Cultivating a Photographer’s Eye

Hello, dears!

I often have people ask me how they can improve they’re photography or if I have any tips for them. So today I thought I’d make a post on one very important tip that often gets overlooked.

It goes along with two other big photography tips:

  • Invest in good equipment.
  • Learn how to use it well.
  • Cultivate a photographer’s eye.

There are plenty of blog posts and articles about the first two, but I haven’t seen many or perhaps any about the third, so I thought I’d address that point today. πŸ™‚

Since each of these points depend in some way on the others, I do want to briefly go over the first two before going into more depth on the third.

1. Invest in good equipment. Notice I didn’t say “buy a DSLR.” I DO recommend buying a DSLR eventually if you’re serious about photography, but you can still take beautiful photos with lower-quality cameras by using the other two tips I mentioned.

You’re going to want to research for yourself, but, briefly, here are my recommendations: For the beginner who wants to get more into photography but isn’t ready for a DSLR, I highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix L840. I had an older model of this camera for years. For things like easy close-ups and stunning sunset photos, it even outperforms my DSLR!

If you’re more experienced with photography and want to invest in a more quality camera, I recommend the Nikon D3400, which is what I currently use. The annoying thing about DSLRs is that you pretty much have to purchase separate lenses if you want your photos to look DSLR-quality. You can take nice photos with the kit lenses (the lens that comes with your camera), but you’ll definitely want to upgrade before long. My favorite lenses are the 50mm and 35mm lenses. Check out Aria’s excellent post here for more information.

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2. Learn how to use it well. There are heaps of resources for learning how to work DSLRs, which I highly recommend you check out. You’re not going to progress very far unless you really know how to use your camera, and yes, this means getting off manual or automatic mode. It’s not as scary as you think! This holds true for the Nikon L840 as well. Look up articles, read the instruction manual, and just experiment with all the different settings to open up a whole new layer of mastery that will help you capture beauty well.

macro lens

3. Cultivate a photographer’s eye. Now, for the final point, which is the main one of this post: cultivating a photographer’s eye. What do I mean by a photographer’s eye? I mean being able to see beauty and potential photography subjects all around you, even when it seems like there aren’t any good photo opportunities nearby. A good photographer is one who can capture any subject in its best light (both literally and figuratively).

Keep in mind that the previous two points are pretty indispensable here – even if you find something beautiful, you’re probably not going to capture it to your satisfaction if you have a terrible camera, or worse, if you don’t know how to use it well. On the flip side, you can have great equipment and know how to use it, but look out the window on a gray day and see no photography opportunities. There are ALWAYS photography opportunities, my friends! That’s what cultivating a photographer’s eye is about.

For instance, I was walking by this bush and noticed the little fallen branch in the sun.

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The bush itself was not the most beautiful subject, but I love the colors and light in this close-up!

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My point is… notice things. Pay attention both to the big picture and the tiny details. Many people will want to take a picture when they see beautiful scenery, even if they’re not photographers per se. And while a good photographer can capture an especially outstanding picture of something like that, you don’t need to work as hard to capture beauty when it’s staring you in the face.

On the other hand, if you think you live in a boring place with no beautiful scenery or photography opportunities, I feel you! Sometimes I see photos of breathtaking scenery or adorable kids or pets and inwardly pout because, “no fair, I don’t have those opportunities. How am I supposed to pictures like that when I just live on a farm and not at the top of a mountain range or beside a beach?”

But guys! Listen. I truly believe there is beauty all around you at this very moment. God has placed you where you are, when you are for a reason. If photography appeals to you, use it as a tool to share the beauty around you with others who will never be at that exact place at that exact time, with the exact lighting and the exact angle that you captured.

Open your eyes, dear, and really look! What can you see? Here are a few elements to be get you started noticing things with a photographer’s eye, along with quick editing tips on how best to highlight those elements.

Light & shadow

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a photo, if not the most important. The way light falls, whether it’s cool or warm, and whether or not it provides any special effects like sun flares – all these aspects can completely change the mood of your photo.

