Five ways to challenge yourself as a photographer

As a photographer, do you ever start feeling like you’re in a bit of a rut? Or perhaps you feel the need to challenge yourself to improve your skills. Maybe you’re just looking for some ideas on stretching your creativity. Here are five simple ideas to challenge yourself as a photographer, both to improve your skills and also challenge yourself creatively.

Turn off the display

Go into your camera settings and turn off the LCD display on the back of your camera. If you can’t figure out where that setting is, tape a piece of cardboard over the LCD. The idea is to remove the temptation to look at your display after every shot to see how if looks.

This will “force” you to think more carefully about camera settings and composition. You can’t just take a quick look at the LCD and make adjustments according to what you see.

Limit yourself to 24 shots

Here’s another idea that pushes you to think about every shot. Treat your camera card as if it was a roll of film. See what kind of images you can capture with only 24 shots. Or pretend it’s a roll of 36 if you want a bit more room to play. It’s amazing how much more thought I find myself putting into each shot when I know that I “can’t” just fire away and take tons of shots.

©Lauri Novak

Use a fixed lens

If you’re used to carrying around that 70-200mm or 24-70mm lens, switch it up and use a fixed lens like a 35mm or 50mm. I did this on a photowalk and was amazing at how it changed my approach: I couldn’t just zoom in a little tighter, I had to zoom with my feet.

It was a really interesting challenge that caused me to look at things differently, and my shots reflected that. (If you’re a little more disciplined you could always choose one focal length on your zoom lens and stick to it, but I went with a fixed lens as I knew I might be tempted to “cheat.”)

Find something new in old territory

This is one of my favorite ways to challenge myself creatively: Go somewhere that I’ve been many times before and find something new/different to shoot. Test yourself by taking your camera every time you walk around the block near your house and try to see new things each time. I particularly like going to a very familiar spot and tying in the next idea at the same time.

The Bean in Chicago ©Lauri Novak

Self assignments

Before heading out on a practice shoot, give yourself an assignment. It could be something as simple as a theme such as shapes or shadows or colors, or you can really challenge yourself by picking a random word like “joy.” You could imagine that you had to provide images for an article on a particular topic. Then try to capture five strong images that support the story. Or just shoot this first thing you see and attempt to come up with more images that create a collection.

Take it further

Of course, the real fun begins when you combine these ideas. Cover up your LCD display, limit yourself to 36 images and shoot with a fixed lens in a familiar spot to capture images that meet your self-assignment. I hear lots of photographers talk about practicing to get better at their technical skills, and of course, that is important. But I think it’s equally important to challenge yourself creatively too. I’d love to hear your ideas for ways to challenge yourself technically and creatively.

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