A Simple Exercise to Train your Photographic Eye

A Simple Exercise to Train your Photographic Eye


Park Bench

Here is a simple exercise you can do anywhere that will help develop your photographic eye. Take your camera with just one lens and go for a walk (of course any point and shoot camera will do the trick too). While walking down the street, at the park or even in the wilderness, make a point to stop randomly and find something to photograph within 10 or 15 feet (3 to 5 m) from where you are standing.

Better yet, if you are walking with a non photographer, ask him or her to tell you when to stop. Look up and down, look all around you and take your time to find something interesting to photograph. It can be a scene in the street happening just in front of you, an architectural detail, the manhole cover on which you are standing or an insect on a flower. If you are using a DSLR limit yourself to one lens but experiment with a different lens each time to make the exercise more interesting. The point is to learn to make the ordinary look extraordinary. Try different angles, a shallow depth of field, etc. Or try some magic in the digital darkroom later!

Another idea is to get children involved in this exercise. A perfect way to get them to walk and introduce them to photography at the same time. Their discoveries might surprise you! This exercise can also be helpful if you are planning to start a 365 day project.

Here are a few examples of pictures taken during this simple exercise. I like details, in architecture or in nature and I also like to shoot with a very shallow depth of field. The goal of this exercise is not to produce fine art photographs. Consider it as a photo assignment with no pressure and see what happens.

The possibilities are endless, just remember to have fun. Please post some of your results in the comments!

Rusty wall

Back alley

Peeling paint on old park bench

Detail of dead tree stump

Moss on tree stump

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • kirpi August 17, 2013 02:45 am

    While you wait for Valerie's answer, some hints might come out of metadata in the picture: http://metapicz.com/#landing?imgsrc=http%3A%2F%2Fdigital-photography-school.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2011%2F03%2FBench.jpg

  • Linda Rogoff June 1, 2013 09:11 am

    Valerie, how did you get the first park bench photo,ie where was your focal point? Mine never turn out like that.
    What were your settings, which lens, and how far away were you?

  • Kumar Varun May 2, 2012 05:28 pm

    Interesting exercise.. will try to apply this weekend
    My input on the same theme:-

    1. Board pins in Office :P
    2. Team mate in office:

  • Valerie Jardin February 10, 2012 09:35 am

    Very nice! Beauty is all around us, we just have to keep our eyes open and our camera handy!

  • DiamondEyes February 10, 2012 07:42 am

    Thanks Valerie for the encouragement, this is my input:


    Please feel free to comment (I can handle...;)

  • Kevin Woolsey January 4, 2012 06:21 am

    A camera can force you to see what you would not normally see. Great excercise suggested here. Photograph for the joy of it, not just the commercial thought. Just go do it.

  • Glenn January 3, 2012 06:08 am


    Enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for the reminder to take notice of whats is right in front you no matter where you may be.

  • Carl January 2, 2012 05:35 pm

    After sitting on new equipment that I recently purchased, I decided the best way to get into my photography was to also take up another hobby that I recently stopped doing, Geocaching. Taking the camera with me will allow me several shots at each location that I find a cache (using the 10-15 foot rule). I am looking forward to seeing my work improve.

  • TylerB December 31, 2011 04:06 pm

    This is great! I have to try this starting tomorrow. The 365 project I am doing is starting new years eve.

  • GB December 31, 2011 03:53 pm

    Well, nice trips. I was looking for some "new blood" and found. =)

  • Jai Catalano December 30, 2011 11:52 am

    At first I was thinking this is so stupid... however, after re-reading it I realized that my short sided side was to blame. I didn't want to say I was stupid but I don't mind saying I am blonde. Excellent technique.


  • Martin Gallagher April 20, 2011 08:00 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/5479962436/' title='Rusty Broken Latch' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5054/5479962436_da56f30cde.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/5479962436/]Rusty Broken Latch[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/joeymonk/]Joey Monk[/url], on Flickr[/img]

  • Martin Gallagher April 20, 2011 07:59 am

    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/5479962436/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/5479962436/' title='Rusty Broken Latch' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5054/5479962436_da56f30cde.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeymonk/5479962436/]Rusty Broken Latch[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/joeymonk/]Joey Monk[/url], on Flickr

  • Martin Gallagher April 20, 2011 07:57 am

    oops... image here... Rusty Broken Latch


  • Martin Gallagher April 20, 2011 07:56 am

    I also did something similar a few months ago... I also got some funny looks!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 19, 2011 06:29 am


    When faced with shooting a massive vintage DC-2 aircraft, given its location I couldn't get the entire plane in the frame, so I concentrated on some small details on the tail section instead!

