Ian asks, any ideas on what I can do to challenge myself in my photography?
This is a really good question, especially for anyone that’s photographed the same type of photography, or a genre of photography all the time, you may get a little bit stagnant.
But it might not be your fault as some types of photography have restrictions, such as access to your subjects like in sports photography or you have to follow certain rules like in wedding photography.
So the only way to grow as a photographer is to challenge yourself in other ways, if it’s not possible with your main type of photography.
Here is what I would do.
8 ways to challenge yourself as a Photographer
- Trying a different genre of photography
- Limiting your equipment
- Photographing in less than favourable conditions
- Start a project
- Recreation of old photographs
- Shoot only in b&w
- Limit the amount of photos
- Cover up the LCD
1. Try a different genre of photography
First thing would be to try a different genre of photography. So if you photograph street photography, then do something completely different like landscape photography or sports. Try something that is so far removed from the type of photography you normally do.
You’ll learn something new, especially how light falls on the subject.
If you’re always doing outdoor photography, get inside and do something like still life, product photography, or real estate photography. Try to immerse yourself in the new genre and you will start to see your subjects differently.
2. Limiting your equipment to push yourself
Another thing would be to limit your camera equipment. You hear a lot of people using walk-around lenses like a 50 mm and a camera body and that’s it.
They’re using their feet to zoom in and out, I think this is a really good thing to try since you don’t need to purchase other equipment.
If you only have a zoom, that’s perfectly fine, set it on one focal length, try the widest focal length first as you won’t need to worry about the zoom moving. Simply use your feet to zoom and that’ll be a very similar exercise.
This will help with composing a photo or simply moving to another subject if you can’t get the right composition.
Other settings you can try are limiting your shutter speed or limiting your ISO as you move into dimly lit locations. How will you steady your camera or will you allow for some movement in your photos?
3. Photographing in less than favourable conditions
Put yourself in less than favourable conditions in your next photoshoot to challenge yourself as a photographer.
So if you’re always photographing in a well-lit environment, put yourself in a setting where it makes you think about where you’re going to put your subject, or how you’re going to light the area.
You can use some flash to potentially bounce off the walls to illuminate your subject, or put them closer to a window or some other light source.
It helps with lighting, dealing with less than favourable locations and forces you to have a backup plan for a shoot.
4. Start a photo challenge
Have you tried a project or photo challenge?
Before you rush off and start a 365 or 30 day photo challenge, as it does take some planning. Starting off slow, by photographing your city for the day. Take public transport so you don’t have to worry about your car and explore on foot.
Once you’re there, spend the whole day, start from the morning till nightfall and photograph everything that’s of interest. It could be standing on the corner and just photographing people walking by. Putting a different spin on the usual city attractions. Maybe try a timelapse or panorama of the cityscape.
If projects are more your thing, then bring attention to an organisation or a group of people and do a day in the life or something more long term over a week or month if you have lots of free time.
The type of project where you build up a collection of photos to use in a book or slideshow. Your subject could be an organisation or an individual that helps people, and you can present the photos to them in a book.
I think that’s a really good way of challenging yourself and thinking a little bit out of the box.
5. Recreation of old photographs
Think about recreating old photographs. Look at photographs from some of the greats such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon , Eve Arnold to name a few and you ask yourself,
How did they light that photo?
Why did they put their subject there?
Why did they choose that subject?
If you were to take the same photo, but make a little change to it.
How will that change the photo?
Would it be better? Would it be worse?
That’s a good way of challenging yourself by learning from photographers who are better than you and trying new things.
6. Shoot only in Black & White
Another way of challenging yourself would be shooting in black & white only.
Most digital cameras these days allow you to set your picture style to black and white.
What I like about black and white is the contrast between light and dark, and you can really focus on the subjects by using the contrast between light and dark and just seeing how that plays off the type of photography that you photograph.
A warning, if you set your file type to jpeg and the picture style to B&W, the camera will embed the black and white into the jpeg file, not allowing you to change it to colour.
So as a safeguard, use the RAW file format in case you want to change it later. When you download the file it will be in colour, but it’s shown as a black and white picture on the back of the camera.
If you want the best of both worlds, to have both coloured version and black and white version of the same photo. Set your camera to shoot jpeg and raw, and that way you’ll have both so you’ll have the jpegs in black & white and the raw if you want to make it into a colour photo.
7. Limit the amount of photos
Limiting the amount of photos that you’re taking is another way to challenge yourself. You may have heard of people buying a film camera so they can limit their exposures to 24 or 36.
You can do a similar thing with a digital camera by using a smaller memory card, if you have photographed for a while you would already have some older memory cards that may be sitting in a drawer. Set your camera to RAW at full resolution. you probably only get maybe 20, 30, or even 50 photos on the memory card.
By limiting the amount of photos you are able to take will force you to be more deliberate and selective with your subjects, composition and timing.
8. Cover up the LCD
Lastly, cover up your LCD display so the only feedback you have is the information in the viewfinder.
Use a post it note or some tape if your camera doesn’t have the option to turn off the LCD display.
This way you can hone in on your exposure and the way you compose a photo, it will slow you down and reduce the amount of photos you take.
Bring it all together, there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate all these different things into one, or even do a couple of them at the same time.
For instance, doing a project and shooting only in black & white, or maybe only limiting your photos to only 36 per shoot.
The same thing applies with the others, if you’re doing a different type of genre, maybe putting yourself in a less than favourable condition and try to challenge yourself and see how well you really know your camera.
Thanks for your question, I hope that helps.