7 Photography Exercises To Help You Be a Better Photographer

 7 Photography Exercises To Help You Be a Better Photographer


Photography is like most other professions or hobbies in that you will improve and get better with training. But, like other skills, you need to try and set yourself a structure and actively try and improve the areas that you may not be good at. Sure, like anything else, there are those that are naturally skilled at seeing a scene and pre-visualising a shot, but the following photography exercises will help anyone become a better photographer.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

#1 – Use a Film Camera

Like most photographers who grew up in the 90s, my first introduction to photography was at college and university using film. I spent hours in the darkroom developing the photos I had taken. Whilst, like most, I love the romantic notion of shooting with film, the reality is that digital photography offers so much more freedom.

However, the one downside of digital photography is that it also allows you to snap away without really having to worry about the number of photos taken. Not like using film where literary every photo taken cost a few cents.

But also, without the ability to review the photo instantly on the back of your camera, it meant that you had to trust your instincts and ability for capturing a great photo. All of this combined to ensure that you really had to think before taking a photo – thus meaning you had to be better at seeing something and capturing it.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

If you have been photographing for a while and want to take your skills to the next level, get or rent a film camera and spend a while using it. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised when you go back to your DSLR camera.

2 – Set Yourself a Limit of Six Photos

Another way that you can train yourself to make every shot count is by setting yourself a limit on a photo session. Say you are planning on photographing a local market, set yourself a limit of six shots for the day only. So if you reach six you’ll need to delete one before taking any more.

The reason for this is that you will have to become really analytical about your photos. Setting yourself a small shot list can help ensure you capture six photos with variety that capture the whole experience rather than just a small element.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

As an example, if you were photographing a market you could set out your six shots as such:

  • A great portrait of a market vendor.
  • An environmental portrait (i.e. when a vendor is making/cooking something or making a sale).
  • A close up of the produce on sale.
  • Wide-angle shot of the venue.
  • Other people at the market (i.e. tourists enjoying their day out, a performer, etc.).
  • Something unique about the market (i.e. it could be a unique plaque or sign, or a famous old stall).

You would then work through your shot list and aim to capture the best photo that you can for each one and in theory replacing each shot you have taken with something better. You will then end up with six fantastic photos from a shoot rather than 300 mediocre ones. Do this enough times and you’ll notice that your “great” photos from a shoot will begin to rise.

Do this enough times and you’ll notice that your number of “great” photos from a shoot will begin to rise.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

3 – Photograph What is Least Comfortable

Every photographer has something that they are the least comfortable with photographing. For you, it might be something technical like photographing in low light conditions. For others, it might be capturing landscapes or a fear of photographing people.

Whatever you are least comfortable with, you should aim to improve that. Not necessarily because it is something you will use in your branch of photography, but because it will teach you new skills that will become useful in your genre of photography.

For example, you may be a wedding photographer and decide that you are going to improve your sports photography. That genre requires you to work fast as the action moves quickly, so learning skills that can help you do that will no doubt come in useful at weddings.

Trying a new aspect of photography will also give you a glimpse into something different and you never know, you may end up loving it.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

4 – Work With a Managed Stock Agency

New photographers often ask me what I would recommend they do when starting out in travel photography. I always respond that I think they should get a portfolio together and approach a managed stock agency. The key word in the previous sentence is “managed”. So what is a managed stock agency? Fundamentally there are two types of stock photo agencies. There are ones that you simply upload photos and as long as they pass technical quality checks (i.e. there are no chromatic aberrations, they are sharp, no nudity, etc.) they will be accepted regardless of composition or subject.

Then there are managed stock photo agencies where not only do your photos go through the same rigorous quality checks, but someone at the agency also edits them. This means someone might look through the 100 photos that you have submitted and choose 20 to go up for sale on their site. They obviously choose photos that they feel will sell and this is a really good way to gauge how sellable your photos are and also if you are improving over time.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

For example, for your first few submissions, you may find that the agency accepts an average of 10 photos but by your 20th submission that average might be getting to 30 or 40. This shows that you are improving.

