Exposed! :: Homework Ideas to Improve your Photography ::

© Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.


"I've been shooting for years - but I just can't seem to take my photography to the next level."

I hear a lot of comments like this: People who have been shooting for years but get stuck in a rut.

They're accomplished and are very comfortable doing things the way they've been doing things. And that's part of the problem.

In this edition of Exposed! we look at ways to shake up your comfort level to improve your photos.

Your assignments

These three assignments will kickstart your creativity. There is just one rule: DO the exercises. It'll feel weird, uncomfortable and even silly. Nobody likes to feel silly! But the ensuing discomfort and mistakes will help you improve your photography. Really.

1. Shoot the same scene 10 times this month.

Choose something simple, easy to access and shoot it regularly. Keep your camera and tripod handy and shoot the scene in all kinds of light and weather. If the weather gives you lemons, make lemonade. Figure out how to make it work.

Below is one tree beside our driveway. Over a few days I left a camera with a 24mm lens on the tripod by the door. I shot in cloudy, sunny, backlit, silhouetted, night time and dusk conditions. Minimal post processing was used! I like the results.

The exercise helps you appreciate what is possible and recognize potential when you get in the field.

Same photo variations
Same photo scene variations. From L to R, Top to Bottom: cloudy day, silhouette at dusk, night time lit with flashlight, sunny morning, late afternoon, midnight with full moon lighting. Who can find the jet trail in the sky?

2. Shoot with your least-used lens for a month.

Many people have a few lenses from which to choose. On workshops I discover some photographers favour one lens way too much - to the detriment of other creative lens opportunities.

So, assignment # 2 requires that you shoot ONLY with your least favourite lens or focal length (no zooming allowed) for a month... the WHOLE month. It'll be uncomfortable. You might even grumble at Harry. That's ok!

Put on your lens - I'd suggest the widest angle you possess, perhaps 18mm and go shooting.

Find ways to make photos eye-catching. A wide angle will make you work harder! You'll have to GET CLOSE to your subject to make decent photos. Now, get closer.

A few years ago we went to Iceland and I brought ONE lens for part of the trip. Read about "Photo Hell in Heaven." Usually people don't photograph Icelandic ponies with a 14mm lens. I forced myself to try something different!

Trying something that makes you uncomfortable, photographically, will open up new worlds. Recognizing the potential with all of your lenses will make you a stronger photographer.

One lens!
One lens only, please!

3a. [Easier option:]

Shoot at 1/15th - Spend a day shooting with your camera at 1/15th of a second.

What? 1/15th will make things blurry!?

That's part of the point. Most people want to freeze the frame. Try something new for you. 1/15th works well for candid portraits, babbling brooks, bicycle races, zooming, panning.

3b. [More Challenging option:]

If you are comfortable at 1/15th try ONE full second and the appropriate aperture. You may find:

Being forced to use shutter speeds that are "way to slow" will stretch your creative brain and lead you to new ways to shoot.

Below, I was in Ottawa's Byward Market and only allowed myself one, slow shutter speed.

I dropped in behind this puppy and figured out how to shoot while walking with the camera around my legs. It pushed me, creatively.

Slow shutter speed challemge
Slow shutter speed challenge.


Try these three assignments this fall - Share your successes with us!

Pro Perspective

Adversity can lead to a breakthrough if you are playful and explore the options presented. I've tried many new and uncomfortable ideas that have turned into creative and financial successes. I've also produced some stunning mistakes, too. That's part of the cost of trying new things.

Look at any brilliant inventor, thinker or artist and you will see they struggled with challenges that eventually created success.

Final Frame

Take photos.

Challenge yourself. Get uncomfortable (I dare you!)

Have fun.