street Photography Assignments
- 25 Photography New Year’s Resolutions
- Street Photography Contact Sheets
- Street Photography Contact Sheets Volume II
- Debunking the “Myth of the Decisive Moment”
- Each Photo You Take is an “Attempt”
- How to Overcome Photographer’s Block
- Why Do You Need “Inspiration” to Shoot?
- How to Edit Your Photos
- Grain is Beautiful
- Are Filters “Cheating” in Photography?
- Video: Introduction to Editing, Processing, and Workflow in Lightroom
How to Create a Body of Work
Technical Photography Settings
Learn From the Masters of Photography
“He without a past has no future.”
- Why Study the Masters of Photography?
- Great Female Master Photographers
- Cheat Sheet of the Masters of Photography
- 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
- Beginner’s Guide to the Masters of Street Photography
- Download All Articles >
The Masters of Photography
Classics never die:
- Alfred Stieglitz
- Alec Soth
- Alex Webb
- Alexey Brodovitch
- Anders Petersen
- Andre Kertesz
- Ansel Adams
- Blake Andrews
- Bruce Davidson
- Bruce Gilden
- Constantine Manos
- Daido Moriyama
- Dan Winters
- David Alan Harvey
- David Hurn
- Diane Arbus
- Dorothea Lange
- Elliott Erwitt
- Eugene Atget
- Eugene Smith
- Fan Ho
- Garry Winogrand
- Gordon Parks
- Helen Levitt
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
- Irving Penn
- Jacob Aue Sobol
- Jeff Mermelstein
- Joel Meyerowitz
- Joel Sternfeld
- Josef Koudelka / Part 2
- Josh White
- Lee Friedlander
- Lisette Model
- Magnum Contact Sheets
- Magnum Photographers
- Mark Cohen
- Martin Parr
- Martine Franck
- Mary Ellen Mark
- Rene Burri
- Richard Avedon
- Richard Kalvar
- Robert Capa
- Robert Frank
- Saul Leiter
- Sergio Larrain
- Sebastião Salgado
- Shomei Tomatsu
- Stephen Shore
- The History of Street Photography
- Todd Hido
- Tony Ray-Jones
- Trent Parke
- Vivian Maier
- Walker Evans
- William Eggleston
- William Klein
- Zoe Strauss
Take your street photography to the next level:
- August 27 (Friday): SEATTLE MASTER STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP - [NOW LIVE!]
- September 11 (Saturday): DOWNTOWN LA ADVANCED STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP - [NEW!]
Be notified of when new workshops are live here.