I was working with some first-time movie directors recently, and noticed that they soon figure out not to watch the actors directly. Instead, they learn watch their monitor. It shows the point of view that the film-goer will have in the cinema.
Crucially, the view through the lens is often very different to what we expect to see. That "focussed" view blocks out distractions and really tells the truth - warts and all!
So, next time you walk through your location, looking for little problems and potential improvements to the experience, try this:
1. Get a video camera and walk through, filming. Scan from side to side, up and down. Don't forget the toilets and the carpark. A day or more later, watch the film (preferably in slow motion) and see how many potential improvements you spot. Pause the film now and then. I bet you see stains on the paintwork you had forgotten you had. I bet you can tell now if that sign really is prominent enough... (Interestingly, if you have a way to reverse the film, you will notice even more details.)
2. Repeat the exercise on your knees, or in a wheelchair. This is the visual experience a child, smaller person or wheelchair user will have. (Behaviour guru Temple Grandin uses this technique when checking out abbatoirs for animal welfare approval. It gives her the "animal-eye-view", and she spots lots of potentially spooky stuff other inspectors miss).
3. If you haven't got a video camera, use a still camera, or even an old viewfinder. You needn't even take pictures - just walk slowly.
4. If you haven't got a normal camera, cut a hole in a piece of cardboard and stare at parts of your location through it. Don't laugh - this works!
5. Try it blindfold - with a guide - and pick up the auditory and olfactory experience far more sharply than usual. Where is it too loud? Stinky? Too echo-ey and cold?
Try it. You will be amazed. But don't trip.
Viewfinder pic by Rutty at flickr.