Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

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In this article, you will get five simple exercises to help you improve your photography.

How to grow as a photographer

Everyone, from beginners to professionals, seeks to improve their photography. Yet we often struggle to do just that, repeatedly asking the question, “How do I actively move my photography forward?

macro photography flower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Learning to take top-notch photographs isn’t like learning a musical instrument, where you can practice fingerings and scales while slowly gaining skills. When it comes to improving photography, the path often seems nebulous, difficult to grasp.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are more focused ways of improving your photography. Below, I discuss five of these exercises, which, if done consistently, will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds.

Exercise #1: Photograph every day for a month

The first exercise is simple; photograph every day. This may sound easy, but it often isn’t. With a job and family and life, it’s surprisingly difficult to get out and do photography.

But I’d like to emphasize this, if you’re serious about improving your photography, start here. Make sure that you use your camera each day, even if you only take one image. Carve out a particular time of the day that works. Or, if it’s easier for you, carry a camera around in your purse/backpack/briefcase, and bring it out during your lunch break.

macro photography flower abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I’ve found that there’s a sort of magic that comes from photographing—not just consistently—but daily. Your camera becomes a familiar tool in your hands. You start to see compositions everywhere. The photographic medium starts to make sense.

Trust me, if you do this your work will improve fast.

Exercise #2: Make 10 unique images of one subject

One of the main barriers to photographic improvement is not the technique so much as it is the ability to see.

A great photographer often views a subject and starts to visualize the many possibilities, quickly rejecting those which won’t work, and selecting that which does.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Hence, choose a subject and start by taking the obvious photographs.

Then, rather than moving on, force yourself to look for more. Get in close and take some more abstract or detail shots. Move back and look for more environmental images. Alter the background, the angle, and/or the lighting. If you normally use a tripod, try working handheld, or vice versa.

macro photography flower aster abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This exercise is meant to improve your ability to see. It is meant to take you out of your comfort zone so that you go beyond the obvious, and start looking deeper at your subject. Once that is ingrained, the photographic possibilities begin to open up, and your images will become unique and more satisfying.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Exercise #3: Share only one image per week

Let me explain this one. Part of improving one’s photography involves becoming a better self-critic. If you cannot recognize where you need to improve, then it’s very difficult to improve at all. But if you can pinpoint your strengths and your weaknesses, then you can improve upon the weaknesses—and harness your strengths.

To this end, I recommend joining a photo sharing site, one that is geared towards photography. Flickr, 500PX, and Tumblr would work well (or the dPS Facebook group). Then post one, and only one, image per week. Make sure that you’ve looked through your recent work, and that the image that you’re sharing is your best.

Before posting, think to yourself, “What is it that makes this a strong image? What would make it better? And what was it that made me reject the other images in favor of this one?” Take note of your responses, and remember them the next time you’re out in the field.

macro photography flower coneflower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

So why can’t you just do this privately, rather than posting to a photo sharing site?

I find that there’s a bit of pressure that comes from posting your pictures publicly. This forces you to work slightly harder in identifying your best images. However, if you would strongly prefer not to post your images publicly, you could adjust the settings on your chosen sharing site so that only you can view the images—but imagine that you’re assembling them for a gallery showing.

Exercise #4: Critique at least 10 images per week

Similar to Exercise #3, but with a slightly different focus. Learning to critique your own work is great, but it’s also important to look at a broad array of photography with a critical eye. Hence, join a photo critique forum, and critique at least 10 images per week.

There are a number of forums out there that I recommend for nature photographers like myself: Naturescapes, Nature Photographers Network, and Birdphotographers.net are all good ones. They should allow you to make a free account in order to comment on other images.

macro photography flower abstract pink - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This will help you in a few ways. First, constantly looking at images will help you to internalize compositions and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to improve your own photography if you don’t have a sense of what good photography looks like.

Second, it may give you ideas for your own photography. By this, I don’t mean that you copy other people’s photographs directly. But you can take note of interesting techniques, camera settings, and compositions, and incorporate them into your own work.

Third, being forced to articulate, in writing, what you find pleasing about an image will go a long way toward being able to understand how to make your own images more pleasing.

Notice that I’m not telling you to post your images on the critique forum—but if you feel confident enough to do so, then that is an excellent way to improve as well.

Exercise #5: Work in another genre of photography

This exercise is for those who would self-identify as intermediate or advanced photographers. Early on in your photographic journey, I would recommend focusing on a single genre and improving within that genre.

street photography ann arbor nickels arcade - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I took a break from macro photography to work on my street photography skills.

