How To Be More Observant (7 Habits)

Every single person can benefit from being more perceptive/observant in their daily lives; not just photographers. From a quick assessment, it would seem as though photographers have the most to gain from being observant. In reality, every profession relies on people who have an eye for detail – people who seem to be able to spot anything that needs attention.

The core of an observation habit boils down to focus, attention, and care. Is it that these people care more? Or are they just paying more attention? I say a little of both. You are reading this because you care about having an eye for detail. Here are a few ways in which you can build habits into your daily life so that observation becomes an innate skill.

This is the second part of a two-post series on why a good photographer is also a good observer. In the first post, we discussed some things that you could pay attention to, to help you become more observant. Today we’re looking at some habits that you can develop to help you along.

How Can You Build Habits That Make You More Observant?

Becoming more observant is not something that happens overnight, or that happens accidentally. It is a trait that is developed intentionally. One develops it over time, and so it takes some care, diligence, and nurturing to become intentionally observant.

A Few Words About “Focus”

As we mentioned earlier being observant means having intense focus. Focus is more about removing distractions than it is about learning ‘how to focus’. For example, if you’re supposed to watch a pot that shouldn’t overflow, but you’re distracted by playing Angry Birds on your phone, you have lost your focus and are likely not observing the pot for the moment it’s about to overflow. Observation needs focus.

Here are a few habits that help you build your focus, to become more observant on a daily basis. With time, and care, some of these habits will become part of your daily life, and you will not have to focus on taking these steps intentionally.

1. Learn to Draw or Paint:

Drawing and painting depend very heavily upon your powers of observation. This one step could be a double-edged sword as it will also improve your understanding of light, materials, and shadows.

Since photography is, in many ways, an extension of the tradition of painting, you will find that these are very useful skills to have, and will develop your ability as a photographer too.

So, we’ve got off to a good start: two skills that you could develop from just one activity… Observation and an understanding of the fundamentals of art. Developing this skill requireds intense focus for short periods. This is a good starting point.

How do you get started though?

You could take an art class, or set aside time daily to learn how to draw or paint.

2. Take Note of Yourself:

Your handwriting and other things that come to you subconsciously – like the way you speak, and the words & gestures that you use – are all part of who you are. If you want to be more observant of others, first become more observant of yourself and your habits. Know Thyself .

This is easy to say, but getting started is much more difficult, and this is a journey, and a lifelong pursuit.

How do you get started?

You can start by taking 5 minutes to meditate and so become aware of your body. This will help you focus on yourself. Once you feel comfortable doing that, you can extend your observation to include everything else about yourself. Your likes, dislikes, habits, biases, and preferences.

3. Be a Mental List-maker:

Don’t get lost in your own thoughts. When you’re moving through any space, make it a habit to make a mental record of things around you see how they’re placed. The next time you go by the same space, check to see whether they’re the same or whether they’ve changed in any way. Soon it will become second nature to you.

How to get started?

We tend to get drawn inwards into our thoughts at times. While there’s nothing wrong with this, there is a time and place for it, and when you’re outside is not the right time to observe your thoughts. Instead, it is time to use your senses to become aware of, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the places through which you’re traveling. Use all your senses, and you will find that you are able to observe and remember things much better.

4. Be Present In The Moment:

If you’re focused on whatever task is at hand, you will be able to observe the minute details and nuances that would otherwise be lost. They say “God is in the details.” Paying attention to the little details in front of you keeps your mind more alert and always on the watch for interesting bits that you could use later.

The enemy of this trait is anything that pulls your attention away, any distraction. Each person is different, but for many people today, the prime distraction is their smartphone, and more specifically either social media, or games. I know because I constantly face this challenge myself.

How can you prevent distractions from other, less important, sources?

Turn your phone off and move it outside your field of vision. Do the same for a TV or whatever else distracts you. Set yourself up in a space that allows you to focus on the task that you have at hand. You can enjoy Instagram reels, or Twitter once you have finished your task.

Allow these moments where you are totally present to add up, and very soon you’ll find that you are completely aware of what’s happening around you and observant of everything that is relevant to you.

