A few months ago I wrote about how setting myself photographic assignments was one of the things that had helped me to improve my photography the most.
The idea was that it is often when you put yourself into a situation specifically for photography that you are forced to practice the theory that you know and you see your photography improve.
The assignments I mentioned were all different types of photography or places to take photos – weddings, road trips, sporting events, festivals, portrait sessions, concerts, trips to the zoo etc.
What I didn’t mention in the post was another set of ‘assignments’ or challenges that I’ve set myself over the years which have also led to a lot of photographic growth.
In these challenges I tend to set myself the challenge to only shoot in one particular way for a period of time (for me it is usually a weekend challenge as that is when i take most of my images).
These challenges all relate to your camera and limiting yourself in some way to either switch off some element of the automated aspects of your camera, limiting yourself to really hone a skill or to practice some kind of technique.
While this isn’t really a natural way to shoot – I find that focusing in on one particular aspect or skill in photography at a time can really help to see improvements in that period of time which means when you next need that skill you’re all ready to go!
Here’s a few suggestions based upon weekends that I’ve done:
- The one focal length/lens weekend – either choose a single prime lens or a focal length at one end of a zoom and only shoot at that focal length for a whole weekend (choose one you don’t naturally shoot in a lot). This teaches you a lot about that focal length and makes you think about your composition of your shots.
- The one aperture weekend - this can be hard if you shoot a wide range of subjects like I do but choose an aperture and try to stick to it for a period of time. To do this you’ll find it easier if you shoot in Aperture Priority mode – you’ll also probably find it best to choose either to shoot at one end of the aperture spectrum. This will teach you a lot about depth of field and get you thinking also about how to balance shutter speeds and ISO to get well exposed images.
- The one shutter speed weekend - similarly to the aperture challenge this can be challenging but spending some time either looking to capture subjects with long or very fast shutter speeds will teach you a lot. To do this shoot in Shutter Priority Mode.
- Manual Exposure Mode Weekend - if you don’t venture into fully manual shooting that much set yourself a challenge to shoot in manual mode for a weekend. This is perhaps the best way possible to teach yourself about exposure!
- Manual Focusing Weekend - similarly if you rely upon your camera to always focus for you in Auto focus – switch to a weekend of just shooting with manual focus. This will break you out of your laziness and help you to really think about focal points.
- Switch cameras - got an older camera in your cupboard that you’ve been neglecting? Perhaps its an old film camera or an old digital camera without all the bells and whistles of your current one? Take it for a spin – sometimes older cameras require you to think more about settings and not rely upon the features of your modern camera. Shooting with film cameras also makes you slow down and get the shot right the first time.
- Compositional Rules - pick a ‘rule’ like the Rule of Thirds and try to adhere to it in every shot you take over a weekend. Alternatively choose to break the rule as much as possible but still end up with ascetically pleasing shots.
- Explore a Technique - spend a weekend really honing your skills in a particular shooting technique. For example you might like to spend time working on using Fill Flash in your shots – or Slow Sync Flash – or Zoom Blur – or Panning etc
- Lighting Technique - similarly set yourself the challenge to practice your skills with a particular lighting. It might be Natural light, window shots, one light portrait setups, silhouettes, classic lighting etc
- Recreate someone else’s work - one last one that I am borrowing from a friend. My friend chooses an image each week from a photographer that he admires and he sets out to recreate it. While he never passes the shots he takes off as his ideas he finds it useful to analyse the work of others and to then try to recreate those shots – in doing so he finds he learns a lot.
There are of course many more – please suggest your favourite challenges/assignments in the comments section below!