A 15 Minute Exercise To Help You Improve Your Photography

A 15 Minute Exercise To Help You Improve Your Photography

Here’s a little exercise for you to do today. It will only take 15 minutes. It’s all about slowing down and thinking about the shots that you’re taking.


Grab your camera – what ever one you have handy (I used my iPhone last time I did this) and head out into your backyard (or if you’re in the middle of winter you can choose an indoor location – perhaps your living room – really anywhere will do).

Now find somewhere to sit – somewhere in the middle of whatever place you’ve selected.

Now for the next 10 minutes just sit there. You’re not allowed to take a photo for 10 minutes but rather your sole task for this 10 minutes is to observe what is around you and to plan your shots.


  • Soak in your location.
  • Look at the light and how it hits your surroundings.
  • Pay attention to what your setting makes you feel.
  • Look at the details that perhaps you’d not have noticed if you’d rushed through the setting.

During this ‘observation’ phase you may like to move around your environment to look at it from different angles – but don’t use your camera yet.


As you sit there – begin to think about your setting and the elements in it as a photographic subject and how you’ll photograph it.

  • What will you shoot?
  • What perspective will you shoot from?
  • How will you compose the shot?
  • What settings could you use to get different results?
  • How will you convey the emotion of what you’re feeling?
  • Picture the shots you’ll take in your minds eye.


Now that you’ve spent 10 minutes observing your location and planning your shots you can now spend 5 minutes using your camera to capture the shots you’ve been thinking about.

I find that this kind of ratio of observation, planning and taking of shots brings about a marked improvement in the shots that I take (as opposed to the times I race into a situation to take a quick shot… or worse still a heap of shots without really much thought to what I’m doing in the hope of getting a good one).

I find taking time to observing allows me to notice details that I might otherwise have missed. Taking time to plan often leads me to photograph my subjects in more creative ways than I’d have otherwise done.

For Example

The picture of the snail above was one I took with my iPhone this past week. I’d not normally have taken the time to even notice this little guy but as I sat in my own backyard taking in my surrounds – there he was. As I watched him I began to think about how to take the shot. I moved around him to observe how the light would hit him, to think about the background and to think about where I’d position myself.

While I wish I’d had my macro lens with me to shoot him with a better camera I was still pleased to see how the shot turned out (and the picture went to the popular page on Instagram so it seems others enjoyed it too).

I’d love to see the results of this exercise for you in comments 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

  • Bill Brennan January 5, 2013 01:14 am

    Thanks for the reminder. Will add "slow down" to my 2013 goals. Frequently, I participate in photo club field trips. Inevitably, despite not wanting to, I get caught up in the moment and begin shooting without intent. As a result of this article and related posts, my pre-planning for the field trip will be to leave the camera in the car; walk around; become totally immersed in surroundings; and determine intent before starting to shoot.

    Bill Brennan

  • Joe Elliott December 29, 2012 09:37 am

    Hi Darren,

    Great Advice and something i don't do enough, in live music photography its kind of shoot for your life but gonna take some time tomorrow to give this task a try. In the past I have noticed my best shots have all been planned out.

    Joe Elliott

  • Dan Losowski October 13, 2012 04:16 am

    I will have to try this for sure! Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Penelope August 21, 2012 01:28 am

    Ooh, I love this idea! I never really sit and think for a bit, and that is probably noticeable in the results. If I focus on just thinking about different subjects and angles potential before taking a single shot, my shots would be a lot more interesting afterwards.

  • Richard January 26, 2012 09:37 am

    Great post! I think one of the great rewards of photography is that it slows down time for us by capturing the moments just so. When we slow down too, the effect is amplified. I actually link to this post over at:


    Since I talk about turning the everyday into art — something more feasible when you slow down to consider your shots — I'd be very curious to know your thoughts there if you'd care to share.

    Again, very salient post. Keep them coming.

  • Peter January 20, 2012 02:06 pm

    January 19, 2012 @8:52pm
    From your article, I remembered a question which says "what do you think before you take a picture?".
    Well as for me, before I take a picture I would think about the light, angle, composition, camera settings
    and the time of day. As you say, one needs a plan and time before shooting your subject.
    Good article and advice to all photographers out there especially the nobies. I have no website yet
    but this is the name of my business. "Balacua Imaging Photography".

  • Arturomar January 20, 2012 04:47 am

    Thank you for sharing this excersise, made me remember the book I'm reading The Practice of Contemplative Photograpy.

    This is why I like DPS so much.

