Seeing What Your Camera Sees
by Bill Hartley
What we see isn't always what we get. Think about all those times we've witnessed beautiful landscapes, bountiful flowers, or our children playing… We want to capture these moments on film and take what we anticipate to be good photographs, only to be humbled by the resulting images.
Most of what I am going to discuss here may seem very basic but I find that we stumble upon the same problems time and time again. This is a good opportunity to address some of them.
Do you see what I see?
Because there is only one viewing port in a camera, you need to learn how to use only one eye to compose a photograph. My father, who is now seventy, still uses both eyes to look through cameras viewfinder, and wonders why his pictures don't reflect what he thinks he saw.
Yes, it is possible to photograph with both eyes open. Some professional photographers do. However, for most people the non-viewing eye causes distractions. When utilizing both eyes to look through your viewfinder, you see what your camera sees and a whole lot more. The whole lot more often ends up as an unwanted part of a photograph and a portion of what was desired goes amiss. So for most of us it would be best to use only one eye to photograph with.
Let's find out which eye you should use to look through your viewfinder. First, shut your left eye, then your right. One will be easier and more natural to close than the other. The eye that is easiest for you to close should become the non-viewing eye. The other eye is the one you should use to look through the viewfinder. For me, my right eye is easiest to close. Therefore, I use my left eye to look through my camera's viewfinder.
To find out what kind of viewfinder your camera has, place your hand over your camera lens. Make sure your hand tightly covers the lens only. Look through your viewfinder. If everything is dark, you have through-the-lens viewing. If you can still see something, then you have parallel viewing.
If you have a camera with parallel viewing, keep in mind that you could be looking at a subject, thinking it's okay to photograph, only to have something blocking your lens. For example, your finger, camera strap or even lens cap could be covering the lens, or somebody could be standing just in front of you, and you might not know it. With a parallel viewing camera you should quickly look with both eyes to make sure there is nothing between you and your subject, just before photographing.
Heads, hands, knees and toes
Have you ever seen a photograph with someone's head cut off? I have, and not because they were beheaded. How about one with arms and hands missing? These are common errors that could have been avoided. Too often we look only at the center and think that everything else we want in the photo will be there when it's really not. If you don't see it, it won't be in your photograph. For example, you are taking a picture of your favorite person - carefully check to see what is inside the total viewfinder area (note: some cameras have "brackets" in the viewfinder which depict the picture size.) Look at the top edge of the finder and ask yourself: Do I see the top of their head? If not, you need to reposition your camera until you do. Look at the sides: Do I see everything I want in my photo? Is there something there I do not want, i.e., another person, car, etc? Move your camera around until the unwanted objects cannot be seen. Or if you cannot see everything you want through your viewfinder, move back a little, until it all appears. If there is more than you want that appears in your viewfinder, step forward until you see only what it is you want to have in your photo. For those who have telephoto lenses, zoom in and out to move forward or backward. By lifting and lowering your camera and by moving backward, forward, side-to-side or by changing how you hold your camera (horizontal or vertical), you are creating the image you want and have taken control over what and how you are photographing.
Learning from our mistakes
Most of these errors could have been avoided, if we would have paid a little more attention to the details while taking the picture. Keeping in mind that what we see is not necessarily what the camera sees. Simply put, if you don't see it in the viewfinder it will not be in the photograph. Conversely if it's in the viewfinder it will be on the film. Concentrate on what it is you are about to photograph and make no assumptions. · Look through your viewfinder with only one eye. · Make sure there are no distractions at the edges or in the corners. · Move in and out, either with your feet or with your zoom lens, until you have only what you want in the picture.
When the camera and you "see" what it is you wish to photograph in full, take the picture.