Becoming A First Class Noticer

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to ‘see pictures’. People will tell you that ‘pictures are all around us’ and yet I find that few are able to consistently find them. Why is that?

Personally I feel as though I go through my day with blinkers on, really only paying attention to the things that I need to pay attention to in the specific moment. The things on the periphery are ignored in an effort to get onto whatever is next as expediently as possible.

This is a sentiment that I found echoed in ‘Sketch‘ in which the author, France Belleville-Van Stone has this to say:

Most of us have acquired, with time, the capacity to “tune out” the things around us. This faculty to conveniently ignore the things that don’e “matter” allows us to live without being constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. We need to be able to drive or walk without being distracted by the slightest object in our field of vision.

As adults we have trained ourselves to disregard the landscape around us in order to keep a certain focus, that is, where are we going, how we are going to answer questions during an upcoming interview, how not to trip in those brand new heels so as to avoid public embarrassment.

Jay Maisel seems to have this problem of seeing licked licked. He always carries his camera with him and is always looking for, and finding, pictures. How does he do that? He seems to have retained a child like curiosity in everything around him.

For me this enhanced way of seeing is most easily achieved when I put myself in new situations, where things are strange or scary or strange and scary. It’s amazing to me how I seem to notice everything when I’m in potentially dangerous situations – balancing precariously on rocks in the ocean before dawn, walking along the beach when it’s so foggy I can hear but can’t see the breaking waves or walking through a forest in the near dark hoping that I’m still on the trail. In these circumstances I have a heightened sense of awareness, time slows down, and I can pay attention to an enormous amount of detail. Interestingly this sense of awareness persists, so that I find that I ‘see’ pictures when I’m on my way home in a way that I didn’t an hour or so earlier.

Have you experienced this sensation? How do you get into the ‘picture taking, seeing zone’?

14 thoughts on “Becoming A First Class Noticer

  1. It is most certainly a “zone” one has to find. I must be rid of distractions — no cell phone, solitary walk/journey. Also, for me it doesn’t have to be “dangerous” but it does have to take me out of my comfort zone. That comfort may be too many people, not enough people, city sidewalk, dark woods, etc. It is about engaging all our senses — not just our eyes. That is when I feel a picture — not just see it. Great thought-provoking piece. Thank you!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I personally hold that to be an artist, you must be able to see. To see doesn’t make you an artist, but you can’t be a painter, a poet, or photographer if you don’t see. However, in this modern era, we can all go out and take 1000 pictures and get ‘lucky’ with one ….

    When you talk about seeing beyond our “blinkers” it recalls for me an often remembered quote from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia” where Holmes explains the process of deduction to Watson. Watson is baffled because he believes he sees but can’t fathom how Holmes makes the deductions he does, so Watson says:

    “…. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

    “Quite so,” [Holmes] answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

    “Frequently” [says Watson]

    “How often?”

    “Well, some hundreds of times.”

    “Then how many are there?”

    “How many? I don’t know.”

    “Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed….”

    • Dale I agree. I have said for years that what makes an artist is the way we see things. You’ve hit it spot on Andrew – become a first class noticer. We simply need to let it come in. I like your trick of finding a little fear to heighten awareness. I try to look twice at things that catch my eye. Notice the shade of purple, a sparkle of light, a reflection, overlapping patterns.

  3. Its primarily having a camera with you that has the “noticing” on high alert haha. It doesnt really work for me when i only have my smartphone as, lets face it, none of them are anywhere near as good as even a decent compact. But spotting a good pic is a learned skill as well, you get better and better at doing it. And theres nothing worse than seeing a really good photo opportunity with no camera at all.

  4. I think you have it in a nutshell, there is no other skill that makes such a large difference. Our cameras are smart enough to expose and focus correctly about 90% of the time if we use the appropriate modes, so our real contribution is perception, seeing the picture before shooting. Processing your photos is a different discussion, however. 🙂

  5. It’s a hard thing to develop. I guess trying to be in the moment, rather than lost in your own thoughts helps. For me I tend to see possible humour or irony in the world. Other things are still a work in progress. The best advocates of seeing, to mind mind, were Andre Kertescz and Robert Doisneau.

  6. I like a posting where the comments are as informative as the article, and I think that’s another way that some people notice things that others miss. They jump over the earlier comments and miss so many good things that they’re really only getting a portion of the post.

  7. I realized this fall that I am noticing more. I think it’s a combination of living a creative life and working from home and therefore feeling less stressed. Either the leaves were particularly beautiful this year or I just noticed them! I often notice things when I’m out running. I’ll take a picture and paint it later.

  8. I have an insatiable curiosity for the new, the fun, the amazing and the dangerous and usually run through the world with eyes wide open, seeing a snapshot in time everywhere 🙂
    There is always something worth stopping for.
    My most stunning adventure have been very recently in Africa….in the bush, in the semi desert and in the ocean.
    This place is breathtaking and a photographer’s dream come true!

    • Africa really does sound like a wonderful place. I really want to go to photograph hippos, don’t ask me why – I just do! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Happy New Year!

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