Learning To See

There is learning to read, and then learning to read. People don’t understand that although they learned to read when they were young, people who practice reading carefully are just better at it than people who don’t.

When I was in graduate school, I remember a fellow student shaking his head in wonder at how much information and understanding one of our professors got out of reading a paper. “I want to be able to do that!” he told me. And that’s a degree in the sciences. For my VIP with his degree in the humanities found the difference striking as well. Even as a graduate student teaching undergraduates, he was shocked at how poorly his students could read, until a friend pointed out that learning to read – reading well – was something that he’d learned in graduate school.

There are a lot of reasons that people pick up a camera. There are a lot of reasons that I’ve picked up a camera, but one of the things that I would really like to learn from the practice is learning to see.

I’m surrounded by outstanding natural beauty where I live, and landscape photographers flock to the area to take their shot of the iconic scenery, from iconic locations, within arm’s reach of another photographer taking basically the same shot. I don’t mean to minimize that experience in any way because there are many reasons to stand in a singularly beautiful spot, looking out over amazing views. And yet I find the ability of certain photographers to see beautiful and amazing things in a small town in the mid-west, or an urban jungle, or the everyday objects that mostly are too common to pay attention to mesmerizing. If only I could learn to see things the way that they do.

More so than the technical expertise of getting a vision to come through a camera lens, this is what I want to learn from photography.


My friend, SR, is the one who noticed this patch of grass. She doesn’t have a fancy camera, and ultimately isn’t all that interested in f-stops or focal lengths, but her talent for noticing beautiful things consistently amazes me. As my colleague and grad school said of that professor – “I want to be able to do that.”

Now, how do I get there?