However, once you have a decent amount of experience, I find that it is really beneficial to get out of your comfort zone by working on another photographic genre (the more different, the better!). Stick with this genre for an entire month.

street photography ann arbor - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This forces you to expand your photographic eye and think in new ways. It can often generate unique ideas that you can apply to your primary area of photography. And when the month is up and you switch back to your favored type of photography, you’ll likely find that you’ll be seeing the world in a whole new light.

ann arbor street photography - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

In conclusion…

If you’re seeking to improve your photography, follow the exercises discussed above.

If you photograph every day, focus on expanding your photographic eye, look at numerous images and learn to critique your own, and expand your photographic horizons—you will soon be on your way to a higher level of photography. I wish you the best of luck!

macro photography flower abstract tulip - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Have any exercises that you’ve found useful for photographic improvement? Share them in the comments!

On Pinterest? Here’s a graphic for you to share this tutorial with your network.

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Jaymes Dempsey is a macro and bird photographer from southeast Michigan. To see more of Jaymes's work, check out his website or his blog.

  • For this why, Recently i take a decision to buy a Nikon 850 to improve my photography. Although I have enough experience in photoshop and implement my skill here: http://www.colorclipping.com

  • uncleskull

    Interesting, intriguing suggestions. Food for thought and practice!

  • Kelly Brockette

    So excited to recognize Nickels Arcade in Ann Arbor & next photo of Moe Sport Shop confirmed that it was indeed Nickels! Great ideas and Go Blue!

  • Rick Willingham

    Take 10 unique shots from within a scene using only a single focal length (e.g. a nifty-fifty). First, take a “normal view” shot of the scene to establish the boundaries of the scene. In my case, I used “the side yard” (fenced in), “the backyard” (also fenced in), and “in front of work” (no fences or natural boundaries). Depending on the scene, you may have to establish boundaries in order to limit the working area, such as “only in front of the building”. You can only take pictures of what is within the scene and nothing of anything outside of the scene. It works best if you select an unremarkable scene to work with as it will push you harder to find interesting shots from within the scene. Textures, detailed close ups, patterns, and abstract perspectives are all possibilities in your effort to be creative with your photos.

  • EllenK

    I haven’t been in Ann Arbor in over 50 years, but I immediately thought, “This looks like the arcade of shops.” Good to know I was correct, and definitely Go Blue!

  • John Miner

    Try shooting under bad lighting conditions.

  • Teejay

    I find these suggestions rather interesting. From my perspective as a relatively newbie in the field of photography, these definitely make a lot of sense. I am always on the lookout for ways to hone, fine tune and develop further my skills. Thanks for posting this

  • I think this is the good idea to get review about recent work/click from photo sharing sites. When share only one in a week then its easy to capture what improvement need and how.

  • Tim

    Should you put a watermark on your photos when you post them publicly

  • OldPom

    Maybe I am being obtuse but why are the first seven images and the last image in this article all out of focus ? Is this deliberate and a statement of artistic intent – or a mistake ? I would have thought that ,with a very few exceptions, sharp focus on at least one point in the shot, with out of focus as background emphasis of the main item, was lesson number one in photography school. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/616a97126670a7bb54467dc920d84cb8dbf7771fa8dd8bc8e91e5ddbec910d3f.jpg

  • Diane du Faur-Dunning

    I thought the same when I first started looking at this article but them I came back to them and thought more on an artistic side, it took a bit of getting use too especially when you have always thought that a photo should have something in focus to look at. 🙂

  • Thanks for reading! The shallow depth of field is a stylistic choice–while I do take some images that are sharp throughout the frame (minus the background), I’ve gravitated more and more towards this form of photography.

  • Really good idea–I’m going to have to try this one as soon as it warms up here in Michigan.

  • Thanks! I definitely recognize that the look isn’t for everyone and that it does take some getting used to, but I find that it allows me to emphasize colors and shapes in a way that I can’t do if I keep everything in focus.

  • Thanks! I’ve definitely found it to be really helpful for me.

  • Thanks for reading, and good luck with your photography!

  • This is a good idea as well–it really forces you to challenge yourself and think outside the box.

  • Yes, you nailed it–Nickels Arcade is one of my favorite places in Ann Arbor! And thanks for reading!

  • Yep, it’s Nickels Arcade, such a beautiful place!

  • Thanks, and good luck with your photography!

  • Mark Miller

    Don’t let your ego get in the way of expression. Obviously Jaymes is very capable of focusing anywhere he pleases. If we all succumb to what we’re schooled in, then there would be no art.

  • Mark Miller

    Great photos. Love the article, and the message. Keep on pushing it.

  • Mark Miller

    Kind of like a cinematographers approach. Love it.

  • Rick Willingham

    Thanks!

  • Rick Willingham

    Thanks Jaymes. It doesn’t have to be outside, it can be an indoor location too.

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