How to Challenge Yourself To Be A Better Photographer


We all want things to be easy, stress free, and effortless. So much in fact we often overlook the benefits of a challenge. To continue improving our skills we have to regularly challenge ourselves. Challenges may not always present themselves to us, we have to go looking for them, create them. We must be constructively critical of our own work through self examinations of our art to discover our weaknesses. Once we can pinpoint that, we know what we have to work on to bring our photography to the next level. To get you started, here are a few challenges that can help you down the path to improvement.

  • Prime Lens – Try limiting yourself to using nothing but a prime lens for a set amount of time, e.g one week, a month, etc…In doing so, you will be challenging your creativity and your eye for composition. Since you will be shooting at a fixed focal length, the best way to frame a shot may not always be very obvious. In many instances you will have to call on some critical and creative thinking to get the composition just right. Creative thinking should become a part of our everyday process as photographers and this challenge is invaluable for instilling it in one's system.
  • Revert To Film – We've mentioned this one in a previous post, but it's such a good approach that it's worth bringing up again. One of the main benefits of shooting digital is it affords photographers to take tons of images at a margin of the cost of film. Conversely, one of the benefits of shooting with film is that it encourages photographers to save money by getting the shot right the first time, thus eliminating the need to take 40 frames of the same subject “just to make sure”. Fundamentally, taking a few backup shots of the same thing is a sound idea; however, it let's us get a little a lazy by giving us a safety net. Making a mistake with film hits us where it hurts the most, our wallets. Not wanting to shell out tons of cash for those digital camera inspired safety nets, shooting on film forces us to slow down, think about our exposure settings, framing, etc so we don't have to shoot through an entire roll of film just for one salvageable image.

Old celluloid film rolls by Marcel Oosterwijk, on Flickr

  • Self Assignments – Think about what your goals are as a photographer. If you were to start taking photographs as a means of making a living, what kind of photography would you choose? Product photography, fashion photography, fine art, what style most appeals to you? Once you have that decided give yourself a self assignment. Future product photographers could use any common household object and do a mock-up photoshoot of it as though you were doing it for an advertisement in a magazine. Fashion photography minded people could enlist a fashionista friend and do a glamour shoot. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, create an assignment for yourself and conduct it as though you were being paid to complete it. This will encourage you to take pride in your work and ensure that you are always doing the best you are capable of doing.

  • Pay Attention To The Details – It's easy to look at the big picture when we are out looking for things to photograph. First impressions are important, but don't use them as a means of dismissing a subject altogether. Spend a day out in the field photographing nothing but textures, angles, lines, and maybe even shadow play. In doing so, we are making ourselves look past the obvious by getting up close and personal with it's composition, which more often than not goes by unnoticed. It will teach you to be more thorough in evaluation a scene and before you know it, you'll be finding photographic inspiration in everything around you.

Challenges are, well, challenging, but they should not discourage us from continuing on our journey to become a better photographer. Regardless of your skill level, look at challenges as a means to better yourself and to better your art. Recognize what is hard for you and keep doing it over and over until it becomes second nature. Don't let your weaknesses frustrate you, put them to work instead. Use them as an excuse to pick up your camera and go out shooting.

About Author

Tiffany Mueller is an adventurer and photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you can find her writing articles and running the official blog at PhotoBlog.

Thanks Tiff for your article, its good to have challenges for they are good for personal growth and self confidence……..but going back to films…. no! not at this digital era!!!

Film is NOT dead! I shoot a combo of film and digital at every wedding, and my clients LOVE it. And I love it! It really does force me to be a better photographer.

Film cameras have a very nice feel to them when shooting but they can be quite the hassle as well.

Want to get the feel of being limited by you roll without as much of the hassle? Buy a small (think 128 or 256mb) card for your digital camera and use that. It will limit you without having to abandon your medium.

Nice article Tiffany. Every now and then I feel nostalgic for film and will get an idea, grab the Canon FTb and a few rolls of film and head off to the location. The totally manual FTb really does force me to reuse skills that get a bit soft when using the 5DMKII

Great post. This weekend I’m going to an airshow at a nearby Air Force base. There will be a mix of propeller and jet aircraft. I’ve never done this type of photography. After consuming vast amounts of tips, tricks, and settings, I see that it is going to be quite the challenge, far from relaxing with my tripod and “clicker” taking landscape photos. It’s going to be fast-paced, all new custom button arrangements [back button focusing], and otherwise foreign camera settings that I don’t often use doing landscapes. Additionally, I have a feeling that with the velocities involved here with the aircraft, it’s going to be exhausting physically out there in the hot sun on the tarmac. Good thing admission is free because this might very well turn out to be some SD cards full of crappy photos.

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