Looking and seeing

Complaiant“To look is to view, to see is to understand”.

Objective – to think about and decide what you want to say photographically.

There are many different definitions of looking & seeing available if you hunt around photographic books. There are as many definitions it would appear as there are photographers each one takes a view and sometimes the definitions can be completely reversed so you may have seen several different definitions.

Looking and seeing is linked to Attraction in the ABC of camerawork. We are all creative individual people and therefore how and why we choose subjects to photograph is a highly unique part of our personality.

Below are extracts from the Attraction portion from each ABC of Camerawork card’s and in writing the cards back in 2011 I tried to make each prompt more challenging as the level of photographers competence increases.


What attracts you to the potential picture – is it visually interesting?

How are you going to best record that attraction & interest, for your viewer to appreciate?


See something > see a potential opportunity > see a finished photograph.

What attracts you to the potential picture is it visually interesting?

How are you going to best relay that attraction & interest to the viewer?


Decide what you want to say photographically & your viewer to feel / think / know / understand / appreciate – better or differently?

“Seeing in the finest and broadest sense means using your senses, intellect and emotions”. Freeman Patterson

My own take on looking and seeing is:

“To look is too briefly view an outward appearance, to see is to understand and interpret to the viewer the relationship of the subject and subject matter”.

We need to define what we mean when we use certain terms or words hence why I have set out definitions for the words I have used below.


How are you are as a unique creative individual going to use your senses, intellect and emotions to define what is significant for you about the relationship between the subject matter and the subject? We all have views, opinions and prejudices – what do you want to say about the subject matter or its relationship to the subject to the viewer?

Think of yourself as a reporter or a storyteller, why should the viewer be interested in this picture / story?


How are the subject and subject matter related? What is their connection?

Subject and Subject matter

The subject matter of a photograph – what’s in front of the lens and the actual subject of the picture – what it’s actually about can be quite different. For example a picture of a crowded motorway may be the subject matter, the subject of the picture could be about pollution, road safety or modern communications and the reduced need to travel to work.

Suggested reading – “Photography and the art of seeing” by Freeman Patterson.

The picture above is called “Complainant” most people in Bristol UK will recognize the Council House.

Here the subject matter is the small elderly lady. The subject is scale and power of the architecture that dominates the picture.

See my website for the ABC of CameraWork Course dates and affordable prices.

A big hello to all the new followers of my little blog this week.

(c) Andy Beel FRPS 2013


8 responses to Looking and seeing

  1. Adrian Lewis says:

    Interesting post, Andy – and I like the picture – yes, complaints to The Council, not a rarity!

    I’m always interested in looking and seeing, and so I’m going to reblog this – good stuff, my friend! Adrian


  2. Adrian Lewis says:

    Reblogged this on FATman Photos and commented:
    Andy Beel is another photo blogger here in Bristol. He’s expert and mainly into mono, and he certainly has a greater depth of knowledge about photography than I do – and he leads courses and workshops and gives talks, as well as providing one to one tuition. Here he’s talking about Looking and Seeing, always phenomena of interest to me – so I hope this is an interesting read for you – food for thought I think! FATman


  3. LensScaper says:

    Well written, Andy. The Art of Seeing or whatever phrase we use to describe the ability to see is so critical to serious photography but always difficult to write about or talk about. This adds an important and personal slant. I came across a quote the other day. I’ve seldom come across a better on this subject. ‘The eyes are the scouts of the Heart’. It’s a quote from Joseph Campbell, American author, writer and mythologist (perhaps taken a little out of its original context) but such an eloquent simple statement.


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