See pictures like a professional: what to look for and how to really work a scene

See pictures like a professional: what to look for and how to really work a scene

To see pictures like a professional photographer you need to know what elements to look for. Discover how to work a scene from top to bottom to make sure you’ve explored every creative angle.

Words and images by Mark Hamblin

See pictures like a professional: what to look for and how to really work a scene

There’s a whole lot more to taking a picture than pointing the camera and pressing the shutter. This captures a photograph, but it won’t necessarily create a picture – and there is a big difference between the two.

For a picture to engage the viewer, the photographer has to combine creativity and technical excellence to capture the perfect moment.

But most importantly, you have to learn to ‘see’ like a photographer – to recognise what will make a great picture and, equally, what won’t.

Don’t convince yourself that a great subject will automatically make a great picture. There are plenty of awful pictures of fantastic subjects; conversely, some of the most amazing images are of ordinary subjects. Above all, effective images need a harmonious combination of lighting, composition and perspective.

SEE MORE: The 10 Rules of Photo Composition (and why they work)

Practice makes perfect
So how do you learn to recognise how the interplay of these vital ingredients combine to make a great picture? This is partly though experience of knowing what has worked before – but first of all, you need to gain this experience, and there is no better way than to just get out there with your camera and practise.

We are all naturally drawn towards certain subjects, so you need to give some thought to what type of thing you are most keen to photograph. Then imagine the images that you would like to capture. Inspiration for this may come from looking at other’s photographers’ work in magazines or on websites.

Having a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve is far more likely to reap rewarding shots than by simply wandering around hoping to find something that catches your eye – although that can also work sometimes!

Once you’ve hit upon a subject that inspires you, make the most of it by fully working the situation to maximise your range of images. Often a scene may have an obvious viewpoint, but there are usually a number of different choices available.

Have a good walk around with your camera and line up other potential shooting angles. By moving around a location and looking for interesting shooting positions, you are far more likely to capture something that’s unusual or eye-catching.

SEE MORE: 73 photo locations to shoot before you die

If you look at the variety of images taken at any well-known location, you’ll notice that it’s not just the shooting position or lighting conditions that changes in these pictures – it’s also the perspective. This is determined by how close you are to the subject, but also by the focal length of the lens.

By simply changing lenses or zooming, it’s possible to take a number of completely different shots from exactly the same spot. Try shooting using everything from extreme wide-angle up to telephoto lenses, and see what you can create.

How to see pictures like a professional photographer

Challenge yourself
Composition will always make or break an image, so don’t just fire away in the hope of getting a good shot. Although there are occasions when you will need to react quickly, it usually pays to take your time, use a tripod and perfect the composition.

Small adjustments in the position of the camera can make a big difference to the perspective, especially with a wide-angle lens: just a few centimetres one way or the other can radically alter the shot’s composition.

Once you’ve taken the shot, it’s important that you critically evaluate it on your camera’s LCD monitor and ask yourself: “Can I improve on it?” By constantly challenging yourself in this way, you’ll learn to see what makes a great picture, and this will quickly show up in your images.

PAGE 1: How to see pictures like a professional
PAGE 2: Three tricks for taking a stand-out image
PAGE  3: How to compose for consistently great pictures
PAGE  4: Tips for spotting better image opportunities


Golden Hour photography: tips for making magical landscapes at dawn
Rule of Thirds: use it and break it with confidence
Camera Angles: 5 ways to add impact with unusual perspectives
10 common landscape photography mistakes every photographer makes