5 – Shoot in Difficult Conditions

The general rule of photography is that you photograph certain subjects at certain times to be able to capture the best photos. For example, landscape shots will be shot during the golden hour, portraits on overcast days, food outdoors in the shade, and so on. While there is a reason for these rules and wherever possible you should aim to follow them as you will capture great photos, sometimes breaking them will give you far more dramatic photos.

But photographing in harsh conditions like midday for outdoor photography, low light conditions or backlit for portraits, will also mean you have to think outside the traditional photography box and work out how you can tackle the difficult conditions. Not only will this help you gain valuable skills but it may also come in handy when you are on a real shoot and encounter these conditions.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

6 – Work on a Brief

Another great exercise to improve your photography is to work on a brief. You can either set yourself a brief or you can ask someone you know to set you one, but treat it as a real-life brief that you might get from a client. Get the person setting the brief to give you as much detail as possible and when you have taken the photos, present them to him as if he is the client.

Get their feedback and if you need to shoot things again, do so. The great thing about working on a brief is that you have a very specific remit of what is needed and as such you will find yourself being much more focused. If you work with a stock photo agency then you can always ask them for a brief as they will often have specific photo needs that they will be more than happy to share.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

7 – Don’t do any Post-Production

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard someone say, “I’ll fix that in post-production”. The purpose of post-production should be to enhance your photos rather than create them. You should always aim to get as much right when you are taking the photo rather than trying to fix it in post-production later.

By setting yourself a photography exercise that you won’t use any post-production you will have to try and get the photo right at the time of shooting. So if there’s a rubbish bin (garbage can) in your frame you’ll need to try and find a way to crop it out. Or if the light isn’t great you’ll need to wait until it is.

By removing the safety blanket of post-production you will find yourself getting better at taking photos.

 7 Photography Exercises That Will Help Make You a Better Photographer

Conclusion and Time for Action

The exercises above are not the only options. As you progress through your photography journey whether that is a profession or a hobby you will come up with your own photography exercises that you can do. The key is to constantly look to improve and never stop learning.

Have you got any other good photography exercises? Please share them below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

  • Paul Willy Brown

    Who writes this nonsense ? The pressure to write something every few days, crap or not, should be resisted.

  • Richard Flint II

    I stopped reading at ‘use a film camera’

  • Albin

    Enjoyed reading, took me back to counter-culture days in a woodsy British Columbia resort, with a copy of “Back to Eden” by Jethro Kloss to live by. I commend it to anyone looking to improve with a course of ferociously hot and icy cold baths, wrapped sweating, enemas, calisthenics and a godly diet eliminating toxic tomato and mucusoid roots, replacing them with highly laxative brewed-leaf herbals. This seems the photographic equivalent of old Kloss, and much good it did us.

  • Joel

    I submitted some photos to Shutterstock and was pointedly told that they want pictures of people in business settings. They also want a model release for everything in the photo except the sky. I’m not paying models to pose in an office to submit them to an agency where I couldn’t even recoup the costs involved.

  • DDC 5548

    I think I’ll pass on those diet suggestions! BUT yes! Never forget the basics. I like to keep my photography fairly pure. Get comfortable with shooting in “manual.” I use that mode 90% of the time. If you aren’t doing it already start stepping into with using different priorities. Take a pic in “smart mode” or whatever your camera calls it. Look at the settings it picked. Then write them down, and start playing around with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Play around with white balance, etc. Love and Luck!

  • DDC 5548

    Film is great because it gets you tied into the fundamentals. It’s a good tip. You don’t actually have to literally shoot with film. If you do you better build a dark room. I had a few old film prints developed last Christmas. No one would touch them. I took them to my “camera guy”, and he had to send them out. It took ten days. Just shoot in “manual” and only give yourself one try at a shot. Do something simple. Set an apple in a window sill that is partially lit. Play with your settings to see what worked. It’s a good exercise.

