Despite how easy it looks, photography is hard. Deceptively hard. In reality, there are three separate learning curves to conquer: the technical aspects of the camera3 Steps To Learning The Basics Of Photography With A Virtual DSLR3 Steps To Learning The Basics Of Photography With A Virtual DSLRRather than learning your photography from books and tutorials, this web application from Canon Canada is the most fun yet. Outside of Auto from Canon is a gentle introduction to the basics of photography.Read More, the theory of light and shadowsThis Rule of Light Will Instantly Improve Your PhotosThis Rule of Light Will Instantly Improve Your PhotosHaving trouble with lighting in your photos? This one principle might be the reason why.Read More, and the actual composition of a photoUsing the Golden Ratio in Photography for Better CompositionUsing the Golden Ratio in Photography for Better CompositionDo you struggle with photo composition? Here are two techniques based on the Golden Ratio that will drastically improve your shots with little effort on your part.Read More (sometimes called “seeing the shot”).
That last part is the hardest thing for beginners to grasp. Light is a hard science and cameras are just buttons, but composition has an artsy component that can’t be easily taught. It must be discovered by the photographer himself.
Fortunately, there are exercises out there that can help “develop your photographic eye”, so to speak, and practical experience is the only guaranteed way to understand composition. Here are the most effective exercises we’ve found.
1. Crop Someone Else’s Photos
Great photography starts with the eye, not the camera. This means it should be possible to develop your photographic eye without even touching a camera or lens — and it is. For this exercise, all you’ll need is a basic photo editing program10 Free Photo Editor Tools To Make The Most Of Your Shots10 Free Photo Editor Tools To Make The Most Of Your ShotsWhatever happened to all the snapshots you've taken in the past? If you've got plans and ideas, here are some great Windows and some cross platform tools to process them with.Read More like Paint, GIMP, or Picasa.
First, learn the fundamental rules of photo compositionHow to Compose a Photograph: 5 Essential Rules to FollowHow to Compose a Photograph: 5 Essential Rules to FollowIf you want to get really good at photography, there are some vital rules around image composition that you should consider. Here are five of the most important.Read More. You don’t have to know all of them right now, but you should know at least one, as this exercise will force you to start putting these rules into practice. We recommend starting with the Rule of Thirds.
Next, go to a free photo-hosting site like Flickr or 500px and download a whole bunch of images to your computer. (The easiest way it to right-click and “Save Image As”). Any kinds of images will work, but this exercise works especially well with portraits and landscapes.
Now, open one of the images in your photo editing program of choice and start cropping. Try all of the standard aspect ratios, including 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. Try cropping vertical photos as horizontal, or horizontal photos as vertical. Move the subject around. Be creative.
The point is to experiment and see how different crops can change the look and feel of an image, and how certain crops are more aesthetically pleasing than others. This experience is invaluable when you start framing your own shots through the viewfinder.
Note: You can play around with someone else’s images, but do NOT upload them or republish them on the Internet in any way. That would be a violation of copyright lawConcerned About Copyright? A Guide For Legally Using Images On The WebConcerned About Copyright? A Guide For Legally Using Images On The WebCopyright is a complex subject. A fair amount of understanding makes it easier. If you're wondering under what circumstances you can use someone else's creative work -- expect some answers here.Read More unless you have express permission from the image’s original owner.
2. With 1 Subject, Shoot 10 Photos
Here’s a common mistake made by newbies: always taking photos from the same height and from the same angle. It’s natural to stand up straight and snap shots from eye-levelThe Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute BeginnersThe Top 5 Photography Tips For Absolute BeginnersIf you're an absolute beginner at photography, here are a handful of tips that should be considered "essential learning". Here are the top five.Read More, but that’s boring. Everyone knows what the world looks like from eye-level!
If you want your photos to be more compelling, start changing it up. Capture the world from unusual angles and positions — viewpoints that are foreign to most people. Now that’s interesting.
