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In my 20 years in photography, I’ve seen a lot of different assignments teachers have given their students. Most I have heard, or been given myself from time to time, have centered around learning to use the camera. Things like “Use Only One Exposure Mode”, “Use Only One Lens”, or “Use One Aperture Setting”. The most interesting to me, from a photographic standpoint, involved learning to see. The reason I say this is that simple camera use can be easily learned. It’s basic math when you boil it down. But learning to see creatively, learning to compose a shot, takes much more than learning buttons, dials, and controls. These self assignments force you to look around you, to really see what you’re shooting and try to make interesting images.
Pick up your camera and choose a color for the day. Go out and make images with that color as a dominant element in the image. Find as many different ways as possible to do this.
Choose a shape and create images which use that shape in an interesting way. It could be features in architecture, artwork, or juxtaposition of multiple structures. Squares are relatively easy. Start there, and then search out triangles, circles, or combinations of shape. Again, look for the most interesting composition you can to highlight that shape in your image.
If you’re like me, you probably have one type of subject you gravitate to more than any other. But it’s easy to get too comfortable, and miss opportunities to make great images, when you’re only looking for one thing. Once in a while it’s a good idea to change things up and shoot something different. If you’re a sports shooter, try shooting a still life. If you’re a landscape artist, try shooting macro. These types of exercises forces you out of your comfort zone and helps you learn to see in a new way.
Reflections are a powerful element in photography, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to actually start SEEING them. I had a “lightbulb moment” one day when shooting with a friend of mine, and since then, I am constantly looking for reflections as an element in my work, whether it be portraits, landscapes, or still lifes.
Stand in the center of a room, or wherever you happen to be. Make photographs only of subjects that happen to be within 15 feet (or 10, or 5) of where you’re standing. Give yourself a time limit. Exhaust all possibilities. Get as many images as you can using only that area before moving on. This kind of exercise forces you to really look at things and work to compose interesting images.
For beginners, these assignments are great for learning to see. For more experienced photographers, these are great ways to stay fresh, to restart the creative eye when you’re feeling blocked, or to just do something different. What other self assignments have you tried to refresh your photographic vision?