How To Develop An Eye For Photography

How To Work On Your Photographic Eye

When you take a great photo, it’s not unusual to hear someone give a compliment to your eye for photography. This “eye” is a reference to the skill and creative vision someone has in their photos. No matter what your experience level is in photography, you have a creative vision that’s unique to you. Your photographic eye helps you choose the framing for every shot and is a key component of taking great pictures. So how can you start to develop your eye for photography?

You can develop your eye for photography by practicing more often and thinking outside the box with your photos. Constantly looking for new ways to improve is an essential part of improving your photographic eye. This can be done by experimenting with new genres, creating photography challenges, or finding inspiration from other photographers.

Just like any muscle in your body, your photographic eye can be worked on and become “stronger.” Let’s go over a few essential tips to help you work out those creative muscles and begin improving your photos.

What Does It Mean To Have An “Eye” For Photography?

To have an eye for photography means you have a talent for finding great images to capture. The types of photos you take, the angles you choose, and the moments you capture are all part of your unique creative vision. No matter what experience you have in photography, your photographic eye can be improved from practice and thinking outside the box.

The truth is, everyone has this eye. It’s not reserved for the most gifted and famous photographers in the world. Right now, you have a creative vision that’s different from mine, your friends, and everyone else. Although you may not know how to use it yet, your eye for photography improves by flexing your creative muscles more often.

One of the best ways to start improving this in photography is to simply shoot more. As with anything in life, repetition is the key to success. As simple as that may sound, it’s a sticking point for a lot of people. If you want your pictures to look better, you simply need to take more photos. If you want to have a good eye for photography, you need to start capturing photos with more intention. We’ll dive more into that later on in this post.

How Do You Know If You Have An Eye For Photography?

You can tell that you have an eye for photography when you can easily find more unique angles or moments to capture than most people. Even in poor shooting conditions, you’ll still find a way to capture a great image. A photographer with a strong creative eye will know exactly how the photo will turn out before it’s ever taken.

As I mentioned earlier, having an eye for photography is learned and developed. If you don’t feel like you have that magic creative touch quite yet, that’s ok; it will come. The more photos you take, the more you’ll see what you like and don’t like.

The reason you got into photography is for one of two reasons. You either loved someone else’s work and wanted to emulate it, or you just wanted to capture things you love. Regardless of your reason, that intention and creative purpose for picking up your camera is your photographic eye at work. As you start to understand your camera and its settings, you can better translate a creative idea into reality.

So although there is no black and white answer to whether you have a great creative eye, we all have some unique form of it by default. You have your own artistic tastes just as I have mine. Those preferences all play a role in your photographic eye as you develop as a photographer.

10 Tips To Develop A Creative Eye For Photography

To help give you a roadmap for improving your eye, use these 10 tips to start flexing your creativity.

1. Practice, Practice, and More Practice

Like training for a marathon, you’ll only get in shape by running. The same thing applies to photography. If you want to take great photos and improve your eye, you need to shoot more. With repetition, you start to get better at choosing your compositions and predicting where the best place to take a photo will be. Unfortunately, this is something that you can’t learn from a youtube video or a simple blog post online. Instead, it takes time spent with your camera.

Practicing taking pictures helps in a variety of ways. You’ll start becoming more confident with your camera, so you won’t feel as flustered when picking camera settings. With newfound confidence in your settings, you can better direct models or build the shot you envision in your head. After becoming certain in your photographic and directing abilities, you’ll have an easier time translating an idea in your head into real life.

The idea here is that all the skills you develop, no matter how small, begin to snowball. Each one builds off the other to help develop your photographic eye and how efficient you are at capturing great photos. There’s no secret sauce to this step, just have fun with your camera and shoot as often as you can!

2. Define A Purpose Behind Your Photos

If you are just taking photos without any reasoning behind it, then you’re guaranteed to plateau. To improve as a photographer and develop your eye, define a purpose for why you’re taking a picture.

Why are you shooting this subject? Why are you framing the photo in this way? Why are you focused on the foreground rather than the background?

All these little choices you make when taking a picture should be intentional. With creative purpose, you’re in control of your photography and will start to see improvements. If you just take pictures without any intention, then how are you supposed to get better?

After all, if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you can’t develop your photographic eye. Your eye for photography is built from intention; defining a purpose for the why’s of your image will help to improve your creative vision.

3. Don’t Settle On The First Photo You Take

Many beginner photographers break out their camera, set up the first shot they see and take a picture. Instead, try to hold yourself back from taking the first photo you think of and consider your options. More often than not, you’ll realize there is a more interesting or creative way to frame your shot than what you initially thought. This was something that made a huge difference in my photos when I first started.

To give you an example, you’ll see a lot of people take a picture from eye level from exactly where they’re standing. Even if the photo’s of a gorgeous view, there’s nothing original or creative about that shot. There’s always a different angle that you can capture to help enhance your pictures.

Constantly thinking of how you can do better is a crucial step in developing an eye for photography. Eventually, you’ll find it easier to discover a more interesting angle from the get-go rather than really thinking about it. It could be as simple as bending down for a lower angle, finding a foreground element, or changing your lens. It doesn’t always have to be a huge change, but it’s often the subtleties that help to make a beautiful photo.

4. Restrict Yourself To One Lens Or Focal Length

If you feel that you have a pretty good eye for photography, try restricting yourself to using one focal length. This is best done with prime lenses since it’s impossible for you to cheat by zooming in. However, you can use any lens for this challenge… just resist the urge to change your focal length!

