The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland

Imagine standing in a beautiful sunset. There’s a 12th Century monolith silhouetted against the sinking sun, birds are singing a final chorus and the scent of recently mown grass lingers in the warm breeze. With light and colours also changing and four of your five senses tingling, how on earth do you capture the magic in a single two-dimensional image?

For those starting out, even if you’re familiar with the camera, there’s a realisation that knowing the technicalities doesn’t mean good images. It requires another skill – visualisation or “learning to see”.

But seeing is subjective. I’ve been to exhibitions and walked out thinking “what a load of rubbish”, but someone, probably the curator, saw something in them that they liked. So there’s no “rules” about whats good or bad, the criteria for that rests with the viewer, and if the viewer can figure out why certain pictures appeal more than others, it’s a step towards learning to “see”.

One way is to look at the work of photographers considered to be masters of the medium. Back in my pre-internet student days I’d plunder the college library for books by accomplished photographers, study their techniques exhaustively and try to figure out what made them masters of their craft. Even copy them.

But books tend to be used less today, so I’ve made an arbitrary selection of images by three master photographers, Arnold Newman, Michael Kenna and Jay Maisel. Just click on the any of the photographs to see them at a larger size, or on their name to link to their website.

The problem with looking at photographs on the internet rather than a book is that the viewer tends to spend less time looking at them. But for the sake of this first exercise try to study each image carefully. If it appeals, ask yourself what captured your eye? Is it the light? The subject? The composition? Or in Jay’s case, the colour? A combination of them? Or maybe something else?

It’s for you to choose, because your artistic likes and dislikes will have a strong bearing on your photography. It’s a very simple, but important stage, that most artists, photographers or painters go through. But if you have any question, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

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