May Theme Challenge – “Observation”

Observation is an important technique to improve your composition skills. The key to observation is to just slow down and spend time looking at every detail in your surroundings to really see what is around you. I emphasize around you because it’s important to not just look at what is in front of you but also what is around you as the image you decide to create may be in another direction. By slowing down and taking the time to “observe” you will not only see better but you’ll also feel and as a result you will be able to create more compelling images. Improving your observation skills helps you to identify a subject which helps your compositions by being able to feel or see the story and identify what belongs in the frame to support the feeling, subject, or story.

This month I encourage you to slow down and really try to see what is around you to create some interesting images of the new things that you are seeing that you may not have seen before. Even with the current pandemic restrictions you are still able to go out in your own area, keeping proper social distancing in mind, to practice observing. The more you try this exercise the more you will improve your ability to see.

This month we will take an exercise approach to improve our observation skills by looking for shapes, building on last moths texture challenge, by seeking out shapes within textures. You can also look for shapes within a composition or identify an abstract shape of a subject.

As with our texture challenge, it doesn’t matter what camera you have, even the camera in your phone will help you improve your ability to improve your photography through observation. This months challenge is more about helping you learn to see better.

Let’s take a look at some image examples:

A shape within a texture; below within the original rock surface image on the left you may not initially notice the person on the bottom right of the image. Once you take the time to look more closely you see a profile image of a person, possibly even resembling a cartoonish character. The final image shown on the right was post-processed a bit to darken around the subject to help it stand out so the viewer can see it more easily.

Finding something out of Chaos; looking at the image on the left below its hard to imagine what your brain is seeing, but it’s telling you that there is something there because you’ll find yourself still looking at it. After a while you slowly begin to see an upright cartoon rabbit running down a hill, as shown in the image on the right, again slightly post-processed, by darkening and de-saturating the leaves surrounding the subject.

Waiting for the decisive moment; I was out for a walk and noticed the clouds, shown below, what I felt looked like a dragon and also noticed the moon. I wondered as the clouds and the moon were moving if the moon would end up in a position to be the eye of the dragon. Even though this was just plain luck, I took a number of images leading up to the final image on the right to capture the moments as they were happening. This is a great example of identifying what you are seeing, using a bit of creativity, and anticipating a story that you are hoping will unfold in front of you.

Abstract interpretations of a subject; The image below is from the “Valley of Fire” state park in Nevada taken back in 2011. The lava rock in this park has so many incredible rock formations. This image appears to me as a person kneeling down which is abstract form what it really is, a rock formation. If you look closely at some of your past images, there may be many that contain abstract subjects.

Abstracts within a Landscape; The image below was taken from a helicopter while taking a flight into the Grand Canyon in 2011. I noticed the different colors in the sand and how it looked like two aliens were about to kiss.

Let’s see what images you create this month.

Students are encouraged to develop their ability to tell a story or invoke an emotion, as well as how to plan and troubleshoot while creating their images. As such it’s important to not only create the image but to also include a “title”, and write a short paragraph about; how they came up with the idea, any interesting back ground that compelled them to make the image, and describe any techniques on how they overcame any obstacles.

As always with our monthly theme challenges we try to seek out an instructional resource, below are some YouTube video links to help with some important tips, hints, ideas, or just something to think about.
Observation instructional aids:
How to take Better Photos through Observation by: Nigel Danson (19min 2sec)
How to become a better photographer through ‘visual exercise’ by: Sean Tucker (6min 40sec)
Looking Around and Observation in Photography #78 by: Clive Talbutt (9min 38sec)
3 Photography Skills You Should Learn (and will pay off forever) by: Nigel Danson (19min 59sec)

An important part of improving your photography is practice, which is one aspect of the monthly theme challenge, in addition you have an opportunity to learn about different genres, techniques and tips.

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