Learn To See The Shot In Your Head Before Shooting…
What do I mean by “visualising the shot”? Well, something you can teach yourself to do automatically when out shooting is to imagine how you want the shot to look in your head. Try and picture the type of shot you want, i.e. Colour? Heavily saturated colour? Black and white? Moody? Stock-worthy? Print-worthy? Isolated? Award-winning or just a nice landscape for your portfolio?
Try to see past what you are looking at and imagine the image processed, cropped, finished and coming out of your printer.
It is like anything in life, do it enough and once you perfect it, it becomes second nature. Here is quite a radical comparison:
In my skydiving (freefall) days when I was learning to qualify, one of the most difficult things to do was to perfect a 360° turn effortlessly. I only needed to make the slightest movement and the force of the 120mph wind would throw me unstable at any given opportunity. With practice and persistence, it gradually got easier until I didn’t even think about it anymore.
It is hard to describe but it got to the point where I would simply think about turning and it would just happen, my body automatically knew what to do through repetition.
It is the same with photography. You arrive at a scene and automatically pick out and focus on a section and viewpoint that would make a good shot, most people simply record the entire scene from where they stand!
The more you read and study other peoples work, especially the award-winning stuff, the more that any particular styles and techniques will stay with you. Gradually it sinks in and then you are pretty much visualising the shot in any situation. This is especially useful for stock photography.
You may look at a scene and in a split second, think for example;
“Get low to isolate the subject against the sky, go portrait mode to fit front cover of magazine or article, leave space at top for title wording, process picture and remove background entirely, saturate for nice colour rendition, send to stock agency and hopefully someone will buy my hard work”!
“Right, zoom in and isolate that object, underexpose slightly to account for the bright sky, set aperture wide to blow out the background and get a nice blur or “Bokeh” to enhance the subject, get the image home, convert to black and white, “burn” or darken the sky a little to add mood “.
If you can get to a point with your photography where you really can start visualising the shot before you take it, (obviously not all the time as all those voices in your head would drive you crazy), then you will find that you improve a lot and also have fewer shots to delete.