Students majoring in photography always do photography exercises of all sorts, many which involve shooting in film and developing in the darkroom. These exercises are great for learning techniques and training the eye to ‘see’ in creative ways. No matter your skill level, any photo enthusiast can benefit from these fun exercises.
Sooner or later, you will encounter a ‘bottleneck’ in your photographic journey. Perhaps you run out of interesting things to shoot, or your photos look like everyone else’s. It is in this moment that you should start doing these exercises to give your creativity a boost. Just like the spelling activities every second grader has to do daily, the activities might not make sense, but by doing them, you force yourself to think out of the box. In return, you discover things you couldn’t do before, which will give you renewed confidence, curiosity, and creativity. Here is a list of 12 quick and fun exercises.
1. Take 36 pictures in 2 hours
In the film era, shooting one roll of film, 36 frames, seemed like a lot. Now with digital (and without much thinking), 36 frames takes minutes do. That’s not what this exercise is about, however. Go to your favorite place, look around for something interesting to shoot, and carefully compose each shot before taking it. Take no more than 36 images in 2 hours, and if you are out for only an hour, reduce it to 18 frames. This forces you to take a good picture each and every time you click the shutter.
2. Take 18 pictures at the same spot
Find a spot in town without much movement, and take 18 pictures. You can vary your position vertically, and by turning around, but do not move away from the spot. Try shooting with different lenses. This activity forces you to think about composition and be selective in your subject choice.
3. 25 pictures of the same object
This exercise is about light and shadow, whole and part, texture and form. Find any object that has distinguished shape or texture, such as an egg, pebbles, fruits, flowers, a wrinkled newspaper, etc. Set it up as you wish, and shoot from all angles you can think of, making sure to use different lenses. When you think you have exhausted all possible angles to shoot, look harder, and that’s when the creativity breaks through.
4. Search for colors, shapes, or textures
Cut up small pieces of paper and write down words that describe color, texture, and form, such as red, yellow, rough, smooth, dot, line, etc. Mix them in a bag, and before you go out, pick a couple from it. These are the subjects you are going to search for.
5. Same object, every hour
This is to study quality of ambient light. You can do this indoors by a large window, or outdoors. Keep your camera on a tripod, set an alarm, and come back to shoot a frame every hour. Compare the results.
6. Shoot a “feeling” word
Similar to the scrambled word exercise, instead of using descriptive words, write down words of emotion, such as happy, sad, loss, anger, etc. and shoot photos that best depict those feelings.
7. Photograph 10 strangers in the street
This is the ultimate challenge for people who like portraits but are afraid to approach people. Prepare to smile, be courteous, and be ready to get a no for an answer. Most people are willing to cooperate, it’s your own fear of rejection that’s stopping you from asking. The worst can happen is a ‘no’, and you walk away finding someone else to shoot with. Make sure not to ask people who seem to be running late for work or are busy doing something.
8. Shoot 25 doors
Old doors, colorful doors, doors with graffiti – door pictures reveal the architectural and historic details of a building. Take a walk in the center of your town, and you will notice many of these distinguished doors. Find and shoot 25 of them.
9. Catch a moment at an intersection
This is a fun exercise that requires you to find a busy intersection and wait for the traffic lights to turn. The traffic and crowd going across are different each time, so wait for a distinguished moment with interesting people going by. You can try different techniques like panning, slow shutter, or time lapse.
10. Take 72 photos of a night market
This exercise is about low light and night photography. The busy night market is a great place to shoot, from detail shots of the produce, to the portraits of merchants, to any interesting moment. With taking so many photos, you will also get a feel of how your lenses perform in a low light situation.
11. Photograph 10 leading lines
Lines form patterns and add dimension to a photograph. Go out and find the lines that are significant in composing an image, whether it be a tree line, path, high-voltage wires up high, chairs in a park, etc.
12. 50 pictures of architectural details in one building
Chicago is known for its great architecture. One of the buildings I like to visit is the Chicago Culture Center, because the interior of the building is filled with beautiful mosaics, marble columns, and a Tiffany ceiling, which always prompts me to take photos. Go ahead and find a building you like and snap away. This exercise trains you in seeing and deciding what to keep or not keep when composing a picture.