10 unique photography exercises to improve both your creative and technical skills

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Improving photography takes constant practice. A great way to do this is through regular photography exercises that aim to boost both your creative and technical skills.

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Photo by Luca Bravo

Here we take a look at 10 exercises that will not only inspire you, but also help you get to the top of your game.

01. Think on film

What to do: Adopt the mindset of working with film—you have strictly 24 to 36 takes to nail your shot, and there is no opportunity to preview any of it. Set yourself a limited number of photos for the day, turn off the preview on your screen, and don’t view your images until you get home.

Why you should do it: This will encourage you to spend more time considering your shot and thoughtfully composing it before taking a photo. It will also help you learn to trust your instincts and abilities.

02. Shoot only in black and white

What to do: Dedicate an entire day to shooting purely in black and white from morning til night. Instead of relying on post-processing or using filters, set your camera to black and white before you capture photos.

Why you should do it: Without the distraction of color, shooting in black and white forces you to focus on contrast, lights and shadows, lines and shapes. It not only shows you the world from a different perspective, but also allows you to hone a different set of skills for your practice.

03. Break the rules

What to do: Certain traditional rules tend to guide how we think we can capture the best shot: portraits must be lit from the front; landscapes should be captured during golden hour; and photos should be composed using the rule of thirds. For one day, give yourself permission to break those rules—focus on photographing backlit portraits, midday landscapes, and centered subjects.

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Photo by Alex Holyoake

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Photo by Patrick Hendry

Why you should do it: This exercise will test your skills in unfavorable conditions, which may arise in a real shoot. Plus, the unexpected results may be even more dramatic or atmospheric.

04. Set a time limit

What to do: Pick a scene focused on subjects in action and limit yourself to a timed five-minute shoot. It might be at home, in a market, at a park, or out on the street. Look for a scene that has a lot of action in it: people rushing to work, having a picnic, engaged in a sport, or playing with their pets. Set a timer for five minutes and purposefully capture the bustling scene in various ways. Practice getting shots up-close, from a distance, and from different angles.

Why you should do it: This exercise will help you become more familiar with shooting people in an uncontrolled setting. The only thing you have control over is how creative you can be in capturing movement, expressions, interactions, and relationships. This practice helps you develop flexibility as a visual storyteller.

05. Work with a brief

What to do: Give yourself a photography brief (or ask someone to write you one) including as much detail as possible. This can include any of the following:

  • Goal (Is the shoot for brand awareness? Or is the aim to inspire or evoke a certain emotion?)
  • Brand profile (If this shoot was made for a particular brand, what are that brand’s values? What is their aesthetic? Who is their target market?)
  • Subjects (Should the shoot include particular people, products, or locations?)
  • Length of shoot (What is the timeframe to start and finish the project?)
  • Use (Where will the photos be published? On social media? Through a magazine? In an advertisement?)
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Photo by rawpixel

Why you should do it: A brief provides specific requirements and goals that you will need to focus on delivering. This is a great practice for the kinds of projects that you will be working on with future clients. It prepares you to work with and deal with their expectations.

06. Do not post-process

What to do: Rely on your skills rather than on post-production techniques to enhance your photos. All the elements that you would normally crop, retouch, or adjust in post-production? Focus on addressing them before you even take your shot.

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Photo by Felipe P. Lima Rizo

Why you should do it: This will allow you to refine your technique and skills pre-shoot by removing the safety blanket of digital retouching. This practice encourages you to get the photo right the first time by carefully considering all the compositional details before you take your photo.  

08. Stick to one location

What to do: Walk around town like an urban explorer, and practice standing still in a single location and taking 10 photos from that specific spot. Afterwards, walk 100 paces, and do the same thing all over again. 

Why you should do it: Photography is about tuning into details. By focusing on your observational skills, you will start noticing things in your surroundings that you would have otherwise missed out on. 

09. Draw lots

What to do: Write one easy-to-find subject on 30 slips of paper (for example: shadows, a cat, a tree, coffee, an eldery person). Put the slips of paper into a bowl, and draw one each day. Focus on finding and capturing the best possible photo of that particular subject for a day.

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Why you should do this: The exercise will encourage you to find beauty in the ordinary, and to view everyday scenes in a new and creative way.

10. Plan your feed

What to do: Instead of choosing the best photo in a shoot, choose three to post each time on Instagram. Ensure that the three photos stick to particular theme. They can consist of the same subject, color palette, or even make use of the same filters.

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Photos by Fritz Bielmeier

Why you should do this: Posting in threes allows you to carefully plan posts and curate your work on social media. Planning out your Instagram feed's aesthetic trains you to see the bigger picture and scope of your body of work. (Featured IG feed by @fritzbielmeier)

In order to get better at your craft, it's good practice to regularly give yourself challenges and to set goals. Make your photography a daily practice, and you’re sure to see your skills improve with each exercise.

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