Using Your Eye Like a Camera
The one thing I was taught in the early days of art school was to treat your eye like a camera – ironically called eye photography. You might think it’s where we came up with the name iPhotography, but unfortunately not.
Nevertheless, whatever you want to call it the premise of treating your eye like a camera is an incredible way to understand many basic photography principles.
Let’s show you what we mean…
The Aperture of Your Eye
Your eye does what no camera can do effectively, it regulates light to perfectly retain dynamic range. If you think about how your pupils react to light you’ll know how to change the aperture of your camera accordingly.
When it’s dark, you peer = when it’s dark open up the aperture to let in more light. (to a low F/Number).
When it’s bright, you squint = when it’s bright close the aperture of the camera (to a high F/Number).
Does this make sense? Let’s show you another principle of eye photography…
Focus on the Depth
Building on from our last point about understanding aperture, our eyes can also help us understand the depth of field.
For example, get a tin from the kitchen and place it 5ft away from you; it’ll be sharp to your eyes and everything else will be too.
Now grab that tin and bring it 6 inches from your face, it’s still in focus, but the background won’t be. You’ll have to have a quick eye to notice this though, as soon as you look at the background it’ll be back in focus!
Remember, an object close to the camera will throw the background out of focus (shallow depth of field). If it’s closer to the background though, then more of the surroundings will be in focus too.
Motion is one area where the camera has an advantage over your eye photography. Our eyes are bound to track relative motion, whereas a camera can play with the concept of time, slowing it down for effect.
But to understand shutter speed our eyes can be extremely helpful. Imagine seeing a race car drive by us quickly. To see all the detail on it’s exterior our heads will turn and track the motion, and your camera must do the same too. This is the basic principle of panning – in order to keep the subject in focus you have to pan in the direction of the motion at a relative speed.
Compose with Your Eye, Not Eyes
If we treat our eyes like a camera then you should know zooming is a luxury reserved only for your camera. Art school will teach a photographer never to zoom, instead move. Understandably there are times when zooming in is the only way to get your shot but it should be the last resort.
Try to move closer to your subject, change angles, tilt your camera or rethink the whole shot instead of relying on your lens.
Well depending upon how you view photography you may consider that a zoomed-in photo a false view of a subject. That’s not the shot that your eye originally saw, it is a fictional viewpoint created by your focal length.
Tip – You’ll notice that some camera models, such as Fuji X series, feature cameras with 23mm fixed focal lengths, which is reportedly the same view as our eye.
Capturing what the eye sees is a good way to challenge your compositional skills if you don’t rely on a zoom and stick with one focal length.
In the end, it may seem obvious for some, but for the beginner photographer, these are powerful mechanisms to help understand how to treat your camera in certain conditions and how it will work given a situation.
Being conscious of how your eye and camera work in coordination can help you pre-program your mind to respond with the right camera settings instinctively to low light, high action and objects in the distance for example.
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