Editor's note: This month only – Use the code july5 at checkout to buy the 5 Steps to Better Black & White Photography and 5 Steps to Better Exposure ebooks for just $5! Click the links to learn more. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
If you feel stuck or uninspired these four creative photography exercises will help you find something new and interesting to photograph. Each one takes you out of your comfort zone and encourages you to learn new skills – all without buying new gear.
Creative photography exercise #1: Find a new subject
All photographers have favorite subjects the are accustomed to working with and others that they rarely photograph, if at all.
For example, perhaps you have spent many years perfecting the art of landscape photography, but have never made a portrait of anybody.
Part of the challenge of photographing a new subject is that it makes you learn new skills, or learn to use familiar equipment in different ways. You won’t need any extra gear – just the desire and drive to learn a new skill.
If the landscape photographer in the earlier example decided to make some portraits, he would have to learn the following:
- Which lenses to use to create flattering portraits.
- Which apertures to use to create blurred backgrounds.
- Which light is best for portraits.
- How to build a rapport with a model.
- How to capture character and beauty.
Mastering these five points alone could keep you busy for many years!
Take it to the next level
Once you’ve found a new subject ask yourself the question, “How can I take this to the next level?”
For instance, let’s say you wanted to try some food photography.
One approach is to go to a restaurant or cafe, order some food, and take a photo of it. There’s hardly any work involved as it’s the chef’s responsibility to make the dish look good, as this photo below shows.
It’s a lot harder to do the same yourself at home. Preparing the dish from scratch and presenting it properly so it looks delicious is much more difficult. But you’ll learn a lot more about food photography from the process.
Here’s a food photo I made at home. I photographed the sausage roll just after it came out of the oven. It’s not styled and as a result has a more authentic feel. It’s more satisfying for me as I cooked the food myself.
Draw on life experiences
Sometimes new subjects emerge as your life takes a different direction. My son was born late last year – and as a result I now have hundreds of baby photos. Before he was born I had no interest in baby photography at all. New hobbies or life experiences can introduce you to new and interesting photographic subjects.
Creative photography exercise #2: Find themes and projects
A theme is a connection between photos. One way to identify the themes running through your work is to pick your favorite 10-20 photos taken in the last 12 months. Examine your choices analytically. What subjects are you photographing the most? What lenses do you use most often? Are your favorite photos color, black and white, or a mixture of the two?
Learn more: My Favorite Photos From 2017
You are looking for themes that help you decide what you want to photograph next. When I did this exercise (you can see the results at the above link) I saw that my favorite subjects were portraits and cultural events.
As a result, I will look for more cultural events to photograph and interesting people to make portraits of.
The idea is to build a body of work around an interesting theme. The project will grow as you pursue it.
Creative photography exercise #3: Find new light
Let’s say you are a portrait photographer who works in natural light. You like to be on location with your models at the end of the day and work during the golden hour.
If this is you, what other types of light could you shoot in? If you normally shoot outdoors, what about an indoor location? If you like working on sunny days, how about a cloudy or rainy day? If you use natural light, how about using flash instead?
For example, I am a great lover of using natural light for portraits. So one day I tried something a little different and used flash instead.
You can apply this to any genre of photography. Think about the type of light you prefer to work in, and then change it around by trying something different.
For example, if you are a landscape photographer who always works with natural light, how about trying painting with light or a technique like steel wool spinning to change up the look of your photos?
Creative photography exercise #4: Use the wrong lens
The earlier exercise of picking your best images from the previous 12 months should highlight the lenses you prefer to use for your favorite subjects. What happens if you try something different?
The idea here is to use the wrong lens for the job, or at least a lens you’re not accustomed to using.
Imagine, for example, that you are a photographer who only ever uses telephoto lenses to shoot portraits. What happens if you use a wide-angle lens instead? How can you make it work?
We already know that it’s not a good idea to get too close to your model with a wide-angle lens. The solution is to take a more environment approach. The model becomes part of the scene and the wide-angle lens helps you capture it. You are forced to see things differently and think about the environment much more, rather than use a wide aperture to blur it. It also helps you find creative ways to use unfamiliar equipment.
For example, here’s a portrait I made of a friend playing her guitar on the step of a caravan she built herself.
The Creative Photographer
Learn how to be a more creative, productive and artistic photographer with our popular ebook The Creative Photographer.