12 photo exercises to keep you shooting

Negative space creatively uses a large empty area to frame your subject.We were near the end of our Abstracts in Adams Morgan photo tour when Katie asked for some homework.

"Do you know where I can find a book of projects to use for practice?"

I must admit I love the concept, but I am offering a blog post rather than a book. Often we need ideas to motivate us to improve our craft. Here are 12 photo exercises to keep you shooting. 

  1. Panning - This is a technique used to show that your subject is moving. Pan with your moving object to freeze it and blur the background. For instance, if you are following someone riding a bicycle, keep the camera in sync with the rider while depressing the shutter. 
  2. Shallow depth of field/bokeh - This technique is popular with many photographers. Choose a low f-stop, zoom in to telephoto range and get close to your subject. Your depth of field drill is not just about creating soft backgrounds, use it as a tool to isolate your subject. You create a bokeh effect when you have soft plumes of out-of-focused lights in your background.
  3. Reflections - Here is a creative technique that's especially good for rainy days. Look for reflections in water, glass, metal or mirrors. How can you show the reflecting surface, the reflection, or both creatively?
  4. Negative space - Find photos where there is lots of empty space around your subject. Use that space creatively to balance against your subject. Make it part of the story.
  5. Emotion - One of the hallmarks of great photography is that it makes us 'feel'. Try to capture and portray an emotion -- happiness, love, anger, jealousy. Your pictures are strongest when you don't just show the emotion but make us empathize with your subject.
  6. Artificial light - Photography is all about manipulating light. One of our recent webinar speakers said that he starts with his subject in complete darkness and then adds artificial light to create the effect he wants. Try taking photographs where the major light source is artificial. Use your pop up or external flash, lamps, candles, or flashlights. Add single and multiple sources, and pay attention to the moods you create.
  7. A day in the life of... - Here is an opportunity to work on storytelling. Pick a person and follow him or her around, documenting the day. It might be interesting to try this concept with a pet.
  8. Textures - This is a great abstract photography technique. Take an extreme close up photo that showcases the texture of your subject. This works best when you get so close that there are no other distractions, and your viewer can focus primarily on the texture.
  9. Dominant color - Find a subject where a dominant color will be the star of the photo. Primary colors are usually bold enough to make this technique work. You can either fill the frame with your single color, or make your dominant color stand out by contrasting it against another muted tone.
  10. Weather - Rain, rain, don't go away. When everyone else is inside complaining about the weather, take your camera out and look for creative ways of capturing nature. How many ways can you communicate that it is raining, windy, snowing, etc. This is a great creativity drill.
  11. Create a client - Every try to shoot in a specific style? Find your favorite magazine or advertisement and study the style used in their photography. Pretend you are on assignment to create a photo for one of their stories or ads. How can you recreate the look and feel to maintain the style of your "client?"
  12. Mimic a master - Find a famous photo, and try to recreate it on your own. Maybe you even add your own interpretation. This is a good way to help master both the technical and creative aspects of photography.

Pick one or any of the photos on this list, and see how well you can create your own versions. When you do, either share your link in the comments of this blog post or add your photo to my PhotoTour DC Facebook page. I'd love to see what you created.

Get shooting, Katie.


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