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Mastering the technical skills of photography are not the only components to creating memorable visual imagery. Developing your creative eye is probably the most important skill you’ll need. You’ll learn to see the world with your own unique voice and be able to see creative potential in any situation.

Beginner’s Mistakes

Many new photographers immerse themselves in learning the technology and miss out on finding their creative style. Their eye tends to be random and can result in trite images. If a great image is produced it’s typically a lucky shot mixed in with a wealth of mundane ones.

Learning to See the World

Finding your own visual voice will take just as much commitment and practice as you poured into learning the latest software. Here are some techniques to help you define and improve your images. 

Careful Observation

Start looking around! Great photographers are known for their ability to see the nuances in potential subjects. In your daily routing, observe how lighting changes. Look closely at important photographic features such as arrangements of form, texture, action and emotion. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What about the scene makes it visually compelling?
  • What would make it interesting to the viewer?
  • How would you capture the scene?

Tip: Make a small “cropper” to carry with you. Simply take a 4 X 6 mat frame and cut it in half. Use the cropper to frame your world throughout the day.

Avoid the Digital Urgency

In the days of analog a photographer’s biggest expense was film. The upside? It made photographers truly think about what they wanted to capture before shooting. With the automation of digital cameras it’s easy to get in the habit of firing off multiple frames without truly seeing what you’re capturing. 

Stop and Think

Consider ALL your choices in a scene before snapping the shutter. Take time to just look through your viewfinder and see the various compositions available. Capture in camera and avoid relying on post-production for cropping. Include only the most compelling elements.

Use a Tripod

Taking the time to setup and choose camera placement with a tripod will help slow down even the most eager of photographers. Concentrate on focus, metering and exposure. You’ll also be more deliberate in reviewing your images as well.

Photo Editing While You Shoot

There’s a reason every website and magazine has a skilled photo editor around. Knowing how to select great from good is a skill you must develop. Being more selective will also translate to less time weeding through hundreds of mediocre images to find that gem. Waiting for the ‘decisive moment’ (as famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson knew so well) will lend itself to sharpening your observation skills and slowing down your process.

Revisit Your Subject Matter

Capturing the same subject over and over will teach you how to approach your photographic art. Forcing yourself to revisit the scene from unique angles and lighting conditions can open up your senses. Choose a place you pass by daily or simply a corner of a room in your home. Make sure that each time it’s a unique viewpoint. You’ll learn to see the familiar in the most unfamiliar ways.

Strip Down Your Gear

We’ve all drooled over the latest offerings from our favorite camera vendors and often think “if I just had that one piece of equipment well THEN I would be a great photographer.” One of the best ways to develop your photographic eye is to limit yourself to the most basic of equipment. Use a fixed focal length lens forces you to move around your subject. 

Understand the Intersection of Technology and Creativity

Yes, I mentioned earlier not to get caught up in the technical advances, however understanding the relationship between focus distance, aperture and focal length is a must if you want to acquire the skill of pre-visualization. It is the difference between capturing a lucky shot and consistently creating imagery you intended.  

Achieving a photographic eye and learning to see the world with your unique visual style will take practice and learning like any skill. Mastering new habits will assist you in clarifying the visual potential of subjects and scenes and how you can present it to the viewer from your individual perspective. 

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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