“A camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” That’s a famous quote in photography circles, from famous photographer Dorothea Lange. This has certainly been true for me.
I never used to see shadows. Not really. I noticed shadows, particularly when I passed into our out of one while walking. But seeing a shadow means registering its qualities: its darkness, its shape, its size.
I saw these shrub shadows while driving by them. Before I started photographing things seriously, I might have noticed these shadows, maybe. But I would certainly not have appreciated their qualities.
Much the same, I never used to notice flowers, let alone see them. I remember riding in the car as a kid and hearing Mom name all of the flowers she saw by the roadside. I recognized that they were flowers and that they had different colors, but that was it. As an adult, I finally started noticing flowers when I began my hobby of following and photographing the old roads. They were everywhere along the roadside. I started photographing them. I used to publish an annual “Roadside Flowers” post on my blog, cataloging them. I had no idea what most of them were called; people named them for me in the comments. Soon I recognized many of the flowers I saw along the road, and began to recognize attributes about flowers that let me look them up myself so I could learn their names.
We all can see things that we are naturally interested in. I’ve been a car nut my whole life. I’ve always looked deeply at cars to enjoy their design. This has led me to recognize how the same car can differ from one model year to another. The details are often subtle, such as a change in the bezel around a tail light. But because I was interested, I naturally saw these things, and as a result I can tell you arcane information about the 1972 Chevrolet and how it differed visually from the 1971 Chevrolet, which was built with the same basic body.
Now I can recognize differences in flowers. One of my favorites is phlox. They come in easily a half a dozen colors, and there are creeping varieties and varieties that stand up tall. It’s been fascinating and wonderful to discover all of the variations as I travel the old roads!
Just because I can see something, however, doesn’t mean I can photograph it well. I was so excited to make this image of a fire hydrant anchoring all of these shrub shadows. But it wasn’t until I saw the scans at full size did I see that I didn’t hold the camera perfectly still, and the image suffers from a little shake. Oh well.