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Can a creative eye be LEARNED?

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  • Can a creative eye be LEARNED?

    I have been studying and practising my photography for 4 months now (I know that's not long), and I am still loving every minute of it. I feel like I'm now getting a really good grip on the technicalities, exposure triangle etc etc and have started using manual mode confidently in difficult lighting situations etc.

    Looking back on my photos I can see them steadily improving technically but I am very worried that I just don't have the knack for composition. I don't easily "see" where the best viewpoint will be from, or what might look good. I think I can recognise these elements in other people's photos and after the fact (which is why I'm often disappointed with my photos when I review them on the computer) but in the moment, I really struggle!

    For example I went to a big public exhibition/festival a while ago solely for practising photography and going back over those photos they are technically okay but just not interesting or captivating to look at. I am often disappointed in this manner when going back over my photos and am quite discouraged.

    I have seen some books on this topic but I am just dubious that this is something that can be learned. Do you either have it or not?? I've never been very artistic (logical minded) and I am just worried I don't have it!

    Any thoughts? Or any book recommendations??

  • #2
    Emy, I hate to say it, but I think it's something you are born with. And everyone is born with some level of creativity. It may manifest itself differently from person to person, but with time, patience and practice it can be embellished regardless of how much (or little) you were blessed with. Creativity is also somewhat subjective. What's creative to the engineer designing a gear may not be considered creative to an artist or a musician, but it is creative none the less. My wife is also a photographer, and she can find things to photograph that I wouldn't even think of doing. But, I am learning from her, lol. I think we have to realize that all shots aren't going to be creative masterpieces. Many are just going to be quick grab shots designed to capture a particular moment. Maybe a way to start to hone your skills is to photograph things that you particularly love. Shoot lots of them...different angles, different light conditions, different points of view, different depth of field, in focus, out of focus, b/w, toned, etc. Pick a subject, and shoot the daylights out of it...push those creative juices. You just may surprise yourself with the results.
    Vince "...the law of unintended consequences, sometimes, you get a truly memorable photograph"
    Gear: Canon G2, Canon 20D, Nikon D300...bunch of lenses
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    • #3
      I think this is where the "take a zillion pictures an you might get 10 shots that are good" mentality comes from. More people than not have this kind of problem i think. I know I do...

      Honestly though, I think this is where "experience" comes from. The more I shoot, the more keepers I get, the more I understand what it was that seperated the keepers from the rest, the more I learn, and the more my ability in composition improves.

      I think setting goals and specific practice time for certain compositional elements is important to train your mind to look for these kinds of things.

      Its long been known that some things come naturally to some people, but its also known that those with talent can only get "so far" on it. If you take two people, one with talent, the other with dedication, and watched their progress over 2 years I'm sure you would notice that the one with talent would quickly exceed the ability of the dedicated person for the first couple months, but slowly the dedicated person would catch up, surpass and blow away the talented person who got lazy because they only relied on their talent.

      Talent is like a 'head start" in a race. It will only take you so far and after that, your on equal footing with everyone else.

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      • #4
        There are definitely ways to improve your composition, quite a few tips from our own site here: Digital Photography Tips and Tutorials

        It can also be helpful to expose yourself to the work of more established photographers, look in to how their shots are framed, what angles they were taking from, how the focal length and background plays into them, etc.
        My flickriver

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        • #5
          Can one learn creativity? NO. Can one develop creativity? YES. So what is the difference. As stated above you and everyone else is born with creativity. The issue is we have been raised in a rule based society, and rules confine creativity. We need to pay attention to the principles the rules illustrate, not the rules themselves, only then can we become truly creative.

          Release yourself from the rules. Apply the principals and enjoy.
          Last edited by Elmo; 12-28-2011, 02:11 PM.

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          • #6
            A creative eye can be "learned" ( or developed). Much of it comes from experience but it also comes from "openness".

            A good book for you might be Tom Aang's Master Class....it has assignments in it, and if you want to get the most from the book you should do them.
            Steve
            the Photographic Academy.com
            SharpShooter Industries
            My 500px, My Flickr, My Blog

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            • #7
              ..funny that you say assignments Steve. I was going to suggest for her to pick one subject per day, shoot it 10 times with each shot being different. Then upon viewing them to rank them from most favorite to least favorite, and ask yourself what it is that makes it a favorite or not favorite. Continue to do this little exercise daily for a few weeks, and you may start seeing things in photos that you never noticed before. It will also force you to be a little more creative in your shooting
              Vince "...the law of unintended consequences, sometimes, you get a truly memorable photograph"
              Gear: Canon G2, Canon 20D, Nikon D300...bunch of lenses
              My Flickr
              www.montalbanophotography.com

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              • #8
                I think it is a split between inherent eye and what can be learned..... some people just have it and will always be better than you, some people have to work for it, just like sports, or music....

