If you want to become good at anything you need to practice. Photography is no exception.
With so many skills to get to grips with, practice isn’t just a good idea – it’s a necessity. All the best photographers practice regularly in order to understand their equipment better, fine-tune their skills, and develop their individual style. But how do you go about practicing?
To help you on the road to improvement we’ve gathered a list of our 15 favorite photography training exercises that are guaranteed to make you a better photographer.
This is a simple exercise aimed at improving your skills of observation. All great photographers are masters at noticing things which other people do not.
To begin, put your camera on an automatic setting and take 10 pictures of your surroundings. Look around you and make sure all the photographs you take are different. Once you’re done, take 100 paces and take another 10 photos. After you’ve completed this exercise three or four times you’ll start noticing things that you would have missed before. To crank it up a notch, repeat the exercise with your camera set to manual.
This exercise is intended to give you an insight into the mind of your favorite photographer. Select a few of their best images and try to recreate them as closely as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t get too close, just remember that the photographers you admire didn’t become great by chance – they had to practise too. If you keep trying you’ll pick up new techniques which will go on to influence your own style.
A big mistake of beginner photographers is a failure to fill the frame. In this exercise you should go out for a day and get as close as you can to your subject before you lose focus. Not only will this encourage you to fill the frame more but you will also get to know the capability of your lens. Check out the amazing macro photography for some inspiration.
Moving subjects are particularly tricky to capture so you should practice until you feel comfortable. A great exercise to help is to go to the local park and try to take some great photographs of the squirrels, pigeons, or whatever other wildlife is running around. For an even greater challenge, try capturing close-up photographs of insects.
Digital photography enables you to take hundreds of shots on a single trip and delete them as you go. With the option to delete so easy, it’s often the case that you forget to put as much effort into every shot.
Set yourself a limit, say 30 photographs, and head out for the day. Turn off the preview on your DSLR’s screen and don’t look at any images until you get back. You’ll soon discover the merits of taking your time. Similarly, you could simply go out shooting with a film camera.
Black and white photography requires you to look at the world in a different way. In the absence of color, contrast, textures, and shapes stand out more. Set your camera to monochrome and go for long walk capturing images as you go. You’ll soon discover that the images you thought might work don’t work so well without color and equally vice-versa.
Black and white photography is particularly good on cloudy days when the clouds act as a giant diffuser and the results color photography would be dull.
Flickr is a great place to learn more about how professional photographers set up their cameras. If you look below the image all the settings – fstop, shutter speed, iso, etc. – are usually listed. Get a fellow photography enthusiast friend and make a competition out of guessing the settings for each image before looking. You’ll soon become much better at knowing what the different effects that the different setting provide.
Getting used to shooting in low light situations is a difficult task. You can practice for these situations by going out shooting after dark with the flash turned off. You’ll soon learn to make the most of low light sources and long exposures. It’s fascinating how the camera can see scenes at night differently to the human eye and a great exercise to get to know your settings better. Just remember to take a tripod with you.
Portrait photographers will often get frustrated at their subjects. This is usually due to a lack of understanding of the fact that having a camera pointed at you can be intimidating.
Set your camera up on a tripod and using either a remote shutter release or timer take a number of self-portraits. By putting yourself in the hot-seat you’ll might have a bit more sympathy for your future subjects.
A chess board is a great tool for learning about depth of field and aperture value. Place all the pieces around the board, as if you’re in the middle of a game, and get in close. Experiment at different aperture settings to see what effect this has. First try to get all the pieces in focus and next try to get only the pieces close to the lens in focus against a blurred background.
Pay attention to the lines of the chess board and let them inform your framing by leading your eye to a particular point of interest. After a short while you will find that you’ve learned a lot about aperture and depth of field which you can now apply to your photography beyond the chess board.
On a day when you have little else to do, take a photograph of the same subject every hour. This exercise will give you a good understanding of how the light changes throughout the day. You will soon be raving about the photographers’ precious ‘golden hour‘ shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. Pick a day where there is a clear sky to get the best results.
Go out for the day and shoot only reflections of subjects. Use puddles, car mirrors, glass, polished metal – anything you can find with a reflective surface. Make sure you don’t press the shutter unless your pointing at a reflection. This exercise will help you consider new ways of photographing familiar subjects.
Go out and take 26 photographs of things beginning with each letter of the alphabet. You’ll have to get creative as some letters are far more difficult than others. Take your time over every photograph and take the time to make it look good. Best of luck with X.
A variation of this is to gather a few photography friends and pick a letter at random. The first back with ten photographs of subjects beginning with that letter wins.
Zooms can make photographers lazy. Instead of moving around the subject. Disable your zoom and go out shooting with a fixed lens. This will encourage you to get about your subject and capture it from the best angle.
In your local area, or an area your fond of nearby to you, pretend you have been commissioned by the local authority to capture the area in a way that would appeal to visitors in a new tourism campaign. Trying to capture places in their best light is trickier than you might think. Next, switch it round and take a selection of photographs which show the area to be worse than it actually is. This exercise will help you to see areas you’re familiar with in completely new and contrasting ways.
After you’ve achieved some good results you’ll have a great portfolio which you can use to apply to a photography workshop or course if you want to take your skills even further. Studying on a photography course can be another great way to improve your skills to a professional level. By discussing techniques with professional tutors, meeting other photographers and comparing work and perhaps even completing training exercises with them, you’ll quickly find your skills improving and your confidence increasing.