Golden hour, of course, is a much-loved example of the way the type of light can make almost anything beautiful. Also be on the lookout for interesting light patterns and the way the color and tone of light transforms a subject. Try moving your camera around to get sun flares, backlit photos, or sparkly bokeh.

Editing tips: if you’re working with yellow-toned or golden hour light, increase the temperature and saturation of the photo to accentuate warmth. If you’re capturing the structure/pattern of light or the way it falls, try a calm, low-key filter, or black and white.

light & shadow photography

light
{Photo from this post.} The gorgeous golden-hour light adds a magical filter to what might otherwise be just a messy, tangled garden. (Side note: I took this photo so long ago, but I still love it and the photoshoot it’s from. <3)
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{Photo from this post.} There’s a lot of light in this picture: the sun rays slanting in from the top; the sparkly, colorful bokeh; and the golden glow bringing out the colors.
light
{Photo original to this post.} This is a much more calm, contemplative photo. The squares of light on the wall and dark, angular shadow balance the rounded flowerpot and provide interest to what could otherwise be a boring picture. πŸ˜‰
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{Photo from this post.} Sun rays add such a beautiful ambiance to almost any photo. Golden hour light like this can also soften harsh structures and bring flat colors to life.
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{Photo from this post.} I couldn’t help getting a shot of the interesting light patterns in our big hay barn!
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{Photo from this post.} Dull-colored plants are great candidates for golden hour photos. Especially if you position yourself so the subject is between you and the sun, the backlighting will illuminate it and make even dried goldenrod glow.

Color

Sometimes the color of a subject (or lack of it) is enough to compose a good photo. Look for hues and shades that stand out from their surroundings, or go together well.

Editing tips: make colors pop by upping the contrast and saturation.

Color Photography

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{Photo from this post.} The structure of this photo is pretty abstract, but the bright yellow and blue bring it together.
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{Photo from this post.} Finding a subject with a similar colored background helps make the photograph beautifully cohesive.
portrait 1
{Photo from this post.} Sometimes you only need a pop of color against a dull background to make an engaging photo. This is a great tip for photoshoots!
color
{Photo from this post.} The buttercup wouldn’t stand out nearly so much without the bright blue of my jeans in the background. Look for colors nearby to make your subject pop!
color
{Photo from this post.} Here’s another example of how colors can provide interest even without much structure. Most of this bubble is blurred out, but the rainbow colors look magical all the same.
color
{Photo from this post.} And of course, we couldn’t leave out sunsets, could we? πŸ˜‰ Increasing the contrast either on your camera or with editing will really bring out the beauty.

Texture/Structure

Even if the color or lighting is boring, you can often compose an interesting photo by looking at the texture of your subject, the structure of a building, or other patterns around you.

Editing tip: highlight texture with a black and white filter, high contrast, or sharpening.

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{Photo from this post.} I love all the different textures and patterns inside pianos, don’t you?
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{Photo from this post.} Wilted flowers make pretty interesting subjects, especially if you apply a subtle filter to highlight the crinkly texture of their petals.
texture
{Photo original to this post.} We have curly garlic grass like this all over our yard!
texture 2
{Photo from this post.} A dramatic black and white filter highlights the cracks in this sheet of ice.
texture
{Photo from this post.} Macro lenses are great for capturing texture on small surfaces, like this gall.
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{Photo from this post.} I love this one! The texture of the water is so soothing.

And there you have a few of my photography tips! Of course there are SO many other things to look for and notice when cultivating a photographer’s eye, but hopefully those gave you something to start from. πŸ™‚

What element are you most drawn to in photos? (Color, light, texture, etc.) What tips do YOU have for cultivating a photographer’s eye?

Thanks so much for reading, dears, and have a lovely day!

***Allison***

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57 thoughts on “Cultivating a Photographer’s Eye

  1. Oh my goodness! I really needed a post like this! For the past few months I’ve really been trying to improve my photography. The camera I have is a really old one though, a Lumix. Thanks for the tips!

