Doing photography exercises brings forth new opportunities to improve your skills, hone in on your craft and who knows, even guide you in the direction of finding a new genre that you love more than anything in the world! Here are 15 creative ideas to take you out of your comfort zone, and guide you in your quest to boost your creativity.
Get out there and put your own spin to each of these prompts. Bonus points if you have never tried any of these before. When you push yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to step outside your comfort zone, to try new things, and to give yourself the permission to fail – you also give yourself the chance to figure out who you want to be when you grow up!
#1 – Add emotion to your images
Choose to evoke emotion in your images – either in the eyes of the beholder or in the eyes of the beheld (a.k.a your subjects). When you want emotion from your subjects, ask for it. There is nothing more uncomfortable for your clients than a photographer who is silent behind the camera while continuously clicking the shutter.
Most clients are not professional models and generally, they are quite camera shy and self-conscious. It is our responsibility as the photographer to direct, educate, and interact with our clients to make them comfortable in front of our lens.
If you are shooting landscapes or still lifes, aim to create emotion in your images that move your audience to feel something. Be it a serious case of wanderlust viewing a travel photo from an exotic locale, or insane hunger when looking at your food images!
#2 – Try some motion blur
There are many different ways to achieve motion blur. I associate motion blur with the effect of capturing movement in a frame. You can either capture movement in your subject or by moving yourself or the camera (e.g. panning). For me, the easiest way to achieve motion blur is to slow the shutter speed and show some movement of the subject. Motion blur adds an interesting artistic element in your images if done right. One tip, use a tripod for optimal effect.
#3 – Go macro
Traditionally macro photography has been associated with floral and fauna. But resist the urge to get out into the garden to find the smallest ant to photograph. Instead, think of macro as a great way to isolate details in an image.
#4 – Find reflections
As the name suggests, try and find mirror images or reflections, either with mirrors or with water, of your subject and shoot creatively.
#5 – Shoot out of focus
Whether it’s an unlucky accident or intentional, I love out of focus images. Remember these creative exercises are simply an attempt to create something you are proud of. There are no right or wrongs, they are all just ways to stimulate your creative juices.
#6 – Wabi-sabi – embracing imperfection
As per Wikipedia, wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.
There is something innately beautiful in imperfections. That feeling of being alive and being human and living life to the fullest, versus living in the proverbial glass house where nothing is out of order. The best way to think of wabi-sabi is to look for imperfections in your everyday.
#7 – Double exposures
Ding a double exposure is a carry-over from the old film days and it is a super creative way to take your images from boring to wow! In its simplest form, it is a way to superimpose two images onto a single frame. The good news is that you don’t need a film camera to create double exposures. Some of
Some newer DSLRs have a multiple exposure setting as a tool for creative photography. It takes a little bit of reading but once you get the hang of it, I promise, you will be hooked. We also have a great article in the DPS archives that talks about the techniques of multiple exposures How to do Multiple Exposures In-Camera.
A diptych is a concept of placing two images side by side so that they add context to each other and tell a complete story. When choosing images to form a diptych, pay close attention to light, tones, and exposures. Typically I compose my diptychs to include a big picture image and a detail shot of an element of that image.
#9 – Triptych
Similar to diptych, a triptych is a concept of placing three images side by side so that they collectively tell a story.
#10 – Shooting through objects
I love shooting through objects, it adds an element of interest and depth in the foreground. You can really take this up a notch by using every day elements like leaves, branches, fabric pieces and ever glass to create some cool artistic effects in your images.
#11 – Different perspective
The next time you find yourself shooting the same subject the same way, take a step back and rethink your strategy. Are you a 100% vertical shooter like me? Then force yourself to take a horizontal frame. Are you always looking at details? Then use a wide-angle lens and force yourself to take in the big picture. Do you always shoot at a narrow aperture so as to get everything in focus? Then dial down your aperture and shoot at the widest possible setting (based on your lens) to focus in on one detail of the whole image.
#12 – Burst of color
It’s a beautiful, colorful world out there. Get out and photograph it. Don’t be afraid of the bold bright colors, but definitely be aware of which colors work and which ones don’t quite translate well in imagery. Train your mind to look for certain colors and patterns and before you know it, you will have a collection of colorful images that make you happy.
#13 – Monochromatic
This is the exact opposite of #12 where your challenge is to look for and shoot a black and white image. You can either convert the image to B&W in post-processing or change the setting on your camera (depending on the make and model) to shoot monochromatic in-camera.
The key here is to look for patterns and compositions that work well in black and white. A point to note is that processing is very subjective, as is black and white imagery. There are no right or wrong images, but here are a few articles to help you take great monochrome images.
- How to Create Good Black and White Portraits
- 6 Tips to Help You Make Better Black and White Landscape Photos
- Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes in Black and White Photography
- A Guide to Black and White Conversion in Photoshop
- A Guide to Black and White Conversion in Lightroom
- Improve Your Middle of the Day Photos By Doing Black and White
#14 – Pattern play
Take the time to look around and see if you are able to find any natural patterns around you. These can be either man-made or natural. Facades of buildings, windows, parking lots, and landscapes all provide many opportunities to capture repeating patterns. Capture them in an interesting way to highlight those patterns.
#15 – Shadow play
Shadow play is most prevalent in situations when the sun is high in the sky creating harsh shadows on the ground, on buildings and directly unto the subject. But magic with light also happens indoors. Learn to embrace this high contrast between shadow and sun and try to capture some creative angles.
I hope these exercises have proven to you that there isn’t any lack of creativity prompts in and around you. You just have to look for them anytime you feel stuck or find yourself creating the same or similar images again and again. Keep these prompts in the back of your mind, use them, combine them, mix them up – the possibilities are endless!