How to Develop Your Photographer’s Vision in 8 Steps

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Writer’s have what they call their writer’s voice. To them, it’s the most important thing they must develop in order to be a successful writer. Ask any writer and they will probably tell you that it wasn’t until only after they discovered their “voice” that they were free to express themselves truthfully.

For you, as a photographer you must learn to develop your own version of the “writer’s voice” – and that is, your photographer’s vision.

This article will list 6 steps that will help you to develop and cultivate your photographer’s vision and allow you to grow into the photographer you were meant to be.

Step 1. Learn to SEE

water_drop_reflections.xlargeLearn to SEE: Your photographer’s vision is your ability to SEE the world in a way that opens you up to the beauty of everything around you. Photo courtesy of Steve took it

The first thing to keep in mind when developing your photographer’s vision, is to recognize that the skill you are growing is your ability to SEE. Now, many of you may exclaim, “I already know how to see.” But seeing in this sense, is not merely the sight process of your eyes.

As a photographer, “seeing” is the mix of your physical “eyesight” plus your mental “vision”. It is the ability to look at things as they really are to you, without the filter of “expecting” to see what you think it should be. It is the process of dropping all that you think you see, and really seeing the world for what it is. It’s not about adding more, but about seeing with “clarity.”

That is your goal as a photographer.

Step 2. Observe your surroundings

A good way to practice enhancing your ability to see, and thus your photographer’s vision is the act of observing your surroundings. The great thing about this technique is that it doesn’t require any extra time. You can do it at any moment. It’s free. All it requires is a little extra “attention.”

As you go about your normal, everyday activities, just observe your environment. Look at what is in front of you. Don’t take your surroundings for granted. Rather, look at them in the same way, a growing, curious child looks out at the world.

Ask yourself, “what am I seeing? What am I looking at?” And then listen to your inner voice. Not your questioning voice, but your inner silent voice – the voice that has the answers.

Step 3. Become fascinated with normal

first_snow.xlargeBecome fascinated with normal: When you learn to SEE by simply observing your surroundings, you will become fascinated with the ordinary. Photo courtesy of Bossbob50

A by-product of the simple technique of observing your surroundings is that you will become fascinated with everything you see. When you start observing your surroundings, you will begin to appreciate the world you see in front of your eyes. When you start to appreciate the beauty in the world, you start seeing it differently. Suddenly, everything becomes beautiful. Anything can be art. Everything is alive and flowing with a majestic beauty and you, as a photographer, wish to capture that beauty in your images.

When this happens to you, a portrait isn’t simply a portrait but a glimpse into the life of another loving, beautiful human being. A landscape isn’t just some mountains and a lake, but the result of trillions of years of evolutionary forces that made life on earth possible.

And then you see the simple beauty of a smile, the beauty of looking into someone’s eyes, the beauty of a tree, a flower. All things become beautiful.

Step 4. Analyze your heroes

A great way to develop your photographer’s vision is to see what you like in the works of other photographer’s whom you admire. Take a look at images that strike you. Images that compel you. Photos that stir you.

Ask yourself, “what is it about these photographs that I like?”

See if you can’t come up with a list of traits, characteristics and qualities that they possess. Then incorporate these elements into your own photographs.

When you can learn to appreciate the intricacies and details in other people’s work, you will begin to appreciate your own.

Step 5. Be your own coach

Once you have developed your own body of work, your next step is to be your own coach. Notice, I didn’t say, “be your own critic.” There’s too many negative connotations with the word “critic.” It’s more useful to learn to be your own coach. A coach is one better than a critic because in addition to seeing what is “wrong” with your actions, he can also teach you how to improve them. He helps you to grow. A critic merely criticizes.

All too often we become our worst enemy because we are our worst critic. Go over your photos, not with the intention of criticizing, but with the intention of helping yourself improve to be the best photographer you can be.

This process of self analysis will help you to see what you like about your own photographs. The things you like, you keep and improve. The things you don’t, you discard and rework.

Step 6. Listen to your intuition

Often times in the process of reviewing your work, you will come across a question that you can’t seem to answer. It often sounds something like: “do I like this, or do I like that?” “Which is better, this or that?”

At these moments, you may feel stuck. You may feel your progress is halting because you can’t resolve this dilemma. You’re not sure which direction to take your photographs.

If you find yourself in these moments, the best answer for you is to “listen to your intuition.” Your intuition is that “inner voice” that knows all the answers. The best way to listen to your intuition, is to be silent with it. Your intuition is always there. Most of the time it can’t be heard because you are drowning it out with your own constant “chatter.”

Step 7. Ask for input

This step is tricky because it takes a strong sense of self, or a strong sense of trust in someone in order to use this technique correctly. I almost didn’t want to add this in for these very reasons. Nevertheless, it is quite useful.

Another useful way to help you grow and progress with your photographer’s vision, is by asking others for their opinions. More specifically, ask someone you admire and trust for their opinion.

To use this technique appropriately, it is important that you remember their opinions are only there to help you. They are not gospel. That is why you need a strong belief in yourself. You need to be able to stand up for what you feel is right. However, don’t mistake this to mean you don’t listen to any help they may be offering. Instead, it is best to take their opinions with openness and understanding.

To help you navigate their advice, ask yourself, “does it make sense? Does it sound reasonable?”

Again, use what you feel is useful and discard what you feel is not.

And don’t forget to thank them for their assistance.

Step 8. Take action

What good is all your observations, analysis, and critiques if you don’t apply them? At a certain point, you must take action. Too often we get caught up in the learning process and forget why we were learning in the first place. Imagine a writer who didn’t write. She may be the best writer in the world, but if she didn’t write anything – well, what good would that be?

Your photographer’s vision can only be put to use if you create photographs that reflect that vision. Therefore, the most important action for you to take, as a photographer is to simply take photographs. Soak in the information you need to improve yourself, but always remember the end-goal is to produce great photographs.

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