    "Remove Before Flight" http://t.co/aqKfJiT

    regards, Erik

  • Katie@How to take great photos April 17, 2011 08:25 am

    This is such a great idea!! It is a good way to get me out of my rut of taking the same old picture every time. It's fun to play with a very low f-stop to focus on a subject and find the art in something that may otherwise be over looked!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 14, 2011 03:50 pm


    This was shot using a Gorilla Pod strapped to the railroad ties...Train is fixed, clouds give the motion!

    Locomotive Breath: http://t.co/jXahj46

    Regards, Erik

  • Sean Bodin April 13, 2011 08:51 pm

    Thanks for the article. It happens sometimes when I go around and take pictures when I get home and have to edit the picture I discover other things. Note the man left, he is not on earth,I did not see when I took the picture, O)


  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 13, 2011 03:00 am


    While I was shooting in Sacramento this weekend in their famous Old Town, I found this boarded up building just outside of the Touristy area...finding an interesting vantage point yielded this image! Sometimes you just need to explore a bit to find new opportunities!

    Escape Route: http://t.co/98aKd00

    Regards, Erik

  • Brenda Gottsabend April 10, 2011 01:23 am

    Your post inspired a response on my blog - you can see it here:


    Thanks for the inspiration.


  • naz April 9, 2011 02:23 am

    lol ali- my typing is indeed horrible- and the kicker? I was an editor on our high school newspaper lol- my mind has gotten lazy though over the years, and my figners have apparently developped dyslexia- I'm told it might be neurological prob. but i dunno- too tired to figure it out-

    I've been reading over hte past few weeks, tryign to find articles dedicated to 'developing artistic vision in photography', and 'what makes a photograph great', and it seems that htere are a lot of folks, both pro and ameratrure, who have trouble nailing down what constitutes strong photo fundamentals- I've picked up books, only to be dissappointed as the author struggles to convey therir artistic vision and process (or perhaps they don't want to let on too much their tricks of the trade- I dunno-)

    Some say artistic vision 'can't be taught'- I dissagree- Van Gogh, when one studies his paintings, and life, really understood color theory inside and out, knew what colors to juxtapose in order to illicit an emotion in the viewer, and knew design and composition, and from their- He expanded his own vision with mastery- He was free to explore and experiment AFTER he learned the craft's techinical nuances, and wasn't hindered by indescisions because he wasn't sure what it would take to make great paintings- he knew his craft inside and out.

    When we're drivign along or walking along- often we'll come across a scene that just moves us- but I knowe in my case, I don 't know what it is that makes the scene moving or inspiring- is it hte lighting? the contrast? the colors? Did I see the scene at a certain angle and composition that made me stop? Was it the fact that the tones were strong or close in nature?

    Some books I've picked up suggest 'lookin g at great photographers' and basically 'figure out what makes their photos work so well'- this simpyl isn't helpful really- I have little idea what makes their photos work so well- In art, there are art critics who analyze paintings and can tell you exactly what it is that makes the paintings special, and can even tell you what the painter was thinking and hwy they used a particular color, or particular tone or hue, but I'm having a difficult time finding such good instruciton when it comes to photography- weither it';s more difficult when it comes to describing how to take photos, or those who do know aren't willing to give up their trade secrets? Not sure hwich is the case.

