As Shakespeare (and many others) said, life is a play of light and shadow. Why is this such a way of seeing and thinking? Well, if there's only light, we don't see anything, and if there's no light, we don't see anything. It's the interplay of light and shadow that create beauty, and this interplay nourishes our spirit. As a photographer, I've learned that seeing through a camera helps me see a limited part of something, so that it's framed enough - like a portrait - to see the beauty (or ugliness?) of what's in front of me. If I only stood in front of the tree in its wholeness, I might not actually see much - just a lot of leaves.
In this image, I enjoy not only the light and color of this Japanese maple, I see the the unique shapes and shadows of the individual leaves. Because of this combination of visual qualities, I see them, as if they were a portrait that helps me see the tree as it is, rather than a verbal label that floats through my mind.
Interestingly, when I import photos into my computer, I see them in another way too, since they are backlit by my computer's screen - the screen light is like another kind of sunlight. As I'm writing this, I'm also noticing that this image on my screen gives me time to pause and experience the shapes, light, and shadows in quiet way.
As I wrote this, I realized that Betty Edwards' book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, is an excellent guide to actually seeing something rather than labeling it. Think of a stick figure rather than a portrait. As a photographer, I don't think of "tree" or "bird" or "Grand Canyon." I look for light, shape, shadow, texture, and something a bit mysterious that I can't think about in a technical way.
Having my iPhone with me helps me see the light, shapes, colors, textures, and context around me (as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you). For example, when we went to Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago, making images helped me become more aware of I looked not only at the rocks, so to speak, but shadows, clouds, the angle of the sunlight.
For example, here are a few shots from our recent trip to Grand Canyon. On one hand, I could have taken images of bright sunlight so that everything could be illuminated (yes, I did take some of those), but I was also drawn to the interplay of light and shadow. Here are a few examples:
Each of these conveys a different mood, due to light, clouds, position, and focal length (how much I was shooting wide angle or closer up). Even though I began with a close-up of the tree and distant shots of an immense canyon, the light and shadows create moods that draw us inward, rather than a broad daylight image that wouldn't set a more intimate feeling.
I imagine that many of you have an iPhone or other phone/camera that's always with you. As the saying goes, "the best camera is the one you have with you." Once you start looking at the world through the frame of any camera, you'll see more than the broad picture your eyes will usually give you. Give it a try! An also try importing your photos into your computer so that you can see them better, and posting your favorite images on your Facebook or other online medium.