5. Listen to What People Say, Watch Them Closely:

This point seems like an extension of the previous one… But it deserves its own space.

Yes, you do listen to people. But are you ‘really’ listening? All too often, we find ourselves ‘listening’ to somebody while working at the computer, or watching something on the television. Make it a point to give your full attention to the person who is talking. Making this a habit could pay unseen dividends personally and professionally. Remember that listening is an art in itself. Focus on other people.

How can you get started?

Put away your distractions, and listen to people. Often, you will be able to understand them a lot more by observing their gestures, expressions, and other nonverbal signs and cues. To understand nonverbal communication, you could spend time people-watching in public spaces (but don’t be a stalker, and don’t be creepy). Watching people communicate without knowing the intimate details forces you to observe smaller nuances in their expression, gestures, and body language. You can then apply this learning to your own daily communications.

Since really understanding communication is a very important part of being observant, remember to ‘really listen’, and then to also observe yourself as you share your thoughts with others. It works both ways.

6. Know What To Ignore:

It is impossible to know everything about everything. We simply do not have the capacity to do so. While there are some gifted individuals who can train themselves to be hyper-aware of the world around them, it ultimately needs to have a purpose.

How to ignore some things in life?

In your quest for the ability to be more observant of the world around you, one of the key things to realize is that you must eventually learn that there are things that you will have to ignore, to be able to pay more attention to what matters to you. For example, you must ignore the television that’s on, if you want to have a meaningful conversation with your family members or friends.

If you find that you’re being distracted, pause to re-centre yourself. If needed shut down, move away from, or turn off the distracting element, and re-focus on what matters. Sometimes, you will find that it’s your thoughts that need to be shut down while listening to someone else, whereas at other times, it will be others who are intruding on your thoughts. Evaluate your priorities and take appropriate action to ensure that you focus on what matters to you.

7. Remember That You Need to Observe Things:

If you’re not in the habit of being self-aware and observant, it can be rather easy to forget that you need to be observing things around you. Find a way to remind yourself about your daily mission to be observant, and don’t let a day pass when you don’t practice this skill.

How to remind yourself that you must practice observation?

As you begin this journey of increasing your ability to be observant of the world around you, you will probably need to be reminded of your mission. There are many ways in which you can remind yourself. You could set yourself an alarm or repeating/daily note on your phone to remind yourself. You could have a note placed next to your mirror which you use every morning. Every time you see this note write down the date on it (or check off the date on a calendar) to make sure that you make note of how often you follow this ritual. Small reminders like this o n

How Will Being More Observant Help You In Your Daily Life?

  1. It will offer you an amazing insight into how people think, react, and behave in general. This could have startling revelations in your work, no matter what you do for a living.
  2. It will help you understand how many pieces of equipment work because you’ll find yourself observing the buttons and symbols on the equipment. You’ll also observe how people make things work and learn skills more quickly from those observations.
  3. It will help you choose the right moment to release your camera’s shutter as the crowds part when watching a particular person walk down the street, or the right moment as your child smiles at you so sweetly.
  4. It will help you appreciate people around you better and possibly help you know what they are feeling and thinking.
  5. It also brings calmness to you. You are no longer centered within yourself but are selflessly involved in other people’s worlds.

Can you think of any more tips? Share them in the comments.

This is part of the Beyond Photo Tips Birthday Special Series. Go here to see all the posts so far.

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for, and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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  1. One tip I found useful is to walk around a city without an aim. Just, walk. Look at things, maybe could the steps between one bus stop to another. So on.

    And, especially for street photogs (or any photog for that matter) always go three-four times to a place before you shoot it. And then go back again. And again.
    The more often you see a place, the more easy it is to observe it – you’re already familiar with the broad strokes so you can pay attention to the details. That heped me a lot.

  2. what worked for me is padding !
    Taking daily pictures, for any amount of time, pushes me to look for photo opportunities no matter where they show up and to experiment in styles I’ve never did before

    • Yes, they do, but that’s when detailing takes way too much time, and you lose the larger perspective… But when you look into the details in nature, that’s where you see it’s magnificence.

      Thanks for stopping by. :D

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