When you’re shooting with a zoom lens, it’s a lot easier to simply zoom in or out rather than moving your camera. Although useful, zoom lenses can make you lazy and prevent you from looking for a more creative angle. By restricting yourself to a single focal length, your only choice is to move your camera to find a better shot. This forces you to think more creatively and find a unique position to capture a photo from.

Some popular focal lengths to try this with is 35mm and 50mm. Since these are both mid-range focal lengths, you can shoot just about any image you want. You can capture both wide-angle views or close-ups; it just depends on where you move your feet! This is a fun challenge that is guaranteed to change the way you think about taking photos.

5. Create Photo Challenges Around Different Themes

Another way to improve your photographic eye is by creating different themes for your photos. For example, you could pick a different theme for every weekend of the month. The first weeks’ theme could be hiking, while the others are portraits, night photography, and household objects. The idea here isn’t to choose a theme that you’re comfortable with, but one that you have no idea how to approach. This will force you to think more creatively when taking a picture.

If you tend to stick to one theme in your everyday photography, your eye will start to favor that specific genre. Perhaps you’re a landscape photographer, so you’ve developed a pretty good eye for photographing open environments. However, if someone were to give you a product to photograph, you’d feel a little more uncomfortable figuring out the best shot.

This discomfort is the key to growing as a photographer and developing your photographic eye. By challenging yourself to shoot a weekly theme, you can force yourself out of your comfort zone and grow as a photographer.

6. Find An Inspiration

One of the best ways to develop your eye is to be inspired by other photographers. Pick one of your favorites and try to imagine how they would take a certain photo. While you’re out shooting, considering this can help you to see completely different shots than what you initially thought of.

When you look at someone else’s work, you’ll start to see a reoccurring theme in their images. Whether it’s the way they compose, the types of lenses they use, or how they pose a model. Looking on something like Instagram is an easy way to see this since there are hundreds of photos in one place from any photographer. Identify what makes your favorite photographers unique so you can pretend you have their same creative eye when you’re out shooting.

Now, this isn’t meant to help you copy someone else’s work, but rather to help you see shots you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. By putting on the persona of another artist, it’s easier to think outside the box with your compositions.

As you try this a few times, you’ll start to realize different techniques that you want to apply to your own images. Eventually, you’ll take bits and pieces of other people’s styles to blend with your own to ultimately develop a new eye for photography.

7. Shoot With Other Photographers

female photographer taking photo on hike

Shooting with other photographers is a great way to see different shots you would have never thought of. Since everyone has a slightly different photographic eye, you and I could shoot the same thing and end up with totally different photos.

With you and your friends taking such different pictures, you can consider what they’re up to and begin to understand their creative intent. Just like with finding inspiration, seeing another photographer in action is a great way to improve your own eye for photography.

Someone else will see shots that you may have never thought of. You can then use some of their ideas to blend with your own to find a whole new composition you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Message a local photographer on social media or contact one of your friends who loves to take pictures and get shooting!

Getting out and enjoying photography with someone else is a great way to develop your eye for photography while having a lot of fun doing it.

8. Try Different Genres

Every genre of photography requires something a little different. The skills required to take a great milky way photo aren’t the same required to capture a fashion image. By branching out your photography into different genres, you can challenge your eye and start to think differently.

You don’t have to get fully invested in every genre, but rather understand how those images are taken. You’ll start to pick up on different creative thought processes that can translate across different genres. That way, you end up developing a unique eye that’s a blend of multiple styles. This will ultimately create a unique look in your photos that nobody else is doing!

9. Imagine Your Taking Photos Even Without A Camera

Any professional photographer is able to imagine the photo they’re going to take before their camera is even out. This is important for efficiency and a valuable skill when dealing with clients or pitching creative ideas. This might seem like an intimidating and difficult skill to learn, but it all starts by imagining you’re taking photos, even without a camera.

While you’re out on a walk or just getting groceries, randomly ask yourself, “how would I take a photo right now?” Try to imagine what lens you’d use, your approximate settings, and how you’d frame the shot. Getting better at envisioning these steps will ultimately help to improve your photographic eye.

You’ll not only become skilled at predicting how a picture will turn out, but you’ll become far more efficient at finding the perfect shot.

10. Get Familiar With Your Camera And Settings

One of the biggest barriers to improving your eye is not knowing your way around your camera. If you feel intimated by your camera settings or don’t know how to get the look you’re imagining, you’re not going to have a good time. While you’re sitting at home watching a movie, take the time to play around with your camera and the menu system. Break down what everything means so that it makes sense to you.

Look through your camera settings and see what happens when you take pictures at different shutter speeds, apertures, or ISO’s. Building confidence with your camera helps you to realize what types of photos you’re capable of.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret… you can capture anything you can imagine!

You just need to understand how your camera and settings work first.

To help get you started, check out my photography ebook called Goodbye Automatic to get an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals.

You have a unique eye for photography that is different from any else’s. The trouble is, you need to work on it constantly to see improvements in your creativity. By shooting more, challenging your photography, and thinking outside of your usual genre, you can flex those creative muscles and begin seeing growth. Over time your eye for photography will improve to develop a style of images unique to you.

And that’s just the start of having fun with your camera!

Happy shooting,

Brendan 🙂

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. You can view my photography portfolio here.

These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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