This exercise helps train your sense of angles. First, find a subject. Any subject. It could be a stove-top kettle, a pet dog, a fire hydrant, an herb garden, a manhole cover, or even a dumpster. Anything works — just find something.
And then take 10 photos of it. No two photos should be alike. Try looking directly down at it. Then try looking directly up at it. Shift the angles a bit so you’re looking down/up from the side, and then shift again so you’re even further. Look at the front of the subject, then the back, then the sides.
The possibilities are countless, and even the smallest tweaks to the angle can have a noticeable impact on the resulting photo. Do this for hundreds of subjects and you’ll start seeing angles everywhere you go without even trying.
3. With 3 Objects, Shoot 10 Photos
In some cases — like landscape, astronomical, and street photography — the idea is to capture scenes in the moment as they are. In other cases — like portrait, food, and product photography — the idea is to construct scenes from out of nothing.
As you imagine, creating something out of nothing isn’t easy. There are many factors to juggle (e.g. lighting, background, etc.) but one particular aspect that newbies find difficult is how to position multiple subjects within the frame.
That’s what this exercise is about. Find three random objects, such as action figures, fruit, bowls, candles, plants, or whatever else you have available. It doesn’t matter if they’re related to each other or not, although it will be easier if they’re all similar in size.
Now position them however you wish. Think of it as if you’re composing the objects for a photo shoot (that is what you’re doing). Do this 10 times, rearranging them in different ways each time. Over time, this will stretch your creative muscles and develop your eye.
4. With 1 Lens, Shoot 1,000 Photos
The focal length of a lens controls more than just the zoom factor of a shot. Yes, all things being equal, an 18mm requires you to be closer to the subject than a 50mm or an 85mm. But different focal lengths can evoke different feelings from a photo, too.
For example, the wide angle of an 18mm lens comes with a lot of distortion, which can produce a comical or whimsical effect. On the other hand, a 200mm lens has a compression effect that makes the photo seem flatter than, say, an 85mm or 50mm lens.
In short, different focal lengths require different states of mind when composing shots. That’s why we recommend mastering one kind of lens at a time, preferably starting with a 50mm prime. Read up on the most common lenses used in photography5 Common Photo Lenses & When To Use Them5 Common Photo Lenses & When To Use ThemThough there's no photographic rulebook when it comes to focal length and aperture, there are a few best practices to remember.Read More and which ones you should use.
For this exercise, all you have to do is stick with one focal length for your next 1,000 photos. It’s easiest with a prime lens, but if you only have a zoom lens, just pick a focal length and leave it there. Switch to another focal length when your 1,000 photos are complete.
By the end, you should have a better understanding of how to use the different focal lengths at your disposable. The way you approach a flower photo differs whether you’re using an 18mm or a 200mm lens, and this exercise helps solidify that knowledge with experience.
5. Hula-Hoop Photo Walks
Creativity is often seen as something that’s infinite, boundless, and full of possibilities. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with that, the truth is that creativity needs limits and constraints to really flourish4 Must-See TED Talks On Creativity, Inspiration & Passion4 Must-See TED Talks On Creativity, Inspiration & PassionCreativity. Inspiration. Passion. These are all concepts of which we are very much aware, but not many of us can precisely pinpoint their source. Where does creativity come from? What is it that causes a...Read More. It sounds weird, but it’s true.
If you’ve ever felt like you wanted to take photos but didn’t know where to start, where to go, or what to shoot, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Restrictions are good, and that’s how this exercise is going to unlock your creative potential8 TED Talks That Will Help Unlock Your Creative Potential8 TED Talks That Will Help Unlock Your Creative PotentialPractical advice for being creative is rare and hard to find, but it's out there if you know where to look. Here are our picks for the best TED Talks on being a creative.Read More.
Take a hula hoop and go outside. Toss it up into the air, then let it bounce and roll around until it eventually comes to a stop. Now stand inside the hula hoop, take a look around, and shoot 10, 20, or 50 photos of anything, but try to make them good.
