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No matter how great a photographer is, they had to start at some point. Ansel Adams, at some point in his life, was fumbling around with his first camera, learning the tricks of the trade, identifying how to control his camera settings, and learning how to compose creative and dynamic photos.
You have to start somewhere as well, and working on your creative eye is a great place to begin.
But often, it’s not the creativity aspect that’s difficult for new photographers, it’s simply figuring out how to use their creativity to develop their photographer’s eye. In this article, we offer a few quick and easy tips that will help refine your creative eye such that you make more interesting photos.
Practice - A Lot
It’s a cliche bit of advice, but it’s probably the most impactful advice you can get. Like any artistic pursuit, getting better at photography simply takes time. Snapping a few photos every Saturday won’t cut it. Instead, you need to commit a bit of time every single day to interact with your camera, learn the ins and outs of exposure, experiment with lighting, and exploring your surroundings. In other words, even if it’s for just 10-15 minutes a day, immerse yourself in the creative pursuits of photography. Only then will you begin to expand your creative possibilities.
Quick tip: Get into the habit of practicing your photography skills by taking part in a photography challenge. For example, you might strive to create a different type of photo every day for 30 days or come up with a different photography subject for each week of the year.
Look at Other People’s Photos
Developing your creative eye can even be done while you’re at home sitting on the couch. Buy a few photography books, subscribe to a photography magazine, or go online and view images. Pore over them. Break them down and identify what you like and what you don’t like. Then, determine why you like what you like. Look at technique. Explore things that you might have done differently. Then, as you go through your daily routine, you’ll find that you start to look at scenes with this same critical eye. You’ll soon find that this results in improved photos because you can take what you’ve learned from others and apply it to your own artistic pursuits.
Quick tip: Don’t be afraid to share your images with others so you can get some feedback. No two people view a photograph in the exact same way, so getting an outside perspective on the images you create will only help you grow as a photographer.
Develop a Personal Artistic Style
One of the benefits of getting a lot of practice and examining the work of others is that you’ll begin to identify your personal style. You’ll begin to see patterns in the types of images that are on your memory card. You’ll also note that many of the photos you enjoy viewing by other photographers share certain characteristics. Perhaps it’s the way light is used. Maybe it’s the manner in which the subject is framed in the shot. It could be something as broad as the subject matter - black & white or architectural photography, for example. The point is that once you identify your personal photography style, you’ll find that you’ll be more apt to find creative ways of expressing that style.
Learn - and Break - The Rules
Part of learning how to develop your creative eye is being willing to break convention and create images that don’t adhere to the standard photography rules of thumb. An ideal example of this is the Rule of Thirds. On many occasions - perhaps the vast majority of times - the Rule of Thirds helps you create images that are more organized, balanced, and compelling. But sometimes, as seen in the image above, going against the rule can result in a beautiful image nonetheless.
With that in mind, it’s important to learn the rules, but perhaps even more important to break them. Create a portrait with a background that’s in focus. Don’t include leading lines in a landscape shot. Use a telephoto lens for street photography. Doing so will force you to use your creativity to find new subjects and learn unique ways of framing shots that will help you create more interesting images.
Quick tip: Don’t just break the rules for the sake of breaking them. Instead, be purposeful in the way you compose your shots, that way, even if you break the rules, your image won’t look like it was simply a mistake.
Editor's Tip: Not sure what all those numbers mean on your lens? Learn how to read the markings on your lens.
Go Easy When Deleting
Every photographer takes a few moments to cull their photos, and in the process delete all the ones that didn’t live up to their expectations. But in the process of doing so, there often isn’t much time spent examining the photos, but instead, just a few split seconds to determine if they are keepers or not. The danger in doing that is that you might overlook something that might not be that fantastic at the moment, but with some post-processing might turn into a very nice image. In this regard, you’re developing your creative eye on the back-end; you’ve already taken the photo so there’s nothing more to do compositionally, but you can learn how to look at an image and see improvements you can make with some editing.
Quick tip: Sometimes, all that’s needed to transform an image is a bit of cropping. If you come across a photo you think isn’t that great, see how cropping the image might make it more eye-catching.
Learn Manual Controls
Nothing will hold back your creativity more than shooting in full auto mode. Though it can be comforting to know that the camera is making all the decisions for you, the results will never be as good as if you take the reins and make decisions about things like exposure all on your own. Manual mode is scary, to be sure, but as noted above, practice makes perfect, and if you never take control of your camera, you’ll never be able to fully develop your photographer’s eye.
To start, try shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority mode. Experiment with different settings so that you develop an understanding of how adjustments to aperture or another camera setting changes the look and feel of your image. As you shoot, note what changes you make, then inspect the image to see exactly how those changes translate into the visual you create. In doing so, you’ll not only develop a more robust creative eye, but you’ll also gain a good deal of technical knowledge as well.
Play With Perspective
All too often, photographers take their photos from the same perspective that they see the world - from their own eye height. And though many successful photos are taken from this point of view, not venturing beyond that typical perspective won’t do anything for aiding in the development of your creative eye.
By dropping down low for a worm’s eye view or getting up high and composing a shot looking downward, you’re forced into seeing things in a completely new way. As a result, there might be shapes, colors, textures, and so on that catch your eye which you can then highlight in your photos. So, the next time you’re out taking a few shots, don’t just stand pat. Move to the left and the right. Walk around the subject to see if there’s a better angle of view. Get down low, then get up high. See how the movements you make change the scene for the better.
Quick tip: Practice finding different angles of view by taking a series of photos of the same subject, but from different perspectives. For example, you might find a beautiful flower to photograph in your backyard and take four photos, each from a different angle.
Look for Photo Opportunities, But Leave Your Camera at Home
Oddly enough, one of the biggest barriers to developing your creative eye is simply not taking the time to see opportunities for photos. If you’re lugging around your camera and constantly looking at the LCD to inspect your previous photo, you could very well miss an even more compelling shot. So, by leaving your camera at home, you can give your surroundings a thorough visual inspection. After all, you can’t create an incredible photo if you don’t first see the opportunity for a photo with your own eyes!
Maybe you’re most interested in portraiture. Perhaps landscapes are your favorite. It’s certainly okay to enjoy one type of photography more than others. But there is a wonderful opportunity to develop your creative eye by taking chances on creating images that are out of your comfort zone. If you enjoy nature and wildlife photography, head into town and try your hand at street photography. If you love landscapes, try still life photography. The point is that every genre of photography requires a little bit of a different approach, and learning how to create gorgeous photos that are out of your comfort zone will only help you in creating beautiful photos once you get back to photographing subjects with which you are most comfortable.
Quick tip: Another way to take chances is to travel light. On your next photography outing, take just one camera body and one lens. Force yourself to learn how to use the few implements you have to create eye-catching photos, no matter the subject.
Editor's Tip: Finish off your photos by turning them into a great print. See what your images look like as fine art.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Above all else, one of the easiest things you can do to develop your creative eye is to grab your camera and take photos without the worry of making mistakes. Mistakes will happen - it’s unavoidable. Even the best photographers in the world still make mistakes. However, by letting go of the fear of screwing up a photo, you’re more able to approach photography in a relaxed, calm manner. In the end, photography is an art, and art is incredibly personal. What you think is a mistake might be viewed as a jaw-dropping photo by someone else. Let go of your fears, bring the camera to your eye, and fire away!