I remember the first photography workshop that I took part in, one of the coolest things that came from it was that, for at least two to three weeks after the workshop, I was seeing potential images everywhere I looked. It was like some switch had been turned on in my brain and suddenly I was seeing the world in a totally different light.
And then, as time went by and I got caught up in the everyday work of everyday life, that switch in my brain slowly reduced in strength. It never completely goes away but, like any muscle, if you’re not regularly exercising that area of your brain, your photography fitness will wane. So what are some exercises that you can do that can help keep your image making fitness going?
1. Give yourself a challenge that you may not complete
I don’t know about you, but in the past, if I was going to challenge myself, I would sometimes be a bit lazy and because I didn’t want to fail, I set the bar just a little lower than what I thought was possible, so that I could be sure I’d get it.
I try my best now to instead set the bar just a little higher than what I think is possible. Because at the end of the day, this is just a challenge for myself and so if I don’t get it, I’ll be disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world.
2. Make yourself accountable
You may have just read the previous point and thought “well if you’re not fussed if you fail, then you may not try that hard.” And you’d be right. So the way to make yourself accountable and make sure you’ve got a bit of skin in the game as it were, is to tell people about your challenge. This helps to make you feel accountable. So there is a price for failure. Never under estimate the power of not want people to know you didn’t achieve something.
3. Set a regular challenge
Now that we’ve got the motivation out of the way, here is the first thing: make it a regular thing. Maybe you walk a particular route everyday or you take the bus to work or school. Set yourself a challenge to take at least five pictures everyday along your daily route for a month with the rule that you can’t take a picture of the same thing over that time. This will force you to find the beauty in the mundane – especially if your commute is boring (as most tend to be). Different weather, different people, or simply a different mindset can help you find new images to be made.
4. Try making more restrictive “rules”
Another way to challenge yourself could be to set seemingly restrictive rules for your challenge – use a certain lens or particular settings, or even make it so that you have to take a picture of the same thing everyday for a week or a month. This is one I do quite often as it really makes you think about how to capture the exact same thing over and over again and still make it interesting. I really love/hate this one. I love it because it really pushes me to be creative and I really hate it, because it can hurt my brain to come up with something after the first four or five images. That’s why I definitely recommend forcing yourself to do this one for at least two to four weeks.
5. Pick an event that happens regularly in your town or city and aim to take a series of images to tell a story that other photographers have not told yet
For example, there could be a parade or a sculpture festival. In my hometown of Melbourne we have this great event called “white night” which is a 24-hour art festival that happens all around the CBD. You can imagine that just about every photographer in the state is there taking some amazing images. So whenever I’ve gone, I have a look at some images that other people have taken and challenge myself to take ones that are different in some way and tell a story.
6. Try and see if you can re-create someone else’s work
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting you just copy someone else’s images and present them as your own. This one is more of a personal challenge. There are some images that I look at and think “How in heaven’s name did they do that?”. So try and work out how they did it and see if you can too. It’s also a really good challenge to push yourself in an area that you know might not be your strongest. For example, if you know that you’re not that comfortable with lighting set-ups, find a shot that has AMAZING lighting and work to recreate it. You’ll end up learning so much about lighting because you have a final shot to work towards.
7. Limit your gear
I love my gear/toys. When that B&H catalog comes round I’ll just sit with it for days and circle all the things I wish I could get. I believe that gear can make your life easier and lets you get the job done faster. But while not having gear can be a pain in a paid gig, it can be a great teaching tool for you in your personal projects. Create a challenge where you have to use only your smartphone for a landscape challenge. Or you could challenge yourself to go on a night shoot without a tripod and so you have to find “creative” ways to stabilise your camera for longer exposure shots.
8. Pick only one style and force yourself to tell a story with it
I remember a few years back I got a macro lens for my iPhone and so I challenged myself to create a series about money with only macro shots from my iPhone. It helped me see the world totally differently and really fall in love with textures and shapes and details.
9. Don’t stress
The most important thing with all of these is that you shouldn’t care too much about the actual images that you get from your challenges. Sure you’re going to get some great photos but you’re probably going to get loads more rubbish and average ones and that’s fine. The idea behind all these challenges is to challenge yourself and learn. So whether the images look amazing or absolutely awful, you’ll learn something and be able to take that lesson into your image-making.
Have you ever set yourself any challenges just for the sake of it and did you find them helpful?