Five Self Assignments That Teach You To See

Five Self Assignments That Teach You To See

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.

1. Pick A Color

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.

This image I went in search of things red. 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 1000. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro.

This image I went in search of things red. 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 1000. EOS 5D Mark II, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro.

 

2. Pick A Shape

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.

I ventured into Central Park in New York City without a real game plan in mind. I found a sundial and started shooting that, and then went in search of more circles. Found this ironwork and used it to frame a pair of lovers in a rowboat. 1/160. f/2.8, ISO 100. EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 24mm.

I ventured into Central Park in New York City without a real game plan in mind. I found a sundial and started shooting that, and then went in search of more circles. Found this ironwork and used it to frame a pair of lovers in a rowboat. 1/160. f/2.8, ISO 100. EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 24mm.

3. Shoot Something Different

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.

Normally I'm a landscape guy first. But I decided I wanted to try a still life of one of the tools of my trade.  I used some black plexi as the table, and black matte board for the background. I used a single speedlite in a softbox above and behind the subject. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. 1/200, f/8, ISO 100.

Normally I’m a landscape guy first. But I decided I wanted to try a still life of one of the tools of my trade. I used some black plexi as the table, and black matte board for the background. I used a single speedlite in a softbox above and behind the subject. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. 1/200, f/8, ISO 100.

4. Shoot Reflections

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.

This is probably the most photographed puddle in New England, but it's great for producing a reflection of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Reflections add interest to images so always be on the lookout. EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/20, f/16.

This is probably the most photographed puddle in New England, but it’s great for producing a reflection of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Reflections add interest to images so always be on the lookout. EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/20, f/16.

5. The 15 Foot Circle

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.

I was standing in a dining room at the holidays last year and decided to try the 15 foot circle. This was a line of candles on a fireplace mantle. EOS-1D X with EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. ISO 400, 1/250, f/2.8.

I was standing in a dining room at the holidays last year and decided to try the 15 foot circle. This was a line of candles on a fireplace mantle. EOS-1D X with EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. ISO 400, 1/250, f/2.8.

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?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

Some Older Comments