Editor's note: This month only – get $6 off my ebooks The Magic of Black & White, The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments and The Black & White Landscape using the code bw6 at checkout. Click the links for details. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
Last year I wrote about what to do when you find yourself in a photography rut (I’ve reposted the article so it appears near the top of the recent articles list, or you can click the link to read it).
One of the ideas is giving yourself creative photography assignments or briefs. Over the last year I’ve realized just how powerful this idea is as I’ve set myself assignments and briefs to follow.
I believe in this way of working so strongly that I wrote a new assignments ebook, 100 Creative Photography Assignments, with the aim to give you enough ideas and inspiration to give you at least a year’s worth of shooting.
The book is structured into twenty broad themes, with five assignments for each theme.
Today I’d like to share some of my favorite assignments from the book with you. The theme is listed in brackets after the assignment.
These assignments will boost your creativity. Some of them are easy. None of them are complicated. Most of them are challenging. All of them are designed to help you see the creative potential in everyday subjects.
To give you a taste of what’s in the book here are some of my favorite assignments. Whether you buy the book or not, I hope you’ll find these ideas useful.
Assignment 19: Hands (Frames)
Use somebody’s hands as a frame for something they are holding. It helps if the object is smaller than your model’s hand. Stuck for ideas? Ask somebody to cup their hands and fill them with strawberries. It’s verging on cliche but fun to play with.
I made the photo below on a walk with my son. He picked up the yellow berries and held them out for me to make a photo. His hand frames the berries, and the dark background frames his hand. It’s another variation on the frame within a frame idea.
Assignment 28: Botanical gardens (Flowers)
Botanical gardens are ideal for finding flowers that don’t normally grow in your local area. Big tropical flowers in particular make great subjects.
The advantage of botanical gardens is that they often have large greenhouses full of interesting plants and flowers you can photograph all year.
You can move in close to make great close-up photos of unusual flowers. You can also step back and make photos of flowers in their environment. Add interest by including the glass of the greenhouse walls.
Assignment 33: Street art (Buildings)
Street art is a fascinating subject because, in urban environments, there’s so much of it. It’s a theme you can return to as you travel, photographing street art in different parts of the world.
For me, there is a clear difference between graffiti, which is mindless vandalism, and street art like in the photo on this page, which is made by skillful artists. The first is depressing (which could be an interesting theme in itself and is also connected to Assignment 39: Urban decay). The second is uplifting and celebrates creativity and freedom of expression.
But of course, you may have a different opinion and you can interpret the brief any way you like.
Assignment 36: In the area (Your local neighborhood)
The hardest thing about photographing your own neighborhood is familiarity. The longer you’ve been living there the more likely it is that you’ve stopped noticing how interesting it might be to somebody seeing it with fresh eyes.
This assignment is your opportunity to put that right and make a series of photos that show the local architecture in your neighborhood. Whether it’s suburban housing, rural life or urban living, there’s something interesting to photograph.
If it helps, imagine you’re a visitor from another country seeing your neighborhood for the first time. What would they find interesting about it? What makes it different? If your neighborhood is boring, how can you capture that boredom?
Assignment 39: Urban decay (Your local neighborhood)
Some buildings can look good for centuries if they’re well looked after. But others soon fall into decay, especially if they’re not maintained. Look for the beauty in decayed or run-down buildings.
You expect older buildings to be in a state of disrepair, especially if you live in a country that has plenty of ruins. But more modern urban decay can be just as interesting. Why do modern buildings fall into disrepair? What stories do they tell about their neighborhoods, towns and cities?
Another approach to this idea is to photograph urban decay in other countries, and then compare the results with what you get in your local area.
Assignment 58: Small towns and cities (Urban skyline)
This assignment is similar to the previous one except that this time your brief is to make a photo of the skyline in a smaller town or city.
The focus is on ordinary buildings. Residential areas are often an interesting subject. As you wander around you’ll see a big difference in architectural styles as you move from one neighborhood to another.
These are smaller, more intimate urban skylines. It’s another assignment with great potential to turn into a series.
Assignment 65: Shadow as a frame (Light and shadow)
Your brief for this assignment is to photograph a scene with a brightly lit subject framed by shadow. Architecture is a great subject as you can use standard features like arches and doorways.
As long as you have something interesting lit by the sun to juxtapose against a shady foreground you’ll have enough contrast to get this effect. You can play with the shadows in post-processing to see whether making them darker improves the composition.
Another approach to this brief is to stand indoors and shoot out through the window. If the scene outside is lit by the sun there’s enough contrast to create a black frame around it.
Assignment 72: Abandoned furniture (Everyday objects)
The other day I walked past an old armchair abandoned in the street, and it reminded me of the photo on this page that I made in Newport, Rhode Island, some time ago.
It also reminded me of a red couch I saw abandoned in a field in Mexico, some old chairs I saw outside a house in Alaska, and the time I saw a motorcycle gang sitting on an old sofa watching a carnival in New Zealand.
This is a good assignment to keep at the back of your mind. If you see a piece of abandoned furniture somewhere, make a photo of it, even if it’s with your smartphone. As time goes by you’ll build an interesting series of images.
Assignment 80: Limited color palettes (Composition)
The final composition assignment tests your observational skills by asking you to make photos of scenes with a limited color palette.
Often this type of scene is dominated by a single vibrant color, like the orange flowers in the photo on the right. Using a limited color palette simplifies the design of the photo by simplifying the colors used in the composition.
If you’re outside making photos, then this brief is a good test of your composition skills. But you can also think about this assignment if you have more control over the scene.
If you’re making a portrait of somebody, for example, what happens if you ask them to wear a blue jumper, blue jeans and stand in front of a blue wall? What difference does it make if they wear an orange jumper instead? Exploring the use of color like this can give interesting results.
Assignment 83: Cool colors (Mood)
A few years ago I spent a summer in northern Spain, where there are a lot of cloudy days. But the clouds gave the landscape another mood, fertile rather than arid, cool rather than hot, contemplative rather than vacation-like.
Cloudy light has a higher color temperature than sunlight, which means it’s naturally blue. You can neutralize that by adjusting White Balance, or you can enhance it instead, adding to the mood and feel of the scene. That’s what I chose to do in the photo on the right. It’s also your brief for this assignment. Look for a scene that works well with cooler, blue colors (like a winter landscape or a cloudy seascape) and make a photo that captures the moodiness of the scene.
Assignment 91: Road signs (Landscape)
Some photographers equate landscape photography with photographing the wilderness, but there are many parts of the world where the natural landscape coexists with man-made elements. In long-settled countries like Britain the entire landscape has been affected by man in one way or another.
For this assignment your brief is to incorporate road signs into a landscape photo. How can you juxtapose man-made and natural elements of the landscape in an interesting way?
In the photo on this page, I was struck by the symmetry created by placing the road sign between the distant wind turbines, another man-made element of the landscape.
100 Creative Photography Assignments
These assignments come from my new ebook 100 Creative Photography Assignments
I’m proud of this one and wish I’d had it 20 years ago when I was starting out in photography. Click here to learn more
Thanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you 47 PhotoTips cards and my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic . Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.