  • Paulo January 18, 2012 09:28 pm

    Good tip,good exercise. Makes such a difference not to rush to take pictures (makes you think and go deeper in your photogaraphic pratice). Like any action taken with more conscience (for example slowing down when eating). Thanks

  • Michele Morgan January 17, 2012 11:15 pm

    Aaron, you are not correct. I have snails in my front and back yard...in Miami!

  • Aaron January 17, 2012 11:08 am

    Believe the Iphone part, but don't buy the location of the snail at all. Snails like cold and damp. They don't dig dry decks, especially right in the middle of them. It's a great pic, don't get me wrong. However, this is manufactured. It is not the result of being at the right time right place. Still good though.

  • The Luggman January 17, 2012 03:10 am

    Reminds me of shooting 4x5 with only one loaded filmholder left! The whole digital change over sure has changed the whole sceneario. Pretend you have only a 16 mb card not a 16GIG Great advice!

  • Simon Young January 16, 2012 05:32 pm

    Think slow, shoot fast... That's my motto... Si

  • George Okoh January 16, 2012 04:38 pm

    Thanks for this piece of advice. The simple exercise looks simple, but very difficult when it comes to actually doing it. Each minute spent on observing and reading of lights in relation to the subject, look like an eternity. But l will keep practising untill it becomes a second nature to me. Happy New Year!! to all DPI crew.

  • Poncho Alarcon January 16, 2012 03:25 pm

    COOOL =)

  • Elizabeth Feild January 15, 2012 07:52 am

    I will never forget that advice!!!


  • Alicia January 14, 2012 08:39 am

    This is brilliant! I am very much looking forward to doing this! Thank you!

  • PaulB January 14, 2012 05:54 am

    Thanks for this, I've seen similar suggestions before, but feel these are well worth making the time to try

  • Sonia Barton January 14, 2012 05:30 am

    Wonderful advice. We seem to forgot to slow down in all aspects of life. Why would photography be any different.

  • Edmund MacMiller January 14, 2012 04:29 am

    This is an excellent advise. I did practice the observe, plan and shot however at most time, I normally did it within 5 minutes. Never thought doing it for another 10 minutes produced better results. I'll surely keep that in mind for my future backyard and fruit garden session. Thank-you the wonderful tips.

  • Amir January 14, 2012 03:15 am

    Hi Thanks for this.
    I really needed this to get back to basic. I think i have been rushing arround and missing a LOT OF BEAUTYFULL things around me.
    Thanks again

  • Michele Morgan January 14, 2012 01:51 am

    Best advice! I see such beautiful things in my backyard – light, shadow, my pets, flowers. It's a pleasure and an honor, I think, to be able to see the shadow of a Royal Palm resting on green grass. A lot of people are just too busy...thanks again for putting this down in words.

  • Ganyobinaa January 14, 2012 01:22 am

    So I woke up this morning and sat on the steps at the front of my house. Weather was a bit foggy due to harmattan and nothing was moving. I did my 15 mins exercise and started. I almost gave up till I saw this. I call it Antz!

  • Jim Denham January 13, 2012 11:25 pm

    This is a great idea and one I will implement quite regularly! Thanks!

  • john hakkennes January 13, 2012 10:43 pm

    i've recently started to concentrate on neutral backgrounds and the rest is jus pure luck!


  • Aidan Somerville January 13, 2012 09:32 pm

    Great tip. Will definitely do that this weekend.
    I'm trying to get my head around lighting, aperture use, etc.........so what aperture/shutter speed did you use to capture this laid-back slow mover?

  • Ruth January 13, 2012 09:27 pm

    This is probably the best advice I've had yet, as I'm always in far too much of a hurry taking photographs! Thank you Darren and Happy New Year!

  • Rob Lipscombe January 13, 2012 09:09 pm

    Very sound advice Darren and one I have advocated in one of my posts on Photoblogger. Better than snapping away haphazardly and be disappointed with the results when you get home.

  • sri January 13, 2012 06:59 pm

    here is mine… out of such thought process long back… now I am ruined again.. so have to practice the stop and smell the roses thought process…


  • krupakara January 13, 2012 03:59 pm

    simple and yet WONDERFUL

  • Kelly January 13, 2012 02:29 pm

    SLOW DOWN - you are so right! From all the posts it appears that this is a common ailment that we who have passion suffer from... But then again, even after 50 years, when I grab my camera my heart still picks up a few RPM's and I sincerely hope that never changes! Want another good exercise, grab ONE apple, place it in sunlight through a window and don't shoot a photo of it for 15 minutes - walk around it, look at all the angles and then when it comes time to shoot, set your camera up and here is the big challenge - YOU ONLY GET ONE SHOT.

