- Study the masters.
While it's important to develop your own style, it's just as important to understand the appeal of the styles that set the standards. It's more than art appreciation; it's a matter of knowing what makes a powerful photograph.
Take time often to look at the works of Ansel Adams, Annie Liebovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorthea Lange and other household names in photography. Also study the work of any of your favorites in any genre you choose. Look for the similarities and the differences. Try to see what these photographers saw. Don't try to emulate their styles; just let yourself absorb some of the vision.
(Success Tip #1: How to sell your people photos with very little effort)
- Put the colors away for a while.
I'm not talking about creating black and white photos. I'm talking about taking a few moments to consider a scene without regard to the colors in it. Color is an important part of our world and it's one of the most important elements of what we see. In fact, it's such a powerful visual stimulus that it can distract from the other elements of a scene. Envisioning a scene without color can help you notice those other elements.
You may find it useful to convert some of your favorite photos to black and white, to see what else appeals to you. Is it the shapes? The tones? The visual balance? Lines? These are the elements you'll want to learn to recognize before taking a shot.
- See the patterns.
Patterns are everywhere in nature and the man-made environment. They can be used as a powerful tool in visual composition, but you first have to recognize them.
Spend some time during your outings looking only for patterns. See how you can use them to create depth or a sense of rhythm in a scene. By deliberately visualizing the patterns in various environments, you'll soon begin to notice and utilize them naturally.
- See the geometry.
Shapes are also an important aspect of a scene. We're often so involved in looking at the content of what's in front of us that we forget to see the shapes of objects.
As with patterns, take the time during your photo outings to be conscious of shapes of the elements - triangular, circular, rectangular, etc. and consider how they can be arranged to create a strong composition. This works surprisingly well in portraiture, too.
Note: The two exercises above can be applied to any element of composition you choose and will help you learn to recognize and incorporate those elements naturally. Rather than waste unnecessary space on that point, I'll simply advise you to learn the elements of composition and practice seeing them.
- See in reverse.
Here's a little trick that many photographers use to see details in photos that might otherwise be overlooked. While you're looking at a scene - any scene, take a minute to force your eyes to travel from right to left over the entire picture. Chances are good that you'll notice things that escaped you when scanning the scene "normally".
This trick is often used by hunters searching for hidden game and can help you find "hidden" subjects for your photos.
- See the spaces.
I've included this after the previous exercise because it's one of the things that can "pop out" at you during that one. Sometimes it's what's NOT a part of a photo that makes a difference, or the empty space itself that can make it stronger.
Take time to consider the negative space in the environment - the part that isn't the subject. try applying the rules of composition in relation to those spaces. You'll be surprised at how often you'll find a whole new way to look at something.
(Success Tip #2: How to improve your photography when you don't have much spare time)
- Find out what others see in your shots.
Often, an artist is too close to his or her work to recognize something in it. That's when another pair of eyes can be one of your most valuable assets.
Join at least one forum where you can upload your photos for critique and comments. Not only will you get used to putting your work in front of an audience, chances are you'll be surprised at what others see in your photos that you didn't. I can't possibly overstress the value of practicing this on a regular basis.
Photography Talk members have access to one of the most active photography forums anywhere, with a section just for critique and comments from other members, from amateur to pro. I highly recommend checking it out HERE.
One of the most common arguments among fans of photography is whether you can learn to have "an eye" for a good shot or have to be born with it. For the most part, I agree that the best photographers, like any other artist, come into the world with an innate talent. I also believe, however, that many potentially great photographers never realize their full potential because they never learn to USE "the eye" they were given. If you're struggling as a novice photographer, perhaps it's because you haven't yet learned to see as the original masters of photography did and today's successful photographers do.
So, how do you go about developing this photographic vision? Interestingly, it's often a matter of learning to suppress your creative urge to just "drink in" a scene and instead, take a more analytical approach. In many cases, literally changing how you look at the world will often bring to light the things you've been missing. Let's look at a few simple exercises that can help you develop your photographic eye into a more precise creative tool:
Again, these "drills" won't give you photographic talent. What they will do is help you see the world in a way that will give your talent more input to work with. Practice them, expand on them and enjoy!