    There's a recent article here on DP abotu the mona lisa, and what it can teach us about photography,- it's a pretty good read- and coems close to describing how to translate the lesson to photography- but still falls hsort as it's a bit too general as well- I realize it's hard to put to words what it is that moves us and why- and hwat goes into descisions when takign a shot- but I think it can be, and probably is, described soemwhere, in some book- some class, some articvle, but I've noty had success finding or buying the info yet- I;ve bought some 'highly rated' books on amazon, only to be very dissappoitned at how vague they really are- tryign to find the info is like chasing leprecons or unicorns it seems

    And Valarie- again - I'm not tryign to diss your article or advice, it is good info- we do need to slow down and look around- I do often forget to do so myself- But i'd like to ask future authors of articles on DP to try to describe how they frame a shot- why they decided o nthe framing, what kind of lighting it was abotu hte scene that moved them, the colors, composition etc- if possible-

  • Eddie April 8, 2011 06:39 pm

    Interesting idea. Will do.

  • Kiff Backhouse April 8, 2011 05:11 pm

    Very nicely put ! I do this but aim to capture textures when out on the same dog walking circuit each day!

    See my blog for more details.

  • Russ Piatos April 8, 2011 01:48 pm

    @Naz: Good point man. Keep up the constructive criticism. This portion of the forum needs someone like you posting not only positive points and comments but rather a more constructive point of view. I just hoped that everyone here agrees with you or me.. Keep it up. Thanks

  • Linsey April 8, 2011 10:09 am

    I can't wait to try this...I'm going to take my 4 year old and see what she comes up with! Regardless it will be a good time, and I think she'll really enjoy "being in charge!"

  • Valerie Jardin April 8, 2011 04:02 am

    Hi everyone, I have to take the time and go through all the links of pictures you submitted. I like what I see so far. Thanks for participating and don't get discouraged if your comment doesn't get posted right away, it can take a while. A couple of comments struck me a bit when 'cheating' with shallow depth of field was mentioned. I just don't understand how one can cheat with it come to art and creativity. Whatever creates a mood or an emotion is what matters, whether you chose f 2.8 or f 22, that's besides the point. I like to get close and make ordinary things look a bit more interesting. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, in camera or in post. The result is what matters and having fun with it is the goal of the exercise. I also read a couple of posts about more directions to make better pictures, the use of lines, etc. I thought there had been plenty of tips written on that subject but I could definitely write a post with samples if some of you would find it useful. Thank you all for the great conversation whether you are in agreement or not ;-). I look forward to seeing more of your work!

  • Joe Strouth April 8, 2011 03:48 am

    I agree with Jonathan Green. All of the shots given use the same "formula" with a close up texture and short focal length, sort of oblique angles on a plane. Seems like cheating the exercise to do this, if you ask me.

  • ali April 8, 2011 03:45 am

    Taking a kid with you as the guide to the world of wonders is an amazing idea. I wish I had one:)

    I somehow agree to what @naz says. I have been looking a lot for exercises that don't teach a technique but instead help see better. I'm tired of my photos and most of what I see on the web by semi-professional photographers (even many pros)

    @naz what device are you using to type? your text would make a dictation teacher commit suicide :))

  • Jack roberts April 8, 2011 02:58 am

    @Naz: not to knock the article, but very well said.

  • Jonathan R. Green April 8, 2011 02:56 am

    Great shots, but with the exception of the back alley, all the same technique using very short focal length, subject leading away from the eye, blurring into the distance etc. Would like to see the same excercise but the same subject photographed very differently with the same lens... I do this with clients during photo workshops with wildlife & landscapes & it really pushes the limits of a lens & imagination... just a thought!

  • Gertie April 8, 2011 02:42 am

    i love this! i have been so busy with all of my photography work this past year that i've felt kinda like i wasn't having as much fun as i used to. just yesterday, after a meeting in a cool part of my town i walked around for an hour & did just this & it was so fun & refreshing!! i'll have to upload some of my photos to share sometime today. thanks for the reminder to think outside of the box & find the beautiful & unique in things all around us!

  • naz April 8, 2011 02:05 am

    I don't mean to osund harsh about hte article, but, the article is just a bit too vague- I think most of us instinctively shoot htis way most of the time- get toa place, look around, try to find somethign itneresting to photograph- the advice is simply too vague in regards to 'devolping a photographic eye' I think it's kinda like asking someoen who has never done electrical work before, and hwo knows very little about wiring, to go out, grab a bunch of wires, and start wiring a house- the htoguht being, that by doing it 'often' you'll eventaully 'get the nag of it and becoem an electrician' (provided you survive getting electrocuted several dozens times i nthe process).