  • Howard Markel January 13, 2012 02:01 pm

    A great exercise the whole world could learn from. We are living way to fast , to fast to even notice the little details.
    I've made a hobby of scale modeling for many years and also a long time shutterbug . The two hobbies go hand in hand and have taught me the importance of the little things that make a whole. The details that one may not notice they are there, but are definitely missed when they are not.
    This will be an interesting exercise to practice with my 9 year old daughter. She has a keen sense of noticing the "details" around her.

  • Elizabeth Feild January 13, 2012 01:30 pm

    10 WHOLE minutes?????? Its ON!

    The Snail Theory... Dont get SnapHappy get SnailSnappy.

  • Terry January 13, 2012 01:12 pm

    Yes, this is good. Now I know why I got some good keeper photos just sitting in a parking lot this past weekend. I had rode around for a couple hours trying to find something interesting and found nothing, but just sitting in the parking lot waiting for my wife I was looking around pictured in my mind some pretty good shots of an approaching thunderstorm and ended up with some good photos.
    I didn't think about what you just said in your article but it makes sense now.

  • Rodrigo Aliaga January 13, 2012 11:19 am

    Very useful excercise!
    It allows you to think about the subject, the light, point of view, etc... instead of shooting like a crazy man and after a while select a good one. Additionally I suggest to limit the number of shots to 8 or 10, like the old times when we used a 36 film cartridge.
    Thanks Darren

  • john hakkennes January 13, 2012 11:13 am

    great advice, just as well it was a snail not a racehorse ; )

  • Brigitte January 13, 2012 10:32 am

    I actually think the snail is a girl :) Great exercise, thanks.

  • Abigail Gossage January 13, 2012 10:07 am

    It's the Freeman Patterson approach. Freeman makes you stay in one spot for 30 minutes, think, take photos while you cannot move. A very instructive technique.

  • Tim January 13, 2012 10:07 am

    I've got a better idea. Plunk down about $300US for a decent used SLR. NOT a DSLR, a real camera. Go out and buy yourself a roll of film. I'm partial to black and white.

    You'd be amazed at how much you actually THINK about things before you burn film that actually costs something. Digital photography is a wonderful thing but it has caused the worst laziness to come out in so many so-called photographers.

  • Jack January 13, 2012 09:29 am

    Your advise may be very helpful to many photographers. I started photography when I was 7 years old with an old used Kodak Brownie model 2A. Whenever a subject catches my eye, I take the picture. I later learned how to set exposure, depth of field, etc., but still work the same way. I can see in my "mind's eye" how to frame the photo, and simply go to that point in relation to the subject and frame the subject just as I would if I were drawing it on an easel. I've tried "working" the shot, as so many experts claim is necessary. Those shots seldom give me a happy result. My own instincts seldom fail to give me just the shot I intended. Of course, in my opinion, you seldom get a great photo pointing your camera at something of no interest to you as a photographer. But, find an iconic view of something in which you have a keen interest, and many other viewers will also appreciate and admire your efforts. If it takes you 10 minutes, or 10 hours, looking at one spot to "see" your subject makes no difference except to your personal time. But, if you "see" the shot is the faction of a second, it does not usually get better by waiting to think it over; usually the light changes and the shot is gone. Thinking about it has usually cost me that wonderful shot. Not having my equipment at the ready is more often the cause of not capturing that golden instant. And, it's not just the change in light; the subject moves. Or, the action has already happened. Nearly 70 years of photography convinces me that most great photos are happy accidents that occur to those who invite them by being technically adept, have equipment ready and manage to be at the right place at the right time. No photographer has ever taken a stunning photo of a salmon jumping out of a stream into the grasp of a grizzly while photographing in the Mojave. You have to be where the action is. If you're not interested in your own back yard, your neighborhood, or your town, you will never find great "photo opps" in those places. But, then if you're not interest in such places, chances are that few others would be either. So, if you want to take interesting or exciting photos, go where there are interesting or exciting subjects for you. Then be ready to shoot picture of those subjects. You'll amaze yourself.

  • LismoreMama January 13, 2012 07:44 am

    Makes sense! I must admit it could prove a challenge with a preschooler and a kindergartner at home. Thanks for the food for thought. Any advice on what to do about having tha same old uninspiring background indoors?

