Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Exercises To Improve Your Photography

If you're one of the lucky few for whom everything is going just right in your photography, then read no further. If on the other hand you are like me and feel your photography could always use a hand, here's some exercises you might consider trying.

1) see how creative you can get photographing an egg. It's rounded and slightly dimpled surface responds well to lighting, shadows can be very useful, you might need to figure out how to stand it on end - of course it's been done before - this is about being creative, not about selling photographs. Go for it.

2) Try some night photography. If shooting digitally, you are really in the money here as light meters are sensitive enough for streetlight photography, distracting backgrounds by day can be hidden. You might even see what you can do without a tripod.

3) Even though your interest lies elsewhere, choose subject matter foreign to your experience - normally shoot landscapes - make a serious attempt at photographing portraits or even nudes. Normally shoot sports and consider landscapes boring, well guess what, here's your chance to prove yourself wrong. You might want do do a bit of looking at good images in that field before you head out, but don't try to duplicate the work you have seen. Normally shoot car races, how about really challenging yourself with birds - now you have to fast AND sneaky.

4) Whatever your interest, what about coming up with some really good self portraits - after all the price is right, you can hire the guy for the price of a beer or two. Actually, the images might be better after the beer - test the theory.

5) How about going out for your usual subject matter but hobbling yourself in some way. For example:

- shoot landscapes without your tripod
- only take one lens, at a focal length you don't normally use
- take a mini tripod and only shoot from 1 foot off the ground
- go out shooting with only a few exposures worth of film or memory card (here's your chance to use that 32 meg card that came with your camera)

Maybe you won't make any prize winning photographs, but I can't help feeling that it will give your creativity a boost and help your normal photography.


Ed Z said...

great ideas!

Another good one to "break out of a rut" is an assignment that was given to me in a photo class way back when:

the assignment was to shut yourself in the bathroom (or other small room) and take 2 rolls of photographs (or 50 or 60 images digital) without leaving the room, and without making "duplicates"

at the time I dreaded the assignment, thinking "how would I ever fill 2 rolls of film in such a limited area" but it turned out to be a great way to open yourself up to seeing thing differently. Definitely a good creative exercise.

George Barr said...

I really like Ed's suggestion and think the bathroom the perfect room to do it in. Think I'm going to give that one a try.

Adrian said...

Your and Ed's suggestions remind me of Freeman Patterson's books "Photography and the Art of Seeing" and "Photographing the World Around You". Both contain these and similar lessons (e.g. throw a hoop into your backyard and photograph what's inside, or the outside world while standing within the hoop).

julie o'donnell said...

I really need to get that Freeman Patterson book...

Sometimes if I'm struggling to get my eyes 'into gear', as such, I try and look out for particular things like contrast - between light/dark, rough/smooth, old/new. Or A particular visual element like lines, or maybe I'll focus on colour. It means I can get past the actual subject in front of me and start seeing it in terms of potential compositions.

chuck kimmerle said...

While I understand the intended purpose of the "bathroom" exercises, I don't personally see much overall value. Sure, it might teach someone to look beyond the obvious, but in my experience this sort of exercise, while starting off well, often leads to a desperate attempt to fill up the card and fulfill the self-imposed requirements irregardless of quality or effort.

A better exercise would be to find a subject of personal interest, photograph it for an hour, or so, then go home and look through your images, discovering what you did well and what you did poorly. At regular intervals return to that same subject and photograph for another hour, or two, each time trying to either improve upon an earlier image or finding something new. After a few visits, especially with the different light, you'll begin to see things you missed in earlier shoots.

In the days of film-only, this latter exercise was a bit difficult as it almost required we spend many hours in the darkroom after each shoot. Now, a simple download and edit is sufficient to get a feel for how the shoot went.

Ed Z said...

I see your point, however when I did the exercise, there was an unanticipated value to it as well. Sure, most of us in the class fell prey to running out of ideas, and just snapping randomly to finish the last 20 or so shots...

but then when we reviewed our projects in class the next day there turned out to be a number of really good and interesting shots among the "random snaps"

it was very interesting to look at these and examine *why* they were successful - they had captured something that was there, but we hadn't noticed. we all see things in different ways, so examining these "unintentionally successful" photos can reveal a way of "seeing" that we are not used to, or not even comfortable with.

it is essentially "stretching" your own notions of how you see and approach the idea of photography.

Now, it is true that you could apply the same idea/methodology to your example as well so :-) I would suggest even picking a subject that you are *not* comfortable with, though - just to push the envelope even more

Irina said...

Great ideas! I'll have to try them out - esp the eggs. I've been feeling like my photography is going nowhere and maybe these little exercises can help a little :) Thanks for the blog... I'll be coming back for sure.