How Taking a Challenge Can Improve Our Photography
One danger of having some experience in photography is that you can find yourself in a rut. You can begin to feel that there is nothing left to photograph. These are the times when you need some inspiration; when you need a new challenge to get you out of your comfort zone.
In the world of photography writing there is always someone to pose a challenge.
It could be a challenge to create a series of images based on a certain theme, a challenge to post a photo a day, a competition-based photography challenge or a challenge to photograph with just one lens, or with just a phone camera.
How does taking a challenge help our photography?
Challenges are often posed at the beginning of a new year to get us off to a good start, or during a year to serve as an inspiration when we may have hit a creative rut or simply to help us shake things up and look at our photography from a new perspective.
Taking a challenge is useful to our photography in that it encourages us to plan and take action.
It gives us a purpose for getting out with our camera, particularly in winter months, and it can be more productive to have a specific aim in mind rather than just going for a walk with our camera.
A good challenge tests our photography skills and abilities, often requiring us to think differently, make different decisions, become adaptable and work within certain limitations.
First Challenge – Using Only a Kit Lens
Recently I took on the challenge of going out with only my kit lens to see what images I could capture. I was pleasantly surprised at how much this humble lens could do and it has now returned to its place in my camera bag after a brief absence. See post here.
I must admit that in the case of the kit lens, the fault was with the photographer (yours truly!) who thought she had outgrown a kit lens. I was thankful to eat humble pie when I re-discovered how versatile this lens can be.
However, the biggest advantage of going out on a few occasions with just my kit lens was that it helped my photography.
First, I was able to get into the flow of what I was doing because there was no stopping to change lenses, no wondering if I would get a better shot with a longer or shorter lens.
All I had to do was stop at a subject that I was drawn to and experiment with composition based on the focal lengths at my disposal – 18-55mm.
Second Challenge – Using Only a Prime Lens
My next challenge to myself was to go out with only a prime lens. I packed my camera and 50mm lens and set off for my local woodland.
This time I was more limited in what I could shoot as I had a fixed focal length, but the experience helped me to learn about the lens, about different choices for compositions and about the possibilities still available to me with limited variables.
Since I was shooting on a dull winter's day, I decided to compensate for the lack of light by doing a black and white conversion on these two images.
Using this lens helped me to think differently. It gave me fewer options so I had to be more creative.
When you are using a fixed focal length you are forced to make images close to where you are, as opposed to being able to zoom to a subject further away. This means that you focus more closely on what is near you, often seeing details that you might otherwise overlook.
Having a fixed focal length also forces you to work harder, which is a good way to get yourself out of your creative comfort zone.
One outing with my 50mm lens was not enough to make a marked difference to my photography so I have decided to do this exercise regularly.
I would highly recommend that you go out at least once with only one lens and savour the experience.
Third Challenge – Using Only a Phone Camera
In this instance I took a photography walk and challenged myself to take some images using only my phone camera.
I often take photographs with my phone camera, but usually in addition to using my main camera so that I can use a telephoto lens if required or work with aperture priority.
During this challenge I worked solely with the capabilities and shortcomings of a phone camera.
I was lucky to be out early enough to catch a beautiful sunrise. On this occasion I turned around and saw the amazing colour in the sky.
One of the obvious advantages of deciding to use only a phone camera is that you can take a spontaneous picture, especially when the light is so fleeting.
Another advantage is the fact that you can download various apps to handle some photography situations.
On this occasion I used the app slow shutter speed as well as the three lenses of the native camera app.
A phone camera can get close to the ground for a reflection image.
Apart from the small sensor size and lack of decent optical zoom on a phone camera, to me one of the biggest disadvantages is that the lack of manual control means that the art of taking a photo - the time spent and the intent which we bring to creating an image - are not always a feature of mobile photography and this diminishes the photography experience to some extent. It can feel more like taking a series of snapshots rather than doing photography, yet learning to use the phone camera to do more than just take snapshots does in itself help to improve our photography.
Above I have described three of the challenges I have tried but they are just some of many challenges available to us.
I was recently inspired by this video from Nigel Danson to try his photography challenge. It involves finding a good location, setting up a tripod and taking all images from the same spot while being allowed to rotate the camera.
Check out the video to see some fantastic images.
You might also like to check out the One Focal Length Challenge from James Popsys -
I have just watched Nature Photography and the 24 Metre Challenge from nature photographer Simon Booth. You might like to check it out.
I intend to give it a try next.
I hope you have been inspired to try some photography challenges for yourself. Why not post some of the results on Instagram using the hashtag #wildwillowways