One of the most common questions photographers get, especially when we're out and about, doing what it is we do, is "Why are you taking a picture of that?" Implicit in this question is the opinion that whatever "that" is is unworthy of being photographed and that your time would be better spent on something else. They could be right.
Then again, it could be that they suffer from a common form of blindness in our society: The inability to appreciate the subtle wonders of the world around them. Don't judge them too harshly. Many photographers suffer from it too; but at least as photographers we're trying to get better. And the good news is that by truly opening our eyes and taking in the world, we can record our revelations and share them with others who are trying to improve their vision as well.
So, how do you learn to see? There's no one method that's guaranteed to work for everybody. I can only tell you what worked for me. Here are a few suggestions in no particular order:
1. Discover what looks good. It's possible that you can become a skilled visual artist without being familiar with what visual artists before you have achieved--it's just not likely. Simply browsing through collections of works by great artists--any great artists--will inspire you with a sense of possibility.
2. Pay attention to light, shade, form, texture, contrast, depth, and color. These are all basic elements of imagery. In particular, notice which elements move you the most. Some people love bold contrasts. Others prefer subtle modulations. Some see in angles, while others see in curves. What catches your eye?
3. Stop and stare. Sometimes I stop dead in my tracks and stare at an object, a scene, or a potential composition. It might be a doorway, a mini-drama playing out in front of me, or it might be a simple shaft of light. If I look long enough it's almost as if I hear a voice in my head that says, "Good. Now that I've got your attention, keep looking. I might show you something really fascinating."
4. Don't think, react. This doesn't contradict #3 above, it complements it. Sometimes it's better to maintain an attitude of relaxed alertness, ready to react the instant you see an image coming together before your eyes.
5. Look and listen inside. There's no law that says you have to search and wait for images. They may already exist inside your imagination, in which case they are waiting for you to make copies that everyone else can see. When this happens your challenge is to make sure the real image meets or exceeds what you've envisioned in your mind's eye. Listen to the quiet voice that tells you how to position your subject, lights, and camera. It's almost never wrong.
If some of this seems too mystical for your tastes, keep in mind that art is not a purely rational endeavor and that no one can give you an exact roadmap. I'm just trying to point you in the right direction in the hope that you will notice and enjoy what you see along the way. If I've missed any important landmarks, feel free to mention them for the benefit of our fellow travelers.