Learning to see creatively
Sorry to use the name of this book as a title for this thread, but that is basically my problem: I have the equipment, I understand the basical technical aspects, but I still have problems finding subjects to photograph. And I know it's me..

I bought the book from Bryan Peterson, but I would like some help to know what to do now. I know practice is what I need, and that with a job and two small children I do not have that much free time, but still I have some and am a bit blocked when it comes to taking pictures..

What can you suggest? What books can I buy? Any exercises, like photographing one given subject for a week? What has helped you in the past?.

Any help is appreciated...

Comments (16)

The good news is that for most, the photographer's eye is a learned response. If you would like, email me and I'll give you one exercise a month to improve your creativity. You will have one month to complete the exercise..

I'll do the first one here. Cropping not only improves photographs but it teaches you how to see. For some reason, it is easier to get a better photograph by cropping than by taking the original image. But if you crop continually, you will develop a better eye on "on site" when taking original pictures. You will instinctually know what you do when cropping, so eventually you begin to incorporate better habits into your composition..

Next I would like you to download a freebie program - Picasa2 - distributed by Google. This is an idiot proof editing program which is easy to learn and will motivate you to move on to better software. I like this one because with others I have helped, we can talk "universally" about how a shot needs improvement, no matter what software they normally use, like elements, etc..


Now that you have downloaded Picasa2, go to the cropping area and set the choices offered to you to "manual.".

Now a natural for you is shooting one or both of your children outside in the backyard or at a play ground. Preferably playing with a toy. I like the outside shots as it removes worrying about flash and indoor settings, etc..

You are to take at least 30 photos of them. Load these into Picasa2 and go through every photo and produce at least one crop. Once you have done that, go back to each photo and find a second crop. I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised at the end of this exercise..

Don't be concerned about the technical quality of the crop, the more you crop, the softer the image will be. Remember this is an exercise in seeing beyound the original image, you can worry latter on in your photographic development about the getting technically better photos and cropping..

Maybe post one or two of the cropped images here; or maybe not...

Comment #1

I used to challenge myself with self assignments. One interesting one was called 100 Pics 100 Yards. I challenged myself to take all 100 within 100 yards of my house..

For a friend's new baby, I did a "parts shoot", little hands, little feet etc. One of those shots has earned over $5000 in stock sales..

For me, resstricting myself is useful. The limitations I put in place help me concentrate on the project at hand..

Still today, on some leisure shooting days, I will pack just the 50mm prime lens, a Nikon F4s, and 2 rolls of chrome. Seems you pay more attention wen you have to pay for the stuff .

Try the 100 pics 100 yards. It will be hard, but you might surprise your self too. And oh yes, scenes or objects but taken at different times of day is fair with my rules. Like a porchlight. Take a shot in morning, at midday with hard shadow, then at night turned on.My best friend is aluminium foil...

Comment #2

Everyone has been in your situation before, and you can move past it..

There was a point in time where I felt the need to hop in my car, drive around, and look for something or somewhere to shoot. I found myself driving around town for an hour without shooting a single shot. Finally, I'd find something I think I could capture. After taking 30 or so frames, Id rush home..

I found this method awful when I was first starting out. I was spending more time looking for a shot than actually shooting..

In the same amount of time now, I go for a walk around my neighborhood. I can shoot 200 or so different shots and not 30 of the same thing. For me, it's a lot easier to pull 10 or so pictures I like out of 200 than it is to pull two pictures out of 30..

Keep your camera at you hip. Some of my favorite shots have been when I was filling up with gas..

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Taking a walk.

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Driving home.

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Going out on a cold night.

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Rushing out during a rain storm.

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My point is, don't rely on "I'm going to go out and take pictures now" method, Rely on the "oh wow, that looks cool, where's my camera" method. Don't shoot the same thing over and over. It teaches you how to use your camera in one method. Be dynamic. Stop what your doing, and shoot...

Comment #3

Trent Gillespie wrote:.

I was filling up with gas..

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Wow that is a striking photo, looks like it is a photo of a mini model like the ones they used to use in movies, or like that dollhouse episode of twilight zone...

Comment #4

Before I took up photography, I never would have noticed how interesting the pump head is on my water well. You begin thinking differently when you have a camera in your hand..


Comment #5

Jaba wrote:.

