Training Your Eye

Although I love music, I am well aware of my shortcomings, politely speaking, in this matter. If I hired a music teacher and practised for years, I might be able to sing one song without turning the audience hostile and violent. I am well aware that singing will never be my strong suit, and that’s fine; however, I do have other strings to my bow.

It is not a secret that “seeing” comes naturally to some people. Others have to work hard to achieve similar results. In either case, taking care of your seeing is a must. I often see talented photographers who stop challenging themselves, training, or practising their seeing. Over time, their seeing becomes lazy and stiff – more of a habit.

On the other hand, I have met some people who had a rough start in the world of photography but they persisted and challenged themselves over and over again. I can’t believe how their seeing has evolved. Such a challenge requires enormous self-determination but, most importantly, personal honesty.

Why am I writing about this? To remind ourselves about the importance of training and keeping our seeing in shape. Similarly, just as you walk, exercise and eat well to keep your body in great shape, seeing requires training and challenging. Here are a few exercises to help:

  • Slow down when you look at your favourite photographer’s work. Examine every inch of the frame. Ask questions: Why would s/he place the elements in this particular way? Observe how light interacts with the subject. Look for interconnections between the elements in a photograph. Don’t jump between images too quickly.
  • Go out and shoot something that you don’t usually shoot. If you are a landscape photographer, do some street photography. If you are a portrait photographer, go to remote places in the country and photograph scenes without people.
  • Use a focal length you rarely use and focus primarily on your composition.
  • Shoot with one focal length for one month. Don’t use any other lenses! (Hint: the best way to start is to use 35mm (50mm in FF).  
  • If you are primarily a colour photographer, shoot some imagery in black & white or vice versa.
  • Go out with your camera and limit yourself to 10 exposures.
  • Challenge yourself to break at least one rule of composition (for example, the 1/3 rule) and work hard to create a great image.
  • Pick a subject or place in which you feel uncomfortable (do not confuse this with unsafe).
  • Meet with friends (who do not have to be photographers) and show them your five best recent images. Ask them to list five things that they DO NOT like about them. No compliments are allowed.
  • Set your camera on AUTO and concentrate on the light, composition and your subject. Forget about technicalities.
  • Find a simple scene with a maximum of five elements and create as many visually appealing compositions as you can (hint: by moving around).

These are only a few ideas to train your seeing. You will find more in our upcoming book on this subject. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are some images we shot recently on the streets of Vancouver. They are all taken with the X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4: one camera and one lens – our favourite way of shooting.   















and some in B&W…





2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Training Your Eye

    1. Rony,

      Thank you for your comment. Some of them are straight from the camera, others processed in LR6. I usually add some contrast and use Classic Chrome film simulation (CC). Also, keep in mind that the quality of light matters – most of my images were taken later during a day when the sun was quite low.

      All the best,


    1. “Zen Master of photography” – ha! ha! ha! – sense some sarcastic sense of humour implanted here – but I like it!

      Always appreciate your feedback.


      1. I agree, something about the late day sun and your color choice that is just very very nice. Good work as always.

        I have practiced with CC a bit and it can definitely look super awesome when the light is right but sort of meh when it’s mid day. I guess that is true of all photo though right? Haha. I guess since that magic light hoir is so short the real challenge for us photographers, especially amateurs like me, is to create great photos despite the light we are given.

        Always inspired by your photos and blog. Thank you sir.

  1. I greatly enjoyed your post and photos, Olaf. Dorothea Lange, the famous documentary photographer, said: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” I’m constantly thrilled by ‘seeing’ — even when without a camera.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment and your thoughts. The quote you shared with us is right on – I could not agree more.

      All the best,


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