  • jennyreesproductions

    I personally find this article inspiring and informative, and find it difficult to imagine that anyone of us, whatever our experience as photographers would not benefit from making a concerted effort to improve our work. I will not, at least at the moment, be using a film camera, but I do not doubt the rationale expressed in this article and am sure using film for a while would have something valuable to teach me. I discovered DPS at a time when I was struggling to understand basic camera skills such as the exposure triangle. I am really grateful to the many photographers such as Kav Dadfar for sharing, free of charge, their knowledge and experience with me. Now, I understand the basics of photography. Still, I hope that however experienced, or successful I may become as a photographer, I will always have the spirit of beginning anew, to be open to learning, this way, I am sure I will continue to grow as a photographer. Why not look again at the article, is there really nothing there that would benefit you?

  • Peter Abbott

    If you really want the “film experience” find a 32 or 64 MEG abyte card. That will limit the number of photos you can take on one card.

    After all the banging on you experts have done about only shooting RAW how can you recommend no post processing with a straight face? Maybe no cropping or no cloning would be a more manageable goal.

    As someone who has worked at a stock agency I can catagorically state the NO ONE wants to wade through hundreds of amateurish, poorly shot photographs in order to “teach” someone which photos are acceptable. If your photography is at that level make use of the online forums to get your critiques, don’t load up my day.

    Finally, while these suggestions are a start for improving your photography you may also want to consider something like; shoot each subject at least four times from a different perspective each shot. Or give yourself a “50 feet” challenge and find 15 subjects within 50 feet of your starting point.

  • Jim Mlodynia

    I have been using digital SLR’s for ten years now and would never revert to using film, I know doing this might help people think more about what they shoot, but I have learned other ways to handle this. first when you get to the area that you are going to photograph, stop, look and listen. look at what you find interesting , look through your view finder and before you take your first shot, move and continue to look to come up with the best angle to capture your subject. Look and listen for any thing that may cause you harm in the area that you are photographing in.

  • Cynosure

    “3 – Photograph What is Least _Uncomfortable_” but talks about shooting what is least _comfortable_. Perhaps the heading should be corrected?

  • Mannar Mannan. S.G.

    Dear Peter , your suggestion are complementary and very revealing so that amaeture will avoid frustrations . Your addition of exercises are also very interesting . Thank you .

  • Fielding Mellish

    You’re implying Ansel Adams didn’t post-process ?

  • Adam

    Excellent article. I had a couple questions though…first, in section 4, you talked about working with managed stock agencies. What agencies do you recommend working with? And second, in section 6, you suggested working on a photo brief. Can you clarify what a “brief” is? I’ve never heard that term before. Thanks! I liked this article.

  • bill gorrell

    Several if these tips are in a previous article by the same writer.

  • DDC 5548

    No, every photographer post processes. Either a crop or dodge and burn. The idea is to take a precise picture, and not get crazy with Lightroom or Photoshop. If you are relying on software too heavily, you aren’t really doing the work.

  • Hi,
    Kav Dadfar, Basically, I’m not a photographer, but after reading your post I quite inspired. Some things you say very well as like “Shoot in Difficult Conditions, Use a Film Camera”, that’s the assume thinking. On the other hand, you say “Work with a Managed Stock Agency”, is it essential for the photographer? You also say: Don’t do any Post-Production” Why? Do you think there is no creativity in this work?

    “Work with a Managed Stock Agency, & Don’t do any Post-Production”. Do you NOT think it’s a controversial issue for each other ?

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Max, glad you feel inspired reading the article!! The point of the article isn’t to do everything on the list, they are just suggestions of exercises that I have found over the years have helped me or others who have contacted me on their photography. I’m not saying you should do everything at the same time, or even everything on the list, but rather to just pick one thing and treat it like a training session.

    Say for example you worked in an office and wanted to improve you presentation skills. You might go to a training day where they will get to exercise by for example singing out loud. That doesn’t mean when you next present you will do so by singing. But it could be to give you confidence or to be able project your voice better. This is the same thing, so you could for example set yourself the aim of trying to nail every shot that day (i.e. perfectly straight, right colour temp, well lit etc). That doesn’t mean that then forever more if you take a photo and need to straighten it you don’t. It’s just about trying to train you to really think about the technical elements of photography as well as the composition when taking the photo.