    I don't mean to complain, but I see a LOT of this general advice o nthe net, but what would be truly helpful I think would be explanations on how to develop the photographic eye in regards to framing, use of lines, use of color, composition, depth of field, use of light, angle of shots, etc- Tell us what it is that you've found over the years that works to produce itneresting compositions, interesting lighting shots, etc, along with hte general advice? This article was a good start, as I think most of do tend to forget to look around in closde proximity for those unusual shots, but I think the article coudl be greatly improved by including info on techniques that help take your photos to the next level - there's soem great examples in hte photos posted, but when I go out and just shoot shoot shoot- without knowing HOW to shoot, I mgiht only get a few good photos by accident, and not know WHY they are bertter than the majority of less than stellar shots on the memory card-it's the WHY, why a photo works, that we need to learn I think (for isntance, in your first photo- your composition follows the 'rule of thirds', where the round part of the arm of bench starts not in the exact corner, but 1/4 across the top roughly, and the bottom of photo the nech lines are about 1/3, creating a dynamic like tension that adds itnerest to the photo- I woudl have trided, without knowing the basics, and not been able to get this effect because I wouldn't have known about where or how to frame the shot- and would only have gotten a 'good' photo by accident- not knowing why it was ok IF I managed to get one

  • Jerry April 8, 2011 01:25 am


  • senior pictures April 5, 2011 03:17 pm

    Really Really want to train your eyes and brain at the same time ... take 100 shots of an Egg .. no 2 shots can look remotely the same .. ok now get to work

  • rogue83 April 4, 2011 05:57 am

    from when i took my camera for a walk near my home yesterday....


  • ArchiDEOS April 3, 2011 04:43 pm

    Love it...very inspiring.. specially for the newbie one.. luckily i have one lens for now..lols. i do this every weekend.. but having some problems with the environment cause sometimes people look at you wondering why you photograph that something..they think youre crazy.. But dont mind them.. gogogo for the click...

    Heres is one of my photos walking down along parking area in Dubai.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 3, 2011 03:49 pm

    Here is a simple depth of field exercise taken on Wall Street

    Money Never Sleeps: http://t.co/fz9Vygy

  • Marja April 3, 2011 05:07 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/anno1967/5582972956/' title='Orange' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5296/5582972956_b86bc4054f_z.jpg']

  • Courtenay (CEGPhoto.com) April 3, 2011 02:02 am

    Great post, Valerie, and the timing for the weekend was right on too. :-)
    I like this idea a lot and mentioned something similar in a post I made in February:


    It's funny that you said "The goal of this exercise is not to produce fine art photographs." because I could expect to see shots like yours in a show, especially Back Alley and Park Bench. Great shots!

  • prashant April 3, 2011 01:30 am

    Its a very good thing to go on these walks. I always try to do these. One of the random shots from a photowalk:

  • Klaas van Huizen April 2, 2011 09:11 pm

    Nice article, I use it for my photography students Art and Design College.
    It fits nicely on my classes look at detail and train your photographic eye.
    I am doing a project black/white photography and its specific characteristics.
    Thanks Valerie!

  • liaqat April 2, 2011 02:51 pm

    very useful exercise indeed!

  • bexjarratt April 2, 2011 10:16 am

    Great idea, I'm going to do this every time I leave the house with my camera now. Practice, practice, practice.

  • Dave April 2, 2011 08:10 am

    I did a walk like this when i was in San Antonio. Took me by surprize how many thing you could find if you just stop and look around.


  • Chris April 2, 2011 06:27 am

    This is a great idea. I'm going to do this on a regular basis. Thanks for such a smiple idea that will, most likely, many times produce some great images I'm sure.

  • Danielle Pecoraro April 2, 2011 05:03 am


  • Danielle Pecoraro April 2, 2011 04:58 am

    I did this following an ice storm this past winter in NY.

    Check out my flickr stream here

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpportfolio/5579626707/' title='DSC_5309WEB' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5221/5579626707_76b9218bf6.jpg']

  • Marco Visonà April 2, 2011 04:32 am

    Simple and useful exercise!!


