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The Nature of Seeing Nature

Before something can be photographed, it needs to be seen. Sight is the faculty, the blessing, given to us by which we can experience and come to know the universe that we live in. Sight has two aspects, an inner element and an outer element. The inner aspect of seeing is intimately tied with knowledge and the outer element goes hand in hand with experience. At the same time each element is in need of and feeds off the other. In order to know something, it must be experienced, but before something can be experienced by someone, he or she needs to know about it. The question is what was first, knowledge or experience?

If we believe in Creation, then it must be knowledge, as our father Adam, peace be upon him, was taught all the names of the rest of creation and then was sent out into it to experience all that was there. However, if we are of the bent that we as humans evolved from pond slime then it must be experience since pond slime in and of itself has no intellect to know anything, nor can it experience other things. And only through some random event was it possible for us to start evolving into thinking beings. I find it hard to swallow, that our lofty station as human beings, caretakers of our world, that we could just suddenly appear on the scene and know everything we needed to know, unless we are taught. We teach our children the words before they know what they mean, and then they experience them. We teach them the word Hot for fire, and show it to them, but until the touch it and get burned, they will never know what Hot really means.

The ability to see things in nature and more importantly, to see the nature of things is the foundation to good photography. This ability, 'having an eye for photography' as they say, means just that. The ability to see things in nature and at the same time seeing the nature of the thing itself is what I have referred to above as sight. The outward faculty of seeing, the experiential element of sight, is the ability to see nature. The inner element of seeing, the knowledge of the nature of things, is also needed to complete the circle of sight. If we can master seeing both the outward nature while knowing the inner nature of the creation, then when we photograph nature the true essence of the subject will be evident.

In the end, what all this means, is know your subject on intimate terms before making the final image. This will take time and patients. Get to know that meadow at different times of the day, at different times of the year and in different light. Sit in a wildflower patch and just watch the flowers move in the breeze. Feel what those flowers feel. Look for something unique about a flower, its color, its surroundings, and its visitors. What makes a mountain look good? How do the shadows in its ravines change its appearance? When does it look majestic, and when does it look soft? Know when animals will be active, when they migrate, how they behave at different times of the day, month, and year. Getting to know the subject, is the first step to seeing nature. Only then can we attempt to capture a subject on film successfully. Then we can begin to worry about the technical aspect of photography to capture the essence of the subject.

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