When you’re done, toss the hula hoop into the air again and repeat the process. If you don’t have a hula hoop, just pick a random direction and walk a random number of steps to find your next spot. Pretty soon your creative juices will start flowing, guaranteed.
6. Weekly Photo Challenges
Weekly photo challenges are popular on the Internet these days, but different photography communities have different names for them: Photo of the Week, 52 Photos Project, Sunday Photo Prompt, etc. The key is to take 52 photos over the course of one year.
Ideally, you’d take part in some kind of community version of the challenge because this gives you a chance to see the photos of other participants and a chance for others to critique your work8 Places to Get Feedback on Your Photos8 Places to Get Feedback on Your PhotosOne of the best ways to improve your photography skills is to gather genuine feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. These eight sites are where you can do just that.Read More. But if you prefer to stay independent and do a personal challenge instead, that’s fine too.
Sometimes each month has a theme, but not always. It’s up to you how you want to do it. We recommend setting a regular weekly deadline and sticking to it, whether that means every Sunday, Wednesday, or whatever. Need inspiration? Check out 52PhotosProject, 52Photos, or Journal52.
7. Recreate Someone Else’s Photos
Once you have a little more experience under your belt and you feel comfortable behind a camera, you may want to try recreating photos that others have shot. Browse Flickr and 500px, pick a few that seem within your skill range, and have at it!
The goal here isn’t to make an exact 1-to-1 replica of your source material, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t get that far. Rather, this exercise is meant to get you thinking in ways you haven’t considered, to push you outside your comfort zoneHow To Spark Personal Growth: 5 Tricks Of The EntrepreneurHow To Spark Personal Growth: 5 Tricks Of The EntrepreneurNot everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but everyone can learn something from the entrepreneur. By tapping into some of those entrepreneurial traits, you can radically alter your own life in an upward direction.Read More.
At first, your imitation photos will look like garbage compared to your source photos. That’s normal! Keep at it, however, and you’ll start to see fast improvements — and along the way, you may even start to discover your own voice and sense of style as a photographer.
It’s a Long but Rewarding Journey
Don’t expect to unlock your photographer’s eye overnight. It’s a gradual process that could take weeks, months, or even years before you really start to “see” photographs before taking them. But I assure you, the journey is well worth taking. Don’t give up!
If these exercises weren’t enough and you need even more exercise ideas, then we highly recommend checking out these photography courses on Lynda.comHow to Improve Your Photography Overnight with Lynda.comHow to Improve Your Photography Overnight with Lynda.comLynda.com is great for online learning. Of the 546 photography courses available, here are some of the best ones for sharpening your skills in just a few hours.Read More. In particular, Ben Long’s The Practicing Photographer is a series of exercises just like these, with a new one added every week.
Which exercises did you find the most useful? Know of any other exercises worth mentioning? How did you learn photography? Share with us in the comments below!
Image Credits: White Sandals by Pool by Ann Haritonenko via Shutterstock, Coffee Scoop by stefanolunardi via Shutterstock, Ties on Wall by Halfpoint via Shutterstock, Smartphone and Food by Efired via Shutterstock, Outdoors Photographer by leungchopan via Shutterstock, Wide Angle Cat by Rrrainbow via Shutterstock, Top Down Desk by Evgeny Karandaev via Shutterstock
7 Simple Ways to Instantly Boost Your Photography SkillsHow to Take Great Photos in the Dark (Even If You’re a Newbie)
Photography has never been as popular as it is today. People of all ages learn photography in various schools and online universities, and lots of talented photographers have a wonderful opportunity to reveal themselves not only as artists, but also as teachers.
By Alex Eylar
Like all creatives, photographers can sometimes experience creative block or a lack of interesting ideas, no matter what side of the school desk they are sitting on. One way for photography mentors and teachers to fight this problem is through the use of creative assignments.