  • Sebey January 13, 2012 06:47 am

    Belated Happy New Year ...
    The article was short and simple . Ready enjoy reading your tips . Will keep the Pause-Wait-Shoot technique in my head.
    Thks . Oh and before i miss .. really love the pic.

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead January 13, 2012 06:32 am

    Darren - next March It will be 2 years since I started DSLR. At 68 now, I have this to say: basics! basics! basics! - encapsulated in your ten bullet points. Amazing how we shrug them aside most of the time. Ah, may I add one idea to the bullets: Be sincere to yourself.

    Warm Regards from Mauritius
    Photographically yours
    Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead

  • ed duarte January 13, 2012 06:19 am

    after 3 mins, i started to wonder, do you have any good escargot recipies? :-)

  • Roy Govender January 13, 2012 05:40 am

    Love the idea of spending time, soaking in the surrounding. In keeping with my discipline of quiet time and meditation that helps me identify with the context, situation and special moments that are often missed when in a hurry. The exercise is great and will use it repeatedly in future. Thanks a lot.

  • Robin Öberg January 13, 2012 05:15 am

    I like this. Zen and the art of photography :)

  • Steve Muchowski January 13, 2012 05:11 am

    About 40 years ago I got a twin lens reflex camera. When you are looking at the view screen everything seems to move in reverse, which caused me to SLOW WAY DOWN in composing. I then carried this over to my 35mm and substantially improved my photography.

  • Sandie Wishart January 10, 2012 03:34 pm

    I followed your advice and got some amazing shots. Two are posted on instagram under the tag


    Thanks fo your brilliant suggestions.

  • Amber January 10, 2012 04:07 am

    Such a great suggestion! I shoot a lot of food photography for my blog, and it certainly does make a difference when I take the time to plan the entire shot. Thanks for this helpful reminder in a fast-paced world! And I love your snail shot. :)

  • doodles January 9, 2012 02:51 am

    We recently went out on a whale watching trip and sometimes it is difficult to soak in the location cause them whales just surface when they want, however, the islands around are easy to soak in the locations. So yes I like your ideas and will use those ideas when we hike tomorrow. The ideas of this site are always so inspirational so for that I thank you very much.

  • Janet January 9, 2012 01:36 am

    Great tip! Thanks for sharing. Will definitely give this a try

  • Harriet Smartt January 8, 2012 11:31 pm

    I enjoy all tips presented here. Each is helpful in making one think in a contemplative way about composing a great shot. Thanks for all your suggestions and learning tools.

  • Sandie Wishart January 8, 2012 10:06 pm

    Good advice. I'm going to try it tomorrow. I showed the snail pic to my husband and he, in his wisdom ... Said 'it must have been taken with a slow shutter speed'. Ie: a snail moves slowly!

  • Laurie January 8, 2012 09:55 pm

    I saw this post a few days with me, and the idea has well and truly stick in my head. I think I'm going to spend some time today actually doing this, thank you for your inspiration :-)

  • raghavendra January 8, 2012 07:20 pm

    small creativity pictures

  • Dewan Demmer January 6, 2012 06:53 pm

    Best wishes to everyone for the coming year.

    Soak in the location, thats something I work with, even if its a quick walkthrough. I make sure I get at the very least a look at the area I will be working on and as I start to get ready my mind is left to work out the where, when and how.

    this often means I will get to a location and I will stop for a second or two to adjust with what my mind has agreed on to what is in front of me. This does work nicely since as I get going I am able to plan where and what I will do next and what else I may require or what changes need to be made.

    What soaking up a location does help with is finding the bits that will NOT work, something that is out of place or similar that you either have to work around or avoid ... and while you moving and shooting this might be something you will not see until you sitting infront of you computer and cleaning things up.

    This photoshoot I did a very brief walk through and all the while took notes of what I did or did not like, it helped me know where are good points to stop and where to put myself:

  • Rob January 6, 2012 01:19 pm

    I shot the Grand Prix for Social Media using the Iphone. See Grand Prix St Petersburg 2011 - iphone Photo Essay http://flic.kr/s/aHsjxNxDcD

  • Mark W. Erickson January 6, 2012 06:13 am

    I tried this during my lunch hour sitting in my car as part of a 365 iPhone project. I would normally walk right past a mud covered car/truck. However, following this exercise I noticed the Ford logo and the trunk handle made for a great composition of simple lines. Bonus, it looks like a sand sculpture and works very well as a brand building image (tough, dirty, truck).