Sorry to use the name of this book as a title for this thread, butthat is basically my problem: I have the equipment, I understand thebasical technical aspects, but I still have problems finding subjectsto photograph. And I know it's me..

I bought the book from Bryan Peterson, but I would like some help toknow what to do now. I know practice is what I need, and that with ajob and two small children I do not have that much free time, butstill I have some and am a bit blocked when it comes to takingpictures..

What can you suggest? What books can I buy? Any exercises, likephotographing one given subject for a week? What has helped you inthe past?.

Any help is appreciated..

What has helped me has been spending a lot of time in the books store browsing through photography and image editing books. I've also spent a lot of time in the magazine section at local book stores. Not only do I read and try to get information, I look at the pictures and try to find out what's creative and unique about each one. Merely looking through a lot of beautiful images can help inspire creativity..

Photographs and other displays of art are all around us. You'll find a lot of it everywhere whether it be walking down a street, driving down the road, walking through a mall, or even spending time in nature. You see a lot of creativity by admiring the work of others and by seeing the beauty in nature. One of the tips that I've frequently heard from pros is to take your camera everywhere you can. If you don't have it with you, then you'll miss out on a lot of shots..

Seeing the world as a form of art and beauty is what has inspired me to get into photography..


Comment #6

Now you know why photography is not as easy as people think it is. We all struggle with "vision". Before you take the shots ask yourself what you are trying to show and think about the best angle to show it. Then try to turn it upsode down and look at it from a different angle altogether..

At teh nikon school. The travel guy had 26 different shots of the ferris wheel at the pPace de la Condorde. You don't need such an exotic subject, but I hope you get the point.Chris, Broussard, LA..

Comment #7

Jaba wrote:.

What has helped you inthe past?.

- Reading serious literature and poetry. Listening to serious music. Looking at great masters' artworks in various museums..


Comment #8

When I started using my slr nikon and sb 28 flash about 12 years ago, the purpose was to take pictures of my daughter and two boys who had just joined our local cultural association. the group performed a lot of cultural songs and dances in their colorful costumes. I became the volunteer "official" photographer to the delight of the parents, officers and members. from then on, I never had to look for subjects (from the youngest to the oldest) willing to be photographed in colorful costumes. as my confidence (and skill) and equipments grew, I also begun volunteering in our school, church and community events. this had given me free pass to gain vantage points at these events...

Comment #9

I like the photo particularly because it is a '68-'70 Ford Falcon. I'm in the process of restoring/updating a '70 Falcon two door. Here is a link to my project:.


By the way, I too have difficulty going out and shooting. This is a good thread that might be of some help for me. Thanks to the OP for starting it..

Good shooting,Otto.....

Comment #10

Thanks for all your replies..

It really seems to me that this is really the most difficult part of this hobby/profession. I sometimes feel a bit demotivated when I see the pictures of some of you guys because I will never reach that level..

I will try to do some of the exercises posted in this thread. Thanks for the offers...

Comment #11

Don't aim so high to begin with (take it from me .

The thing about books is that they filled with the authors best images for that purpose. The thing about websites is that people often won't be posting their rubbish images (in most cases anyway, and you'll not remember the bad ones so much as you will the good ones if you see what I mean)..

So you can start to think that everyone else is only ever taking fantastic pictures. The truth is probably more like they are also taking some awful pictures but you'll never ever see these as they got deleted..

The 100 pics is a fantastic idea and I can't wait to have a go at it. Another favourite of mine is setting your sights on one subject matter to focus yourself. i.e. take just landscapes for the day, as you progress you'll find yourself seeing the good shots before you look through the lens...

Comment #12

Trent Gillespie wrote:.

My point is, don't rely on "I'm going to go out and take picturesnow" method, Rely on the "oh wow, that looks cool, where's my camera"method. Don't shoot the same thing over and over. It teaches you howto use your camera in one method. Be dynamic. Stop what your doing,and shoot..

Yes - this would be my advice, too. Don't try too hard. Some people "have it" ... creative vision; they can walk around and see potential; they can shoot something and PP it into an interesting image of some sort, or they can previsualize a photograph they want to make, then go out and make it. I think those are people who could be called artists who just happen to pick up a camera instead of a pencil or paintbrush. The rest of us, the photographers (who aren't artists) have to settle for taking well crafted pictures of interesting subjects.