In this article I’ve put together 15 creative project ideas to use in your photography class (if you are a teacher) or for yourself. When completed properly, a student assignment is a great teaching tool. If it’s well-designed and structured, it enables students to develop their technical skills and artistic vision, as well as improve their general thinking abilities and subject knowledge. So whether you’re a photography teacher looking for effective assignment ideas or a self-taught photography student focused on training your eye and critical vision, this roundup will surely come in handy.
1. 365 Project
No matter what you call it, the 365 Project or Photo a Day project, the result is the same – a photo for every day of the year. These kinds of long-term projects give you an opportunity not only to explore and learn photography, but also develop creative seeing and improve your post-production skills. 365 Projects have changed the lives of a lot of photographers, and who knows, maybe you’re next?
Further Reading: 11 Tips for a Successful 365 Project
By Olli Henze
By Dennis Skley
2. 100 Strangers
The 100 Strangers project enables you to interact with 100 strangers and take a photo of each of them. It can be quite scary to start shooting people in the street, or local cafe, if you’re an introvert. But being a photographer is not as easy as it may seem at first. Photography is all about overcoming your fears. This project will help you do that.
By Louisa Billeter
3. 52 Weeks
The 52 Weeks project is similar to 365, but this time you’re supposed to come up with a new photo each week, not each day. The difference between these two projects is that you can choose a theme for every week. For instance, you may shoot particular subjects, places, or even do some photowalks. A photowalk is an awesome way to find inspiration, discover new locations, and come up with really valuable, interesting ideas in the end.
4. Social Awareness Project
Capturing dramatic moments that will influence the minds of their viewers is a mission that many iconic photographers are dedicated to. Spend a weekend shooting the faces on your local streets, or collaborating with a non-profit can help you develop your skills as a documentarist and photojournalist. Such photo projects are definitely not easy to work on, both emotionally and technically, but the reward of being an activist is obvious – every time you click the shutter button you create a photo that could change the world.
Of course, you may have taken a self-portrait many times with your smartphone. Instagram has turned self-portraits into something usual and mundane.
However, self-portraits can be quite helpful in opening up, and exploring parts of photography in which you don’t normally find yourself involved. Mix it up and stay creative with your surroundings and emotions. For example, look at the work of Kyle Thompson, who has really succeeded in self-photography.
Check out these Self Portrait Photography Tips for some hints on where to start.
By Özgün ERDEM
6. New Lens Type
You may pick one lens and use it exclusively during this project. A 50mm is a good starting point, as it forces you to move around and stay selective. A fisheye lens could also make an interesting theme.
Moreover, you may experiment with freelensing which is an inexpensive way to get a similar photo effect as from an expensive tilt-shift lens. The idea behind a tilt-shift lens is tilting the lens at an angle to the sensor to change the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF). The technique of freelensing, not only gives you the ability to change the PoF, but it also gives you some pretty cool light leaks from not having the lens actually attached to the camera.
By David Hepworth
Try to shoot all your photos in monochrome, or convert them to black and white in post-processing. The beauty of black and white photography is that it focuses more on visual elements such as tone, texture and shapes. By starting this project for yourself, you’ll see the objects in a different light, and rather than just color, your eyes will be better trained to recognize various forms and shapes.
A Fistful of Kits by Peter Greig on 500px
Panoramas are one more way to develop your creative vision. Panoramas usually give the viewer a much wider viewing angle than normal. You can create some small panoramas by merging three photos in one, or go full 360 and make tiny globes like the ones in the picture below. It’s all up to you!
Further Reading: 8 Guidelines To Taking Panoramic Photos With Any Camera
By Johanna Herbst
In today’s world of foodie-Instagram, everyone could be a food photographer. Especially if you’re fond of cooking, then food photography is right for you. It’s a myth that you need a super-wow camera to capture food. Food photography is all about styling and beautiful background. No matter what kind of photographer you call yourself, it’s advantageous to have some food photography skills under your belt.
