“You see, but you do not observe ” – a quote from Sherlock Holmes

I rather like this quote by Sherlock Holmes taken from the novel – ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’. It is just as relevant to Holmes as he tries to decipher the clues to a crime, as it is to a photographer trying to decide what to photograph and why.

We so often arrive at a destination and in haste the camera comes out of the bag, a lens is chosen and a moment later the shutter has been released and we move on to the next shot. Or at least that’s what I am inclined to do, particularly when time is limited. Have I just seen and not observed? If I gave myself more time and slowed the whole process down, would I start to observe and not just see. There is an important difference. Would it just be better to leave the camera in the bag and resist the temptation to take the first photograph until your eyes have truly observed what it is your mind wants to capture?

Do you appreciate something more if it has been observed, experienced and enjoyed as opposed to just seen and captured?

This question brings me rather nicely onto something I heard on Radio Four earlier this month. As I was getting myself ready for work I listened to ‘Thought for the Day’ by The Rev. Dr. Sam Wells.

In the broadcast he recites the story of being in The Alps waiting for the cyclists in the Tour de France to pass him by. He deliberated as to whether or not to take a photograph on his smartphone and capture the moment as they raced by, or simply watch as they came towards him, cycle past, then away into the distance and out of sight. He chose to take the photograph but he admits he missed the race. He goes on to say that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Hamlet at The Barbican in London and coincidentally the same actor also plays Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC TV series. In Hamlet his adoring fans are trying to capture him on their smartphones, but are they missing the play, the superb acting and the wonderful words of Shakespeare?


 Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/PA

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/PA


(I urge you to listen to the short broadcast – it lasts under three minutes and in my view, is well worth hearing.)

Thought for the Day on Radio 4 by Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin in the Fields. First broadcast on 12th August 2015.


As a photographer I often wonder if I am missing the experience of just being in a certain location, enjoying the surroundings in which I find myself, as opposed to concentrating on the point of focus, composition and exposure settings. Or in other words ‘living the moment’.

Perhaps by keeping the camera switched off for a little longer, not only will we enjoy the experience even more but it will also teach us to observe and not just see. It may enhance our lives and through closer observation and appreciation of the subject, improve our photography as well.

Thanks as always for looking, reading and perhaps listening as well.


Do click on the image to view a larger version.

2 Responses to ““You see, but you do not observe ” – a quote from Sherlock Holmes”

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