10 Photographic Assignments to Hone Your Skills

10 Photographic Assignments to Hone Your Skills


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.

Sunset Shooters

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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!

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • kiran moghe June 23, 2013 04:59 am

    mood focussed, say only smiling, only angry one because moods makes us human being.

  • Rich H. June 12, 2012 02:47 am

    Great article with some excellent tips. When you experiment with your gear, you really do learn a lot about the process of photography. Sometimes I'll try the "take photos from another height level" to see if different perspectives can be found. Sometimes I'll kneel down and look for subtle patterns or interesting plants on the ground, or climb a tree or small structure to see what else can be seen from above. It's fun to take a photo of something common but with an uncommon perspective.

  • Mom2my10 June 9, 2012 12:44 am

    Thanks for the great read. I recently read an article, probably here, that suggests that you go to a location and just sit for ten minutes thinking about what you want to photograph and how you want to compose your shot. Haven't tried it yet, but it sounded like something that could really inspire creativity.

  • Ignas June 8, 2012 11:44 pm

    I love the ideas expressed. I would also like to suggest that if you have a few lens, try them. One lens a day on the same street and see the difference between the lenses. If you only have one lens like 18-200m than try with 3 different type of focus length like ( 18mm than 100mm and later with 200mm). Wrap them with plastic so that the lens focal length does not move. This will train yu to apperciate your leans capability and your focal length. Makes you think more which focal length you would want to use when taking future shots.

  • Lara Sargologo June 8, 2012 10:19 pm

    These are great ideas that will definitely help me improve my skills. I have one more: shooting at the same OSI all day no matter what the lighting conditions are.

  • HARESH June 8, 2012 08:04 pm

    Great Assignments

    Can I have some tips on how to shot a Normal Subject (Non-Model) and get a Perfect Portrait shot .
    How to make the subject more comfortable & get a perfect shot.


  • steve slater June 8, 2012 06:26 pm

    This is an excellent idea and often just take one lens and use say one shutterspeed. It disciplines you and gets you out of a rut that you can easily fall into taking the same thing all the time.
    It is also fun:

    This was a one lens, one aperture event:


  • Bob June 8, 2012 04:40 pm

    Thank's for the tips.I will try these, as I tend to shoot in aperture priority and trying these will help me understand my camera a lot more.

  • Sachin Verma June 8, 2012 03:25 pm

    Cool Tips! I will try, but I don't have a DSLR :)
    "Recreate someone else’s work" sounds good for me ;)


  • maggie June 8, 2012 03:21 pm

    Darren, I love all of your ideas. I enjoy getting your emails and enjoy the 'photography tips for the weekend'. Thanks!

  • Mridula June 8, 2012 02:21 pm

    A lot of them appeal to me but still too tired after my trek. But will try it out on my next trip the rules bit.


  • Nathan Franke June 8, 2012 11:30 am

    "Ascetic" is not the same thing as "aesthetic."

    Informative and good ideas.

  • Becca June 8, 2012 11:20 am

    This was a good one for me to read, I'm in what seems to be a never-ending slump and I'm going to have a go at some of these ideas to try and get out of it.

  • Mei Teng June 8, 2012 10:21 am

    Thanks for these suggestions. A great way to improve one's photography.

  • Scottc June 8, 2012 10:20 am

    Assignments are great and the suggestions are very worthwhile.

    I've always done better at "assigned" photographic subjects than self-tasking, but not much better......


  • Momen June 8, 2012 07:38 am

    You can do self-portraits and commit to a 365 project or at least once a week. You may chose to stick to one color and keep looking for it for a whole period of time or a certain shape. One more trick I heard from someone is to challenge yourself to shoot the most mundane thing you have around you and still make something interesting out of it...

    There's a lot .. you just need to get out there and start shooting!

  • Marcus S Davis June 8, 2012 07:25 am

    Great article. I like to shoot in manual mode, so number 2 makes me cringe. lol I really like #8 though. I worked on panning a few weekends ago. I want to look deeper into some of those other techniques. Thank you for the ideas.

  • Tracy June 8, 2012 06:35 am

    How about selecting one element of visual design and shooting only that element: lines, textures, shapes, etc. Also reflections or shadows are other good topics which provide various challenges to the photographer.

  • Alexx June 8, 2012 03:28 am

    Cool post with cool techniques. I typically shoot in manual anyway, so a lot of these don't apply to me, but some like the "explore a technique" I would love to try.

    In fact I think I might do that assignment. If I do it will be posted here: http://disney-photography-blog.com/