Further Reading: How to Take Mouth watering photos of food
By Christopher Chan
10. Sunset and Sunrise
As dawn breaks and the sun comes up, you get to see the creeping rays of sunlight bathe everything in their shining glow. Such scenes are the perfect environment for memorable photos that you can’t pass up. Sunrises and sunsets happen every day. It may sound quite obvious and ordinary, but these times of the day are a golden opportunity to capture breathtaking images.
Read more about how to photograph sunsets and sunrises.
By Mike Behnken
By Linda O’Dell
11. Single Theme
Pick an object and try to get a collection of snapshots representing it. For example, try to shoot only circular objects everywhere you go. Or pick a color, for instance blue, and try to go all day long photographing only blue things. The aim of this assignment is to learn to see the ordinary object in a different way.
12. Phone Camera
The main advantage of your phone camera is that it’s with you everywhere you go. Moreover, these days smartphones’ camera quality is much better than years ago and you may come up with images that look almost as good as if they were taken with an expensive DSLR. Using your phone allows you to put exposure on the back burner, and lets you focus more on composition instead. You may also use various photo-editing apps to add various photo effects.
By Takeshi Garcia
13. Urban Exploration
Urban exploration photography is the art of finding abandoned places, houses, locations; explore them and shoot in a unique way. It’s potentially dangerous, exciting, and a lot of fun. In order not to get scared, you should take your friends with you. Even if they’re not interested in photography, exploring abandoned places is really breathtaking.
Editor’s note: always follow the laws when doing urban exploration. Do not enter where prohibited and always stay safe. Abondoned buildings can be dangerous or illegal to enter. Be careful.
Read more about urban exploration photography.
By Michal Jan?ek
Shoot a whole set of images from one perspective, such as from a child’s the point of view. Or try to capture all photos from up high. We are used to seeing the majority of shots at eye level, why not to try something different? It’s a great way to learn how to deviate from the normal.
By Ken Owen
15. Film Photography
Film photography is something every photographer should practice for a few reasons.
First of all, unlike digital photography, you don’t get to see the image you took for a while. It may seem annoying, but you’ll get used to it.
Second of all, you will begin to think more carefully before pressing the shutter button. While shooting digital photography, you may take 10 photos of the same thing to choose the best shot in the end. But with film photography you will not have that chance.
Readthis helpful post with suggestions on getting started with shooting with film.
By Gioia De Antoniis
Once you accomplish your creative assignment, create a dedicated photography portfolio (Defrozo and Koken provide website building tools for free) or write a guest post for some photography blog to describe your journey and share your experience with fellow enthusiasts. Developing your marketing and blogging skills increases the likelihood of building a prospering and successful photography business.
Resources for Inspiration
The web has so many opportunities to get fresh ideas for your next photography project. I’d like to share some resources you may get inspiration from.
Ted is aimed to amplify the ideas of students and teachers from all over the globe. Their mission is to spread great ideas and inspire students of any specialization. You may browse 1800+ TED talks on photography available on their site to spark your curiosity.
This smartphone app was made by a celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart. OKDOTHIS is a photography community that inspires people to do more. It’s based on DOs which are creative tasks made by other members of the community. You may upload a photo in someone’s DO or create your own one. The app has also a built-in photo editor.
Behance is a leading online platform to showcase and discover creative work. All the creatives starting from web designers to photographers share their best artwork here. You may browse the Behance gallery in Photography to find new projects from other photographers.
Weekly Assignments in the dPS Forum
Check out the weekly assignments in the dPS forum for more inspiration. DPS nominates a topic for each week. It could be a lot of fun and a great way to improve your photography skills in various areas.
Make it Happen
What homework do you prefer to give to your students? What assignments appeal to you most? What project interests you and gets you thinking creatively? Share your experience and suggestions in the comments.