  • Ben January 5, 2012 01:34 pm


  • Gabriella January 4, 2012 11:51 pm

    I think Photography can a very relaxinh hobby. Good post. These tips will be very helpful.

  • Vanessa Byers January 3, 2012 11:05 am

    Thank you. I will definitely use this tip as I have committed to taking at least one shot per day for the rest of 2012 as a way to improve my photography and to learn my camera. Great tip.

  • ccting January 3, 2012 10:46 am

    Nice OPS ;d

  • Stephen Emlund January 3, 2012 10:06 am

    This is a great exercise. I tried it out yesterday and it really made me see things in a different way. My results are here - http://blog.stephenemlund.com/2012/01/line-and-shape-in-nature/

  • Richard January 3, 2012 08:55 am

    Very good tip. I definitely will try it.

  • Jack Larson January 3, 2012 08:17 am

    This should be a photographic life style (even for street photography).

  • Matt Allen G January 3, 2012 06:58 am

    This is why I always scout my location before a shoot, it's better to think and then shoot then to just show up and snap like mad! Haha good exercise!

  • Christi Nielsen January 3, 2012 04:57 am

    Nice reminder. Here is mine.

  • Danno January 2, 2012 11:45 pm

    Love it.
    It should be second nature to always be on the lookout for a scene, angle,light effect etc

  • raghavendra January 2, 2012 11:26 pm

    This is good and yet inspiring
    experimenting with shots makes us to find new perspectives


  • rik January 2, 2012 11:25 pm

    Nice idea to slow down the thought process, I try to do that as well when I'm looking for a photo. As for your rather nice snail photo making it to the Instagram "popular page", it reminds me of the Flickr "Explore page". With 6929 followers I would guess a high percentage of what you post goes there no? cheers!

  • Vera Wang January 2, 2012 08:12 pm

    2012 is the year i finally actualize my photography dreams. This post will get me started. Thanks

  • Catherine January 2, 2012 03:23 pm

    Thanks for the tip! It will not only help with photography, but also with improvement of life in general. So much is overlooked as we rush to what we "think" is the right thing to do. In actuality, it's the small details, like the snail making it's journey across the deck, that make the bigger picture more worthwhile or meaningful.

  • Scottc January 2, 2012 11:51 am

    Interesting, sounds like a different variant of a "10 meters" challenge from earlier.


  • mike January 2, 2012 11:12 am

    yeah - I tend to rush things as well. i wonder how much better my life would be over all if I just slowed down. Nice article.

  • George Fragos January 2, 2012 09:25 am

    Excellent exercise. A photographers version of "stop and smell the roses."

  • Dawn Sajn January 2, 2012 08:38 am

    Thanks Darren, I was inspired by this post and I went outside straight away and sat for 10 minutes. My mind raced around thinking up compositions for what I could see and it was hard to keep from turning my camera on. When I got up I photographed all the things I had thought of, about 30 shots, and then walked around a bit more and took another 15. Interestingly, all the keepers were from the initial planned shots. I think it works! I will try this exercise again, especially when I'm not feeling too creative. Maybe this is why I had more keepers in the film days.
    Happy 2012 to you and all DPS readers :)

  • Paul January 2, 2012 07:52 am

    Thanks for the tip. Took this shot with iPhone 4S sitting next to Christmas tree and fireplace, I suddenly noticed this ceramic vase sitting on window sill. https://twitter.com/poboud/status/153577379455967233

  • Rosh Sillars January 2, 2012 05:40 am

    Excellent idea. It's amazing what you will see if you just take a few extra minutes. I find I don't do this enough, I'm sure this true with many activities.


  • Kevin January 2, 2012 03:18 am

    Very good tip for the New Year....Thanks!

  • MadisonRaine January 2, 2012 02:53 am

    Happy New Year readers of DPS! May of you create some speechless masterpieces.

    This is photographys years to shine!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck January 2, 2012 02:22 am

    Best wishes to all at DpS for 2012 - lets make it a banner year for photography!

    I like the part about soaking in the scene. Here I spent a good 30 minutes, watching the waves, looking for angles and foreground, setting up my tripod, doing so test shots, readjusting again. Not only did it make for a better shot, but it made me slow down and Enjoy instead of the feeling of "I have to shoot this and rush to some other spot"


  • richard January 2, 2012 01:37 am

    I have been looking for a good way to improve my photography for 2012. this I will do. Happy new year.

  • Mridula January 2, 2012 01:29 am

    Difficult, really difficult for me! I tried sitting still but gave up after two minutes :D But will keep this in mind.