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  2. I realy like the Canon Rebel SL1. I think that it is a good entry level DSLR and have been very happy with it. Do you use RAW image editing, or do you edit your jpg’s? What program do you use for editing?

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    1. I’ve heard great things about the Canon Rebel! It seems comparable to my D3400. I’ve taken photos in RAW a couple of times, but generally I just take jpegs and edit them with picmonkey.com. πŸ™‚

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  3. My overall tip is Manual Focus. Auto is ok, but with every camera I have used, Niki, Fugi or Canon, Manual Focus was a huge amount crisper.

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    1. Thank you for the tip, Clay! I’ll admit I don’t use manual focus all that much unless I’m having trouble with auto focus, or if I’m using my macro lens.

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  4. okay, I’ve been trying to find ways to become a better photographer, knowing how to use a camera, etc. etc. our post was super helpful, and I lovelovelove the bokeh effect pictures. they’re the definition of dreamy!

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  5. This was such an awesome post Allison! πŸ˜€ I feel like I could be a pro now with this advice. XD You know, if I had enough time and money to focus more on photography. πŸ˜› But I love seeing your posts like this! The lighting and everything is always so beautiful in your photos! πŸ™‚ ❀

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  6. Ahhh yes I love this so so much! Unfortunately the card in my Canon Rebel broke, so I’m unable to photograph for a long time. I do love going outside and getting to take photos! It makes me feel so in tune with God and His creation. πŸ™‚
    (Your letters are finished! I’m mailing them this week.)

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    1. Whoops, I thought I’d already replied to this! Anyway, I’m so glad you liked this post! Ugh, that’s frustrating. Hopefully you can get a new card soon. Yes, same here! (Also YAY, I can’t wait!)

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  7. I shouldnt have read this-now in eyeing up cameras that I probably don’t need!!it was a great post though! I love photos taken from angles that you don’t normally see things (for example from underneath plants or looking directly down at a tree)

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  8. That is so true, Allison. Having an eye (what you call as a photographer’s eye..!!) for the subject is equally important. Composition comes next. This article has doubled my read while I am also reading various books on photography (a good refresher), 3 completed last week and one just started. Taking a few notes as I read and would like to publish them sometime on my blog. I want that post to be more visual (explanations illustrated) that text. Let’s see how it comes up. Your subjects have been a great choice though.

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  9. Wow, this is an incredible post – what a great idea! I think your tips are going to help a lot of people – they were definitely a great reminder for me. πŸ˜€ I’ve been working a lot to try to capture things with unique angles/lighting instead of just going with my first instinct when it comes to capturing a subject. πŸ™‚ To answer your question at the end of the post, I think the element that I’m most drawn to in photos is light – how about you?

    -Clara ❀

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    1. Aww, thank you! The idea just popped into my head one morning. πŸ˜› Ooh, that’s a great thing to try! Angles are another good point to add for cultivating a photographer’s eye. YES, I agree with you – if the light is pretty enough, I’ll like the photo pretty much no matter what the subject is. πŸ˜›

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  10. Good tips, Allison! I agree the lighting is so important to photography. I still have so much to learn about it, and I hope to check out some photography books from the library this summer so I can improve. I have found that taking design and art classes have strengthened my sense of composition and perhaps color, as well. πŸ™‚

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      1. You’re welcome! Yes, it’s exciting to see how photography and other forms of art intersect, especially graphic design. Also, my love for all these different art forms can unfortunately be overwhelming, since I want to learn about them all. It’s fun, anyway. πŸ™‚
        On another subject, did you receive my email from a little while back? I sent it a couple weeks ago (during my spring break), so I just wanted to make sure you got it. πŸ™‚

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        1. I agree! Ha ha, but I understand that too – there are so many things to learn! XD
          Hmm… let me check. OH, whoops! I remember reading it and thought I had replied a long time ago, but it doesn’t look like I did after all. Or else it didn’t go through again. :[] I’ll try to reply soon!

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    1. Ha ha, good question! It’s a laughing face emoji (the “X” is closed eyes and the “D” is a big smile). WordPress used to translate it into an emoticon like πŸ™‚ , but not anymore.

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