  • Valerie jardin April 2, 2011 04:30 am

    Me again! Thanks for all the comments. Some great examples too of seeing something special in ordinary every day things. Keep them coming! Btw I forgot to mention the lenses I used for those in case you are wondering. The top ones I shot with the 24-70 mm f/2.8, the nature close ups were shot with the 50mm 1.8 (best value on the market!) Planning to do a similar photo exercise with the Lensbaby composer special effect lens one of these days. It's always so fun to have personal projects, keeps the passion for photography alive!

  • Craig April 2, 2011 04:28 am


  • doodles April 2, 2011 04:19 am

    I forgot to share a photo duh!!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer April 2, 2011 04:05 am

    This is a very good idea for a post showing one does not need to always travel to the most fantastic locations to shoot, and that by placing restrictions on shooting one actually can get more creative. I often tell my photography students to go out with just one lens, which is what I do when I am doing just personal/family shooting.

    I actually did a very similar photography exercise to this in an alley, with all shots in sepia:


    I highly recommend going out with just one lens!

  • Don | Virginia Beach Wedding Photographer April 2, 2011 03:06 am

    I love shooting wide open aperture.It takes some practice. Nice images.

  • Stephen April 2, 2011 02:50 am

    I love this article! This exercise really forces you to stop and think about all the things around you and the beauty in them. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true!

  • ScottC April 2, 2011 02:41 am

    This reminds me of a "10 Minute" project I did once. Walk exactly 10 minutes, stop, and do the best you can photographically without taking another step.

    I knew I'd get a sign along this stree, but it took some work lightroom in LR to make it something out of it.


  • Zhu April 2, 2011 02:38 am

    I think I'm lucky to be blind in one eye, this is how I trained my photographic eye ;-)

  • C April 2, 2011 02:33 am

    I can see this being really fun with kids-- you can yell out STOP when they're least expecting it, and then they have to freeze on that spot and take a picture. Kind of like musical chairs...

  • Tapan Shah April 2, 2011 02:32 am

    This is a great exercise, you might end up getting photos you will cherish for many year.

    I wish I had more time to go for randome photography walks.

  • Valerie Jardin April 2, 2011 02:12 am

    Thanks everyone! I am glad the article got published just in time for the weekend. Can't wait to see some of your work!
    @Erik, that's a great shot. There is something about park benches, they are great story telling subjects!

  • doodles April 2, 2011 02:10 am

    I love doing this but don't do it as often as I should...............thanks for the reminder

  • Carolyn Chentnik April 2, 2011 01:49 am

    What a great way to get inspired. Love the pictures, Valerie!

  • Wallei April 2, 2011 01:42 am

    Grill pattern. http://www.flickr.com/photos/walleitrinidad/5579196513/

  • Pearle April 2, 2011 01:42 am

    I love this type of photography. My husband thinks I'm crazy sometimes, but I just enjoy finding the unique & interesting in most photo walks. Another tip for this type of photography...dont' worry about the stares of others! Just know that you are capturing art.

  • AJ Borromeo April 2, 2011 01:38 am

    Great advice!!! Love the idea of challenging one's self. I find myself never going anywhere unless I have 2 lenses with me. I will now challenge myself to leave all but one lens and enjoy the trip!! Thanks!!

  • Kirstin April 2, 2011 01:36 am

    I love this idea and if I can get a dry day soon, I will do this! How Fun

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 2, 2011 01:31 am


    This is a super exercise to try - I do this often around San Diego. This is a shot of a simple bench over looking the ocean in Coronado, the shot tells an implicit story! Low angle, unique perspective.

    Waiting For You: http://t.co/nkMa9nb

    Regards, Erik

  • Barbara April 2, 2011 01:26 am


  • Rob Prouse April 2, 2011 01:24 am

    This is a great article. When I first started out, I used to do something very similar and ended up with some great shots, but my shots have been a bit uninspired lately, so I am going to try this on my photowalk this weekend.

    Here is a shot from a few years ago when I was doing this. I noticed the coins hammered into the holes in this park bench and thought they added a nice focal point.

    [eimg url='http://www.shiftedexposure.com/images/20060409205620_0603%20france%20057.jpg' title='20060409205620_0603%20france%20057.jpg']