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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.
- 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.