                I know I do not have an inherently GREAT eye.... I also know when i began toying with the rule of thirds my pics got more interesting, then i knew when to break form the rule of thirds and some pics got better again, then i started dealing with depth of field and again, they got better still, then i toyed with intentionally slow shutter speeds and again, better, then you combined an off center subject AND interesting depth of field or an intentionally slow shutter AND some other apsects together and things start to get decent.

                This does not make me a GREAT photographer, but it certainly makes me better than 3 years ago when i got my first DSLR....
                Nikon D40
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                If your struggling listen to this!

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                • #9
                  I am just the opposite. I can find great subjects that are interesting but fail on the technical end. Now that I am really trying hard to learn the technical side... I get too wrapped up in it and forget the artistic side of photography LOL

                  Here is something I have done in the past and still do whenever I get into a flustered funk over my photography. I go someplace nice and fun. I don't worry about ANYTHING except clicking the camera. I will take photos of some REALLY strange stuff LOL

                  I do not worry about exposure or technical at all. I usually put it on P or auto while doing this. I just have fun with my camera catching things normal people miss while walking past.

                  It is a very similar technique used in creative writing classes. They have students write non stop for 5 minutes. No grammar, no subject ..just keep writing and don't stop. Its amazing what comes out!!!

                  Sometimes your creative side just needs a wake up call. I am having a really hard time balancing the technical with the artistic. By the time I get my exposure correct my creative thinking has left the building lol

                  Remember, that memory card can be deleted. It doesn't cost you much to take a photo anymore, like it did in the film days. So take your camera out there, hit the *p* setting and start snapping and don't stop. Upload the photos and see what you got and where you were going with the shot. You can surprise yourself a great deal this way.
                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/praline3001/
                  Camera: Canon Rebel T3i
                  software: Photoshop CS5
                  ~BROOK~

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                  • #10
                    I believe that there's a little bit of both involved. Everyone has their own perceptions about the world, and so each person will be inclined to "create" a composition and frame a scene with their camera in a unique way.

                    However, there are definite techniques and methods that can help you learn to develop your creative and compositional mindset. There are so many great books out there that can help, but the best ways to improve over the long run are to look at as many photos as you can, study why you like or don't like each image, and then go out and shoot as many photos as possible.

                    Four months is not very long, when you consider that many photographers have been at it for years. I'm going on 22 years next month and I'm still learning and improving.

                    Photography is a life long process. Enjoy the ride and don't get too impatient.
                    Daniel H. Bailey's Adventure Photography Blog
                    -Exploring the world of outdoor photography with tips, news, imagery and insight.

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                    • #11
                      During the training of the Army, Navy, Marine Corp and Air Force photography students they are introduced to the ISO-Aperature-Shutter Speed of their equipment and how the three are interrelated. Then they are handed a D300 and a 50 1.8 along with a shot list and sent out on post to accomplish that list with no further instruction. This means they spend a large part of the first phase with camera in hand and shots to get but not being told the right or wrong way (which I'm not sure I believe exists) to take the picture.

                      One of the things that is almost over-emphasized is changing your POV. Just standing on something or laying on the ground can sometimes give you that oomph from ordinary to extraordinary. Those are the things we learn. The creativity is something you develop and to what extent really depends on how much you are willing to open yourself up.

                      I keep thinking about those 3d prints that you had to learn to relax your eyes to see. That was a learned response that allowed your mind to see something that wasn't there before. That's sort of how I think learning to be creative is. You just need a new way to see and it's all about finding your own way to see. I know I've read it somewhere and I have a friend that also told me about it; he said to try holding your camera upside down or at a 45 degree angle and then crop out a good photo in post. The task leaves you looking at your photos differently and you'll often find things that you didn't realize were there.

                      d
                      Last edited by zephod; 01-12-2012, 06:49 PM. Reason: finish my thought...
                      D810, D3, D300s, and, 50mm 1.4, Sigma 10-20 f. 3.5, and Nikon 24-70 2.8,.. 2 SB-900s, 2 SB-28's.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by zephod View Post
                        One of the things that is almost over-emphasized is changing your POV. Just standing on something or laying on the ground can sometimes give you that oomph from ordinary to extraordinary. Those are the things we learn. The creativity is something you develop and to what extent really depends on how much you are willing to open yourself up.

