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Set Yourself a Photographic Assignment

“The times I’ve learned most about some aspect of photography have been those times where I’ve intentionally set out to learn something new and where I’ve forced myself into a situation that is foreign to me and made myself work out how to photograph it.”

Image: Image by Arty Smokes

Image by Arty Smokes

Someone recently asked me about how I learned photography. I rewound back in my mind to try to find the answer but struggled at first.

Apart from a year 10 photography class (which lasted a term and majored on dark room techniques for film) I’ve not had any ‘formal’ training.

I used to subscribe to some photography magazines and buy some photography books and guess I learned some basics from them but it was theory and knowledge – that didn’t directly translate into improvement.

The reality is that it was by using my camera that I learned the most. However the times when my photography really improved with a burst were those times that I put time aside to actually discover how to shoot something – when I had an assignment (of sorts).

One main example comes to mind:

The Friends Wedding

I remember the dreaded day that a good friend asked me to shoot his wedding as the ‘main photographer’. He had no money for a Pro and despite my insisting that I wasn’t up to it he talked me into it (rather he ‘guilted me into it’ by saying that if I didn’t do it that they’d have no photos at all). The next 6 months were an intense time of learning and practicing.

Knowing that I would be responsible for my friends wedding photos propelled me to learn as much as I could (reading, talking to Pros etc) and practicing (I must have done 10 practice shoots in the wedding locations with friends standing in).

The day itself actually went really well – so well that it led to 7 other wedding referrals and the start of a little part time business.

While I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to book yourself as a main photographer for friends (or strangers) weddings – I do think that the principle of setting yourself an assignment and focusing upon a particular event to photograph is something that can lead to big improvements in your photography.

Other Examples

Other examples (most of them less pressurised) come to mind:

  • photographic road trip – a holiday I took by myself where I decided to spend a week driving around a region a few hours from where I live purely doing photography. I’d not done much landscape work before and it forced me to explore a new style of photography.
  • attending the Australian Open (Tennis) – I was given tickets to attend this event and decided to turn it into a photographic day. I snuck in my 200mm lens, monopod and positioned myself just behind the official photographers to watch how they did it – I learned heaps that day!
  • photo walks – I semi-regularly set aside a few hours to take a photo walk in a different part of of my city. This is a little different to just going for a walk and taking your camera – the intent is to capture a street/suburb etc rather than just get some exercise and use your camera if you see something interesting.
  • festivals/parades – a number of times I’ve set myself the ‘assignment’ to go and cover a festival or parade of some kind. I imagine that I’m covering the event for a news outlet and go with a photo journalistic goal of capturing the event the way a press photographer would.
  • booking a portrait session with a friend – before we had kids (and had kid photography opportunities on tap) I offered friends who had kids my services for a couple of hours to photograph their kids. They ended up with some great shots and I honed my portraiture skills.
  • concerts – twice now I’ve approached organisers of concerts (music) to ask if I could get a pass to cover the event. The intent was to practice that type of photography.
  • zoo trips – once or twice I’ve set aside an afternoon to visit our local zoo. The intent – practising my wildlife photography (even if the wildlife was in captivity).
  • band photoshoot – when my bothers band released an album I put up my hand to do a shoot with them to see if we could get some shots for the cover. In fact it turned out to a couple of shoots as I did one of their live gigs and another more posed photoshoot in an urban setting.

The list could go on. The key is to set aside time to practice a particular type of photography. Again – it’s not about just having your camera with you in case something happens to use it – rather these are more intentional ‘assignments’ that you set yourself – with the intent of improving your photography.

I challenge you (its a double dare…. so you have to do it now) to set yourself a photographic assignment in the next week. Choose what you’ll do – lock it in right now! In the lead up to it do some research and preparation on the techniques that you might want to practice and then go do it.

When you’re done spend some time analysing your results and trying to work out how you’d improve! Once you’re done – please come back and tell us how you went!


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Darren Rowse

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+.

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