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How to See like an Artist: Creative Art Exercises

by Eric Von Lehmden | September 4, 2015

creativity exercises, canvas press

Exercising your creative muscles is not something most people think about doing on a regular basis. In fact, I would bet that most people think of themselves as not creative at all. I don't believe that. Remember back when you were a kid and how easy it was to make things up, imagine things, pretend, draw, color and all that other fun stuff that kids do. That is where creativity stems from. Most of us have just buried that ability so far below the surface that we think we can't be creative or have an artistic ability anymore...specifically when it comes to taking better photos.

I have compiled 9 different creative art exercises to help you see more like an artist. I think these will help you to take a better photos and who knows, maybe you will catch a glimpse of that kid whose imagination would run wild.

The Black and White Experiment

Try photographing everything in black and white mode on your camera for a full day, week, or month. This is the best way to learn about contrast, depth, and tone in a photograph. You will quickly learn what makes a black and white photo muddy and what looks good (contrast). This is easily done with your smart phone. There are plenty of photo apps out there that will let you shoot in black and white. I personally like Hipstamatic, but there are other free apps that can do this.

Two CREATIVE ART EXERCISES using magazines

  1. Tear out any photos or ads that catch your eye. Try not to pay attention to what the ad is selling, but just look at the ad for the photos, layout, colors, text, etc. Now pin those photos to a cork board. Congrats! You just created a mood board. Mood boards are the origins of Pinterest. Now, look over your board to see what is the unifying link between what you tore out. Was it color, lighting, subject matter etc. Mood boards are terrific tools to get your creative juices flowing, and they can also help figure out what photographic style you like.
  2. Look through those same magazines ads and choose some photos that catch your eye. Now, try to figure out the location and lighting they used for the photo (this can be tough with studio photography, but the more you do it the better you get). This exercise gets you starting to look at how lighting helps create moods and helps communicate in a photograph. Of course they are trying to sell you something in that magazine, but you can start to see patterns in the types of photos you are drawn too.

To Help You See the Light

Pick a subject for your photo. Something inanimate is fine. Take it outside and put it in one specific spot. Don’t move it. Now take several photographs from the same perspective of said object at different times of the day. You will quickly see how light affects your subject of choice.

Put Your Camera Down

Think of a theme that interests you (beauty, war, peace, youth, happiness, etc) The point is choose a theme then think of the things that pop into your head when you think of that theme. How could you interpret those themes in your everyday life? Now go grab your camera and photograph it. It doesn’t have to be the greatest photograph of all time. The point is to stretch your creative mind and sharpen your eye.

Put Your Camera Down…Again

Now find one of your favorite quotes or search online for a quote that fits with you and your life. Read the quote carefully, now grab your camera and try to capture an image or series of images that go with your chosen quote. Arrange the photo(s) on a page along with the quote and admire.

Take something you use everyday and capture it in a new and interesting way

Use light, location, and perspective to stretch your creative mind. This exercise helps you see the world from a different perspective. Who knows, maybe that photo you took of that jug of milk will go for big money.

Re-watch a Favorite Movie

Make sure you have the pause button in your hand (probably not the best for family night). Anytime a scene of interest happens pause it and study the way the light is hitting the actors or landscape.

Learning the Rule of Thirds

This creativity exercise will help you learn how composition affects a photos impact. As you look through your camera or the display on the back of your camera, imagine there are tic-tac-toe lines drawn the full width and height of the frame. You will have 9 different squares…Now take 9 photos placing your subject in one of the squares on each of the 9 separate photos. Go back and look at each of the 9 photos and see which you like best. I bet you rarely will like the one taken in the center of the frame. (Your camera phone is a great tool for this)

Create art while you are running errands

The next time you are standing in line at the grocery store, DMV, or airport think of a way you can create something unique. This can be fun because you can use the people around you as the art display. This exercise will help you learn to always be looking for the interesting…no matter where you are.


Don't feel like you have to tackle all of these creative art exercises. Pick one at a time. Some are fairly easy to do and some will take a little time. It can be so rewarding to get that creative spark in your life. I know from personal experience that my day is so much better when can do at least one small creative thing during the course of that day. It may just be posting something to Instagram or as simple as taking a photograph of a flower. Whatever it is...go for it.

Photography, fine art printing and decorating news and advice

Tips-n-Tricks #187

Airports are great for people watching and for unique portraits. As you sit waiting for your flight take some time to snap a few shots of fellow travelers (let them know first to make sure they are comfortable).

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