    Working with stock agency is not essential at all – it’s just a suggestion that I personally found really helped me when I was starting out. Photography is often lonely in that it is just you and sometimes having another person’s opinion can help, especially if that person is in the industry. But you don’t have to work with a stock agency at all. There are plenty of photographers out there (a lot more successful than I am) that have never worked with stock agencies.

    Hope this answers your questions.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Adam, glad you enjoyed the article. In regards to stock agencies, it really depends to different factors like the genre, your style of photography, how strict you want them to be when choosing photos (i.e. do you want them to edit really tightly and only pick a handful of photos or be more free and choose a larger collection). My suggestion would be to check your countries association of stock agencies (in the UK it is BAPLA). They would have a list of all their members and depending on your field you can then look through the different agencies, check their website, see the work they represent and see what fits.

    A photo brief is something that you would usually get when you are commissioned for photography work. Different industries will differ in their briefs, for example in my days working in an ad agency, I would give the photographer a brief that contained things like the style I wanted it shot, the crop, lighting etc. Whereas for example one of my recent travel photo briefs was essentially a shot list with some guidance on the sort of style and lighting they wanted (so things like “not too busy with people”, “good weather”, “late afternoon light” and so on).

    So a photo brief that you might set yourself you can set as for example to shoot a specific object in a particular style with very specific lighting and props etc.

  • “Photograph What is Least Uncomfortable”
    I think this should be “comfortable” instead.

  • Ian Terrell

    Disappointing- use film and limit the shots does not make better photographs, Being more selective, experimenting, increased skill, being more discerning, etc does. Nothing to do with the number of shots. Very lightweight article

  • Felix Tan

    thank you for the wonderful article. I still use film cameras and I have 2 of them. A Chinon CP-7m and a Pentax Z1P but I have been leaving them aside for too long. Time to take out and use again.

  • I think it is necessary to practice several photographic exercises although the modality of photography that you like is not related to photographing drops of water

  • you are right! Fixing it

  • it’s been fixed

  • yes that was my experience of stock photography as well – they don’t want photos of mountains and flowers they want photos that their customers need for business ads, etc. So that is by demand – they tell you what is most in need. If you are willing to put out the time, effort, and yes sometimes expense, then your images may sell well. They are giving you the keys to the kingdom – it’s your choice whether to open the door or not.

  • Joel

    Hello, Darlene. Thanks for the reply. It’s a two edged sword in stock photography, and I would prefer to spend my time shooting interesting subjects than posing someone holding a laptop.i guess It’s just not my cup of tea. Funny thing is, I get constant emails telling me to “shoot what sells” and.begging for submissions. I guess we are not alone in taking the other road.

  • Right – if you want to play the stock game that’s what it takes. I chose not to.

  • Michael Sheridan

    Hi Kav, I also sell images through Alamy and have had some decent sales, but how do you find out what they are used for? All I get from Alamy is that it has been sold to a magazine, but I’d love to see where? Thanks for all the tips and advice.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Only way would be to contact them Michael and ask them if they know. Sometimes they might not know as for example a client could login and set the different usage options, pay for the image and then use it. But it’s worth asking a question.

    One thing you can do is to use the google reverse image search option. You basically load the image in question and google looks for the image online brings up any sites that its used on (or what it considers the image to be – sometimes it does get it wrong). Obviously this would work for occasions when it’s used online, but not when it’s in print.

    But I would say ask Alamy. The big sales they might have an idea on.

    Hope this helps.

  • Anne

    Thanks for the great article. It reminds me to set myself some new challenges regularly and never get lazy in the learning department. National Geographic/ Yourshot organises assignments/ stories regularly. These come with a brief and one can discuss pictures with other members, so they are excellent as exercise material. As for shooting with an analog film camera, one could set the digital camera to Manual as well. Using vintage lenses also do the the trick, for they usually ask for all things manual and you really have to think about your settings. Sticking to one (preferably prime) lens during a period or a single shoot can help to make you think about your pictures and compositions too.

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