How mini-seeing projects can improve your photography
“Creativity is a wild mind with a disciplined eye.” Dorothy Parker
Greetings from hot, sunny and super-windy Arles.
It’s a beautiful day here in the south of France. I am very grateful for the arrival of some strong winds to calm the intense heat and freshen up the air.
When I mentioned mini-seeing projects last week I got a lot of questions, so I’d thought I’d delve into why you might want to consider doing one yourself.
The main reason I do mini-seeing projects is to help me exercise my visual awareness (plus they’re fun!) Having an awareness, and an ability to ‘see’ what is around you, is not actually a given. There is this crazy fact that I have mentioned in my blogs before:
“Research shows that our eyes are exposed to more than 10 million bits of visual data every second. However, our brain only takes-in about 40 bits of that data, and consciously we only become aware of about 16 bits. So out of 10 million bits of data, we only take notice of 16 bits. This just goes to show how much of the world we are completely missing out on. It’s almost as if we’re walking blind.” Visual Thinking blog
Learning to see and notice more of what is around you is not difficult, but it takes practice. Creating more visual awareness is like exercising a muscle – the more you do it, the more you’ll see.
I like to use mini-seeing projects to help me with seeing.
How do mini-seeing projects work?
Simply put, you decide on a subject that you want to photograph over time, and you instruct yourself to look out for this subject. Think about it for a while and the idea will seat itself in your subconscious. It’s not something that you will need to actively think about.
A good example is this: Your friend buys a new car. Then you are out and about town and see this new car everywhere – but it’s not your friend’s. It’s just the same model of the car, and the same colour. The idea has been seated in your subconscious and now you can’t stop seeing it.
It can be anything that you are interested in. I have a few different mini-seeing projects always on the go. Here are some I’ve done or am still doing:
- For several months I did snail trails!
- For years I’ve been doing weird things I find at my feet.
- I’ve just started a little mini project on torn-posters (as seen in my last email to you). I have no idea how long that will last, but just do these mini-projects for as long as you are interested in and intrigued by them.
- For a couple of years now I’ve been taking photos of people taking selfies. This is a super-fun project for me as it’s so funny.
- Also for a few years – reflections! I love reflections!
Now, maybe you want to photograph:
- Heavily pregnant women
- Ginger cats
- Yellow cars
- Coins on the street
- Misspelled signs
It doesn’t matter what it is – the point is once you instruct your subconscious to look out for that subject, you’ll start to see these things much more frequently. It might even freak you out how much more!
This will physically demonstrate how much you are missing in our world – so it’s not just a fact you’ve heard, but something you have witnessed first hand. Information that you have demonstrated to be true is much more powerful than information you just understand intellectually.
And this exercise will help you develop your own ‘visual awareness muscle.’ The part of your brain controlling visual awareness will actually increase in size.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Leonardo da Vinci
The possibilities of what to see are infinite
Because we only see a few bits of visual information, rather that the 10 million bits, doesn’t that show how we can really open up our awareness to infinite possibilities to see, to experience and to photograph?
Doesn’t it also show how we can remove ourselves so much more from the to-do list way to thinking, and into this vast ocean of the world, where we are present and connected to the world around us?
Quite possibly, the very best natural habit that has helped me as a photographer is being present. It seems to be a state I fall into quite easily – but I also work really hard to stay in that state too when other pressures enter my world.
I have also used techniques like mini-seeing projects to help with being in the now and to vastly expand my awareness.
I also like mini-seeing projects because they create less pressure to achieve amazing images.
So a mini-seeing project can help you relax, connect with the world and just enjoy yourself with your photography. So if these expectation/pressure states are ones you recognise – then mini-seeing projects are definitely for you!
Having fun with your photography will make a huge impact.
I really recommend you try this out. And I’d love to know what you think. Are you already doing a mini-seeing project? Is this something you want to try out? Let me know by hitting reply or commenting on my blog. I love hearing from you and how you go about taking photos.
Have a great day, and happy photographing!
23/08/2017 @ 11:48 PM
Hi Anthony …. many thanks for the reminder of such a good idea. I periodically add to mini-projects I have started: circles; shapes; colors; textures; alphabet letters in nature/architecture; things at my feet (an idea I picked up from you, with thanks). It’s too bad I live so far from Europe to take advantage of one of your workshops. But really did enjoy your recent webinar!!
14/09/2017 @ 2:26 PM
Sorry for the late reply. Just got back from France on a work/holiday trip (more holiday than work fortunately!). So what kind of stuff(crap) have YOU found at your feet?
Ill keep you posted on upcoming webinars. I like doing them a lot.
All the best
jean pierre (pete) guaron
20/08/2017 @ 5:16 PM
As you are obviously aware, Anthony, “mini” doesn’t necessarily mean photos of small objects. Coins might be, but yellow cars are somewhat larger.
What I think is important is something I have derived from the wonderful world of art. Specifically, Monet’s paintings of haystacks. Shooting the same subject repeatedly has opened my eyes to the extraordinary differences there are, with what – at the time – seemed to be comparatively minor changes in the lighting conditions. And that has really opened the way I see things.
A few months ago I was in Nimes, and an elderly dog spotted a fountain which attracted his eye – broke free from his handler (the elderly lady who owned him) and hurled himself into the fountain, where he proceeded to amuse himself for about 20 minutes. I found myself photographing the scene – for the patterns that his antics formed in the water in the fountain, and with the dog generally off to one side, or one corner – kind of like a prop borrowed from wardrobe, for the shoot – but with the patterns becoming the principal feature of the photos.
14/09/2017 @ 2:32 PM
Hi Jean Pierre
Indeed, mini does not refer to the size of the subject/object. More the “scope” of the project. Funny point though…
I have been doing lots of raving on my webinars and classes about the importance of light over subject in regard to creating great images. It can’t be stressed enough how subtle changes in light intensity and direction can effect a photo. To sit and observe is one of the best practices for improving your eyes sensitivity to light quality. You don’t even need a camera for that.
All the best