The Art of Observation

What I think differentiates a good photographer and a great photographer is this: a great photographer is a better observer of the world around them! But how can we observe better as photographers, and why observe better?

What does “observe” mean?

The word, “observe” comes from the Latin word, ‘observo’, which means:

  1. To watch, keep safe
  2. To guard
  3. To head, pay attention to
  4. To respect, notice, perceive

To me, the art of observation is the art of determining what is important and worthy of admiration.

For example, if you observe something, not only do you notice it — you respect it. You perceive it as valuable, and worthy of being looked at/admired!

As a photographer, we are visual judges. We judge what is beautiful, and what we perceive should look at.

Why the art of observation is dying

In today’s world, it is more difficult to observe than ever before. Why? There’s so much blinky, flashy, and buzzy shit that vies for your attention. As my friend Stoytcho told me, we are living in an “eyeball economy,” where your eyeballs are the most valuable metric of success. Whatever captures your attention is good— because the more of your attention advertisements can get, the more likely you are to click on something and purchase it.

We are drowning in a sea of visual sea of information, and our attention faculty is becoming more and more like a sieve — we cannot capture or retain anything we see or experience. The experience flows into our broken jar of attention, and quickly flows out.

To be honest, I don’t blame anyone on having a hard time to observe the world around them. There’s too much visual noise; not enough white space for us to let our minds and eyes wander — and notice/observe stuff around us. To be frank, the biggest culprit is probably our phones. Even with myself, if I have a phone in my pocket, my hand is always itching to check it. That’s why I got rid of my phone around 2 years ago, so I could start paying more attention and observing more of the world around me. Now, I can observe better than before!

To observe is technically easy. Anyone can do it. Children are the best at the art of observation. They are naturally curious, and want to touch, see, and experience everything!

As adults, we are discouraged from looking, staring, and touching. In modern society, to stare at someone is seen as rude. But I would say, when we stare at people, we’re actually just observing them, trying to better understand them, because there is something we find interesting in that individual!

That is why I love street photography so much; street photography is the applied art form of observation turned into photographs!

How to observe better

Let your eyes wander. Stare more, and don’t be shy or awkward. Chat more with strangers, and compliment folks you find fashionable.

Touch more stuff. Get close to it. Crouch down, and pick it up. And of course, photograph it!

Experiment shooting more macro photos from really close up. Just use your phone.

As a simple tip,

If something even interests you 1%— JUST SHOOT IT! If it ends up not being a good photo, you can always delete it later!

Never stop being curious, and just shooting whatever you find beautiful and significant!


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