That resulted in some well composed shots of boring subjects  Now I think that, for me anyway, subject is everything. Lighting & composition are still important, but people are going to spend long looking at S-curves ... they want you to show them something interesting..

I like the opportunistic approach; be ready, be aware. Keep your eyes open. Shoot when you "sense" potential in something. Above all, do NOT hesitate to shoot; if you only sense potential, but can't quite figure out if it will be a good shot, shoot anyway. Shoot a lot. Delete a lot.

The flip side of this opportunistic approach which I also agree with is not trying to hard; if you're not seeing anything, don't force the issue; you'll come home with lots of disappointing junk. That can be useful for learning to understand light & shadow, composition, etc. but not for learning how to keep your eyes open for interesting subject matter..

I've read any number of photography books, but the real help has been sporadic; a matter or reading the right thing at the right time. I have probably 50 books; more than half are picture books but a large number of "how to" books as well. Out of all of that, I can probably count no more than a half dozen genuinely useful bits of enlightenment over the years. One thing that I think is critical is for whatever type of subject matter you're shooting, to be able to identify "good" photos (not that there's any universal definition). You ought to be able to take a collection of pictures; some bad, some good, and determine which are which. It's easy to pick up a book of pictures and assume that well, these must be good ...

Disclaimer: all of the above is personal opinion; it's what works for me at the moment. I'm 100% certain it's not right for everyone .

- DennisGallery at

Comment #13

I bought the book from Bryan Peterson,.

That, perhaps, is one of your problems. He's a horrible, *atrocious* writer..

Your idea of "one subject for a week" is in the right direction in the sense of setting limits for yourself so that you are forced to explore where the limits are not set. Common examples include using only a prime lens during an outing, or only one subject but varying the aperture or shutter speed to try to create different effects..

The point early on is not to create a great shot, but to understand what goes into the shots you do create. As that becomes second nature, you allow the other side of your brain to start adding it's input..

Another important part of the mix is to be able to investigate and learn from what you've already done. Along those lines, you want to be sure to have a way to process the photos you took during the day, even if you end up throwing them all away. I've heard good things about the Picasa client. If you're more serious, Lightroom or Aperture are common choices..

The important thing is what you noted yourself: experience. Try to experience new things try different genres (street, portrait, landscape, nature, macro). Whether you end up liking them or doing well, you'll gain experience that is helpful in the long run..

Most of all, enjoy. If you don't, there's no point to any of it..


Jeffrey Friedl Kyoto, Japan

Comment #14

This is not likely the popular opinion, and I will emphasize that I am not a pro photographer. being creative is having the ability to create original and expressive works or things. if you learn how from someone you arent being original or expressive, but of course you picture will be of another subject. you can learn to play football but cant learn to be a NFL player, you have to have the ability. unless you are striving to be a pro photographer and make money from your work, just be your own judge. if you like the seen or subject or find it memorable or unique, take a picture.

The point is if you like it keep it, if not keep trying...

Comment #15

Creativity comes in all forms with photography. I was in the same boat with you technically some time ago, and I came to the realization that I was taking properly exposed and composed pictures of dirt..

First, I took a class on photography. It was interesting, but honestly felt like it cramped my style (having to do it as homework was not fun)..

I honestly believe what helped me the most was getting an all-manual film camera with a 50mm lens. Basically, getting rid of all my fancy equipment. Then, I started to identify the types of shots I wanted to take, which where landscapes at the time..

For now, I would recommend 2 things:.

1. Get and read some good photo magazines like Shutterbug, American Photo, etc (I'ld avoid ones like PC Photo, Digital Camera Buyers Guide, etc). They are filled with good articles and techniques and best off all inspiring images..

2. Make up some self-assigments..

'100 yeads of your house' as someone else mentioned, Alphabet, 'Red', 'Water', 'My Bathroom', they can be just about any noun or verb you can think of. Take your time and shoot lots, then review and see if any possibilities jump out at you. Then, go back and shoot it again..

For me personally, composition was the big thing, but you can also experiment with depth of field, motion blur, whatever..

Also like you, I have 2 small kids. I can't go out all day and shoot landscapes anymore, but now they have become my biggest subjects..

Finally, I would say don't worry about trying to reproduce any image you see and like. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? It's all a fun learning process..

Everything I write is a personal opinion. Even when I quote facts, they are the facts I personally choose to accept.

Comment #16

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.


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