When I look through the lens I flatten out the image I see and imagine it as a 2-D photograph rather than the actual view in front of me. This helps me to easily spot any potential distractions in the image - a plant behind someone's head, a light switch, an unsightly road sign. If possible I move myself and alter my own perspective to minimise distractions. The second option is to physically move the offending items (not always possible!) and option 3 is to move the subject to somehwere different entirely. My last option is to 'edit them out' in Photoshop - it's always best to get things right in the camera if possible - don't be tempted to think you'll deal with it later!
When it comes to editing, it seems to me that people are often quick to experiment with filters, but forget about the power of cropping an image. Experiment with different compositions - there's always an undo button! Remember that the higher the resolution of the files you are working with, the more forgiving they will be when you start to crop into them.
I am always thinking about light when I take photos. I'm obsessed with it. Whether you are shooting in natural or artificial light, shade, or indoors with a bit of everything, consider what different light forces are at play, and how they are affecting the subject you are shooting. If they are affecting it in an unflattering way, then don't be lazy or shy...MOVE! With a bit of effort many subjects can be moved fairly easily to somewhere that has better light and the results will speak for themselves. If you are serious about photography I would advise investing in a reflector - they are cheap, lightweight and easy to use, and help to illuminate your subjects beautifully. You can also use a large piece of white card or polystyrene to reflect light well.
Don't make it your default to fill your image with the subject. Some of my favourite images have a whole lot of nothing in them! My degree in Art History taught me so much about composition - it's worth swotting up on the Golden Section and the Rule of Two Thirds.
Make time to look carefully at images that catch your eye. Analyse what it is that makes them pleasing. Has the artist/photographer chosen their colours carefully? Is it the composition? Have they made unusual use of light, or purposefully broken any rules? What have they added in post-processing? How have they connected emotionally with the subject? Remember what you notice and experiment with similar techniques in your own work. Pinterest and Instagram are great ways to gather and collate images that inspire you.
Don’t always go for the obvious angle. What would it look like if you shot the scene from directly above? What if you get close to the ground and shoot upwards? Chances are you’ll get a much more original, striking shot. Don't just stand there and hold your camera in front of you - move around, bob up and down, constantly checking out different view points - don't go too crazy though - you don't want to end up like this.
Whether you choose to carry all your best kit around with you, or you need to rely on a smart phone, make sure you have something available to grab each moment. The more you use your camera the more you’ll start to instinctively look for the next photo to take. Why not set yourself a challenge and post at least one image a day onto Instagram or an online journal like Blipfoto. You’ll soon start seeing beauty that others are quick to miss.