The difference between the focal point and the message

What do you see when you look at this picture?  I took it on the road between Pacific Rim National Park and Port Alberni. It's a twisting, turning drive that reminds you how hard it is even now to make one's way through the mountains. The beauty combined with the twists and turns can put a passenger into a kind of trance. The camera interrupts the flow. It reminds me to look at something instead of everything.

I'm just starting to experiment with a camera, to move beyond "spray and pray" with a point and click and work at seeing through the camera. The point is not to take pretty pictures (although that helps with social media posts). The point is to understand how what we see is a composition - an interaction between what is there and how we choose to frame it.

When you look at this picture, you can see that the camera saw the young maple at the front in sharpest detail. That seems to make it the point of the picture. And yet the point of that drive is those mountains that wrap around every curve of the road and the lakes that are both still and fluid under their watch. What you see depends on both the content of the picture and your beliefs about what makes a scene like this worth a second look.

Every interaction you have, every situation that motivates or traps you, is like this picture. The focal point, the thing that grabs your attention, might be the most important thing. Or maybe it's the frame, the thing that wraps around the focal point and gives it context and structure. Or maybe there is a relationship that flows through the middle and carries the real meaning. You get to choose what you see when you look. You have to choose.

The camera has a focal point, but it's focus does not always carry the meaning you see when you look at the picture. The point of your next meeting might not carry the meaning of what happens there. The thing that leaps out at you might not be the thing you need most to consider.

Somewhere I saw an eye doctor quoted as saying "It's not the eye that sees. It's the brain." But that's only part of the story. It's the mind's eye that defines the message in the picture.


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