Invigorate Your Photography Skills in 6 Steps

Whether it’s portraits, landscapes or wildlife, most photographers have a preferred subject. Focusing on one type of subject is a great way to refine your skills, but it can also lead to photographs looking dull and repetitive. A great way to expand your creative horizons is to tackle new subjects, or to look at things you photograph regularly in new ways.

The following six mini-projects will help to push your creative boundaries as a photographer.

1) Take a self-portrait.

I know, everyone takes ‘selfies’, but I’m talking about really planning a portrait. Taking a self-portrait is a fantastic way to test your creative and technical abilities as a photographer. There are hundreds of ways to do it, including using a self-timer, remote control or photographing yourself in the mirror. Capturing your personality in a single photograph is great way to challenge yourself. This type of photography can move you into the realm of fine-art, and is something everyone should try.

2) Capture the city lights.

Travel photographers often photograph cityscapes to capture the essence of a place. When the sun goes down, a city takes on a different atmosphere, and capturing it on film requires a specific approach. Long exposures are usually required, so a tripod is an essential piece of equipment. While I prefer prime lenses, and just zoom with my feet, a zoom is the best city lights option as it offers flexibility for framing and composition. Getting exposure correct in night shots can be technically challenging, so this is a great test of your skill as a photographer.

3) Photograph abstract interiors.

Large indoor spaces, such as art galleries, museums and churches, are another challenging subject for a photographer. If possible, work with natural light to retain the atmosphere of a building. By shooting from alternative angles it’s possible to capture abstract images of buildings, and highlight aspects of them people wouldn’t normally see. FOr some excellent use of interesting angles, see the photos of St. Peter’s Basilica by my Facebook friend, Luis Vasconcelos

4) Capture seascapes at twilight.

Twilight is the perfect time to shoot seascapes, and the results can be truly beautiful. As you will be shooting in low light, use a tripod to avoid camera shake. Select a small aperture to ensure adequate depth of field, and be patient waiting for the light to change as the sun sets. An exercise like this is a great way to practice your framing and composition, and this will improve your photography for years to come. Experiment with framing the horizon line at different sections of the picture, dividing the line between sea and sky for different effects. Finally, don’y forget to look behind you. Often, the setting sun, reflecting off the clouds in the eastern sky, can be magnificent.

5) Limit yourself to a fixed focal length lens.

Zoom lenses are fantastic, and they give photographers great flexibility. However, they can also make photographers lazy. Challenge yourself to undertake some assignments using a fixed focal length lens, such as a 50mm. This will force you to move towards and around subjects, and to look at them in different ways. The quality of fixed focal length lenses is generally superior to that of zooms, except in the most professional lenses, and you may be amazed at the clarity of the results from them.

6) Downgrade for a day.

Limiting yourself to a single lens is one way to stretch your photographic skills, but you can take this even further. If you usually use a digital SLR camera, or micro four-thirds, go out with a digital compact for the day. If you use a bridge or compact camera, switch to the camera on your phone for a day. Limiting your tools forces you to look at things differently, and to rely on core photographic skills. Not being able to rely on a broad range of automatic features will make you think more about every picture that you take. When you go back to your usual camera you will feel a real sense of creative empowerment.

Whenever you feel that your photography is becoming boring or routine, challenge yourself with new projects and changes of equipment. The simplest change can bring about amazing results.

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