top of page

How to Develop the Art of Noticing

Becoming more observant is an essential skill in photography.

Regardless of the type of photography you do, it is important to notice things around you, to notice things that others miss. By doing so you can add an extra dimension to your photographs. Improving your observational skills could make the difference between having mediocre photographs and being able to take your photography to the next level.

So, what is involved in becoming more observant?

What will help you to pay more attention to your surroundings and to what is unfolding around you?

Becoming observant is not something that happens accidentally. We have to intentionally nurture the habit and gradually increase our observational skills.

Here are some tips that might help.

How to Develop the Art of Noticing

·      Practise being present in the moment:

It is not always easy to stay focussed on the present moment. We can allow distractions to get in the way, not least our own thoughts. If you want to improve your attention skills, you must be intentional and focus your mind on the present so that you notice the little details in front of you.

Try turning off your phone as you walk to avoid becoming distracted.

Challenge yourself to find at least three interesting things.

To improve your observation in street photography, do some people watching. Observe how people communicate. Notice their facial expressions, body language, gestures. By studying people, you will become better at noticing how they interact with others and with their environment, and this will leave you better equipped to tell their stories in your street photography.

·      Go out without a camera occasionally:

When you go out with your camera you are usually intent on coming home with at least a few images. When you leave your camera at home you can spend time observing, immersing yourself in your surroundings, paying close attention to what is going on.

Many professional photographers take opportunities to have scouting trips where they spend time getting a feel for a location and trying to source good compositions for a future outing. They usually make these trips without bringing a camera along. This gives more time for observation, reflection and paying attention to what the location offers.

It is a practice we can all learn from.

Bark art

·      Go down alleyways and less used paths. Be curious, look out for anything unusual or unexpected:

Most photographers tend to stay on the beaten paths, whether that is the main thoroughfares in cities or the well-trodden routes in rural areas. While it is important to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles in the countryside, it is still possible to look around and get closer, to zero in on tiny details. Instead of looking straight ahead, look up, look down and take smaller paths that lead off from the main routes. It is in these lesser observed and lesser visited areas that we see the things that others fail to notice.

In street photography we can go down side streets and alleyways (safety permitting!), into areas where the locals go, away from the tourist spots. It is in these areas that we capture the real essence of the place and its people and where we will hopefully capture more interesting and unique images.

down the alley

·      Slow down:

To help you to become more observant it is important to slow down.

As you practise observing, don’t rush.

Breathe deeply and walk mindfully.

Take in your surroundings.

Engage your senses.

Become aware of the sounds, smells, textures around you.

Become aware of colour, of light and shadow.

Be intentional with the photographs you make.

lone leaf


Becoming more observant is not always easy. It takes time and commitment. Observation is a skill which can be learned and developed but we must make time to cultivate the habit of paying attention. Many of us are more likely to ignore what is around us as we concern ourselves with our own thoughts and schemes. But failing to pay attention leads us to miss out on inspiration and on developing our curiosity. The more you pay attention the more you’ll see and the more ideas you’ll have.

Being present and paying attention will make life more enjoyable and interesting. It will constantly spark your curiosity and help you make new discoveries and develop new insights.

When you develop the art of noticing it connects you more deeply with a location and keeps you wanting to return. As well as giving you a special, personal space, returning to a location often helps you to create more meaningful photographs there.

Becoming more observant is an important skill in many areas of life and I believe it is a vital skill in helping us to become better photographers.


bottom of page