Assignments or photography challenges help you to overcome mental blocks and to kick-start your creativity. . They’re a way of getting inspiration, breaking out of photography ruts and encouraging you to explore new subjects.
If you’re into creative writing you’ll be familiar with writing prompts. They’re designed to help you overcome writer’s block and do the same thing. Prompts give you a selection of interesting ideas to write about. You pick one that appeals to you and get started.
In this article, you’ll be challenge by three photography assignments to help you become a better photographer.
A few years ago I got stuck as a photographer so I can relate to this problem. I didn’t know what to photograph, how to find an interesting subject, or how to move forward.
Then I set myself a project photographing craftspeople (see images above and below) – people who make things with their hands. I started by contacting a local artist and potter to see if I could photograph them at work. Both said yes, the project got started, and I found my way forward.
Here are a couple more photos from one of those shoots:
Now, I realize the breakthrough was giving myself an assignment with a clear brief. I don’t live in that town anymore, but looking back I wish I had given myself more of these challenges. I needed prompts to show me that I was surrounded by interesting subjects. I just needed to see them differently and make an effort to photograph them.
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Creative briefs and assignments
If that’s piqued your interest then the following three assignments will help to get your creativity moving. These are experts from my newest ebook, “The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments”.
They’re designed to be tackled in black and white, but of course, you can do them in color if you prefer. That’s the beauty of a personal brief – you’re free to interpret it in a way that suits you.
You can also carry out these assignments close to home, something that’s helpful in this pandemic affected year.
Assignment #1 – Scavenger hunt
For this assignment, your brief is to photograph something that you’ve found. The world is full of interesting objects waiting to be found, and your own neighborhood is no exception.
You can use this challenge as a way to explore the natural world or the man-made one. Stones, leaves, shells, and flowers are all potentially interesting subjects that you might find outside. So are man-made objects like discarded cups or old furniture.
Whatever you find, you can either photograph it where you find it or bring it home and shoot it like a still life. At home, all you need is a suitable background and window light. Or you can use flash or LED lighting for more of a studio setup.
There’s another approach you can take if the object you choose to photograph is portable. If the location where you find it isn’t photogenic, try moving it to a different spot that creates a better result.
Why not take this idea a step further and make a collage or flat layout of found objects? This works well with natural subjects like leaves, flowers, and other botanical subjects.
Markets, charity stores, and yard sales are other places where you can find interesting subjects for this assignment.
Assignment #2 – The road less traveled
Your brief in this assignment is to make an interesting photo of a road.
You could even take a photo of the street you live in for this assignment. Another idea is to get in close and photograph the lines and symbols painted on the road. Roads in a city or town are different from roads in a rural area or national park. Try photographing a road in the country by showing its place among the local scenery.
A different approach to this assignment is to photograph a town or street in an urban area, showing the relationship with the buildings. The road needs to take up a large part of the frame for this to work, so consider using a wide-angle lens.
Or you could go deeper and explore the idea of the road as a metaphor for travel and personal growth. Sometimes a journey is about getting from point A to point B, other times it has a deeper meaning. Everybody takes a unique a journey through life, and some people make spiritual journeys like pilgrimages.
How can you use a road in your photos to symbolize your own journey?
Use a wide-angle lens to create a photo that shows the road disappearing into the distance, or a city street and the buildings alongside. Alternatively, use a telephoto lens to compress perspective.
Don’t put yourself in any danger for this assignment. Keep an eye on the traffic and don’t get too close to the road itself if there is traffic.
Assignment #3 – A sense of place
Black and white is the ideal medium for capturing a sense of place. It captures the character of locales, as it does the character of people.
Part of the reason why is that black and white has a timeless, mysterious quality. Being one step removed from reality helps you to see a place through fresh eyes. You can then see beyond the surface (color) to the essence of something (shape, form, and texture).
This assignment’s brief is to use these qualities of black and white photography to capture the spirit of a place. The choice of place is up to you. The important thing is that you find a way to capture its character.
Working locally is a disadvantage in one way because it’s harder to see the place with fresh eyes. But it also gives you an advantage because you know it better, including the hidden corners that visitors miss. Think about the things that make the place unique. If you’re in a town, for example, that could be the style of architecture.
This applies to homes people live in as well as public buildings. Keep in mind that character doesn’t have to mean just old architecture. Even the newest housing estate has some kind of character to capture.
If you’re photographing a landscape, what are the unique geological features that make it special? Think about the light and weather as well. If there’s a marked difference between the seasons, then the character of a place will show changes throughout the year.
You don’t have to travel to somewhere exotic for this assignment. Think local. How can you capture a sense of the place where you live?
If you’re working locally it’s easy to turn this assignment into a project. How does the sense of place change with the seasons? Photograph the same location every season or every month and compare them.
The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments
These assignments come from my newest ebook The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments. (aff)
It follows on from The Magic of Black & White (aff) and builds on the lessons in that book by giving you 50 assignments to which you can apply your newly found skills.