                        d
                        Funny you should mention that ... when I started grad school at Syracuse, I shot a HS football game with some of the MPJ students. One of them was pretty much laying on the sideline. I wouldn't have done that for all the money in the world, way too easy to get crushed/stepped on with cleats.

                        To the original point, I think the eye is something that develops over time, for everyone. Experience is a huge part of being good at anything (especially something that's both technically AND creatively demanding).

                        I'm going to go ahead and say something that might sound pretentious, but I'm really not an egomaniac. When I first started doing serious photography, I was coming up with some interesting stuff, but looking back on it, I'm WAY better now than I was. Even just looking at the portfolio I got into grad school on ... night and day from the way I shoot now.
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                        • #13
                          this is something i've wondered about too.

                          when i was using my powershot, i gradually learned more and more about the camera, what it could do, what it couldn't, i used it to death, and as time went by my images improved, i don't think they were ever great, but my creativity improved for sure, and that was because of the confidence i had using it.

                          now that i've moved to a DSLR i find myself thinking that i suck again, forgetting of course that i once felt the same way with my compact.

                          talent is one thing, you either have it or you don't, but as someone said, it's only a head start.
                          My Flickr

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                          • #14
                            Thankyou everybody for your reply. I've been a while responding but I've really enjoyed reading each entry. Autofocus I think you broke my heart with your first sentence so I didn't respond for a while hahaha. But I got over it with time!

                            Originally posted by Tzetsin View Post
                            The more I shoot, the more keepers I get, the more I understand what it was that seperated the keepers from the rest, the more I learn, and the more my ability in composition improves.

                            I think setting goals and specific practice time for certain compositional elements is important to train your mind to look for these kinds of things.
                            This is all very true. I've noticed the same process happening with my photos. I am taking less, and keeping more, which can only be a good thing I guess.

                            Originally posted by autofocus View Post
                            It may manifest itself differently from person to person, but with time, patience and practice it can be embellished regardless of how much (or little) you were blessed with.
                            I like this. I may not become the brilliant street photographer I dream of, but if I can capture joy in my son's face, or a special wildlife/landscape shot, then I should be satisfied with that.

                            Originally posted by sk66 View Post
                            A good book for you might be Tom Aang's Master Class....it has assignments in it, and if you want to get the most from the book you should do them.
                            Thankyou, I'll look into that book! I really like the idea of actually forcing myself to do composition-specific assignments, a few posters have mentioned that, thankyou.

                            Originally posted by praline3001 View Post
                            I am just the opposite. I can find great subjects that are interesting but fail on the technical end.
                            That's the easy stuff to learn! Hahaha. Thanks for the advice praline.

                            Originally posted by danbaileyphoto View Post
                            There are so many great books out there that can help, but the best ways to improve over the long run are to look at as many photos as you can, study why you like or don't like each image, and then go out and shoot as many photos as possible. Four months is not very long, when you consider that many photographers have been at it for years. I'm going on 22 years next month and I'm still learning and improving. Photography is a life long process. Enjoy the ride and don't get too impatient.
                            Great advice there, thankyou.

                            Originally posted by zephod View Post
                            I keep thinking about those 3d prints that you had to learn to relax your eyes to see. That was a learned response that allowed your mind to see something that wasn't there before. That's sort of how I think learning to be creative is.
                            Oh dear! I could never see those properly!! Hahaha. Thanks for your advice, much appreciated.

                            So in the end I think I have come to accept that I will never be a brilliant photographer - certainly I don't have the knack for those stunnning street photography shots (which is the type of photography I love the most, and I suspect where creative talent has the most effect). I am more than capable in other areas, I am decent at portraiture, and I love everything about photography and really enjoy it. So perhaps I should stop expecting unrealistic results, and just put my head down and work!

                            Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

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                            • #15
                              Just like me?

                              I teach math and am very logical... i.e. I've had a hard time with "creativity" for most of my life. Most of what I do has some element of imitation to it. My advice is to accept imitation and just see what you can take. As I've learned how things work, I'm slowly taking more interesting photographs that are "mine."

                              You mentioned books. I've been reading Michael Freeman's The Photographer's Mind, and I already plan to read The Photographer's Eye (granted that's out of order but I blame Barnes and Noble for having them in that order on the shelf). He does a good job of taking photos apart and explains why photos are interesting, some of which are interesting to me and some of which I'm left scratching my head. Regardless, i can now "see" the many different aspects of a good photo.
                              Nikon D5000, 18-250mm Sigma, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon
                              If you can't be kind, have the decency to be vague.

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