Are there times when you feel challenged to complete an assignment, or even to just go out and take some photographs? Tangential activities take on an unanticipated urgency. I have never really understood what drives this onset of dispassion for the task, but I know I have experienced it many times, and I find it helps to set myself a few challenges and hold myself accountable until each of my personal challenges are completed.
Nature photographer Jim Brandenburg is known for challenging himself. Jim decided to limit his images to only one photograph a day for a 90-day period between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. His project was deeply personal, and the amazing work that developed over the months most certainly speaks for itself.
Here are a couple of ways you can provoke your challenges, and learn a few new techniques in the process:
Join a Photo challenge site – One great site, Photochallenge.org encourages you to increase your photographic skills by committing to a photo challenge. No tutorials, just photographers interacting with each other. The team sets out common guidelines, which are easy to understand and simple to follow. The challenges are specific, such as; capture black and white shots of the human body, or take portraits of people or animals, and then share with others also participating in the challenge. If you are not quite up to engaging at that level, it is still worth visiting the site to view images and to ultimately gain the courage to start interacting online with other photographers.
Commit to taking a tutorial a week – There are many sites that provide free tutorials, such as Iheartfaces as well as subscription based sites like CreativeLive, KelbyOne, and Lynda.com that offer the opportunity to learn a little more about your camera, as well as how to use software applications to successfully edit your images. If you find it easier to learn in a classroom, give yourself the gift of a workshop a year. The secret is to follow through on what you have learned.
Set specific parameters – Make some definitive decisions each time you go out to take images. Consider some of these ideas:
1 – Take only one lens with you. If you do not have fixed lenses, choose a zoom lens focal length and don’t be tempted to change it. This will encourage you to position yourself correctly for each shot. It will also help you to really understand the capabilities of each lens.
2 – Utilize the full frame. Fill your frame with the shot and don’t plan on cropping in post. This will encourage correct orientation, and enable you to make every pixel count.
3 – Decide upon a color or texture and concentrate on images of that color or texture. This makes you evaluate your surroundings and notice many things you may not normally have seen.
4 – While teaching at a photographic conference in Las Vegas, I played around with the color/full frame challenge and spent a couple of hours in the beautiful botanical gardens located in the Bellagio hotel. I started with some fairly simple images and then dug down into the fragility of petals. I found myself down a whole new path involving the combination of shadow and color.
5 – Dedicate a photographic day to simply using your mobile phone, and get creative. There are many apps for editing camera phone images and some of the results are pretty impressive. While boating in Maine, I was able to capture the old Maine Windjammer, the Isaac H. Evans. I challenged myself to use only my mobile phone all day so that I would concentrate on light and composition. It was quite refreshing to have my head up and looking at my subject, rather than staring down the camera viewfinder!
6 – Limit the number of images you take. Imagine you do not have the capability of taking many photographs. Make every image count, and don’t cheat by erasing images!
Sometimes it is important to try to recognize the route of the challenged feeling! Each time I head up to Rockport, Maine to teach drone flight and aerial photography, I find myself having to overcome the inherent fears surrounding the nature of the class. I am not immune to the constant commentary surrounding the use of drones and their various applications. In order to overcome those mental challenges, I remind myself that I teach because I enjoy teaching, and the pleasure I receive from watching students initially grapple with the technology, and then start creating beautiful images is most certainly more contagious than the niggling doubts in my head. I also take time out to go and fly with my teaching partner and hone my skills a little more.
Flying over water takes a little more concentration and awareness of the wind conditions. but the results can be incredibly rewarding. The image above is a single capture, and below, a 5 image panorama created in Lightroom. These were taken using a DJI Phantom 4.
Finally, I have also noticed that as infrared photography becomes more popular, there are many discussion groups debating about what constitutes a good IR image. No matter what my assignment, I carry my converted Canon 1DS with me and find an opportunity to experiment.
It is interesting to compare my results with images taken from the Phantom 4. In the image below, I am actually much closer to the boats in the harbor, but hovering over the water.
I challenge you all to experiment with IR. If you are not yet ready to convert one of your cameras, consider purchasing a filter that somewhat replicates the look and feel, and this will give you a great introduction. I am pretty sure you will soon be hooked. Whatever your end goal, don’t let those perceived or real challenges get in the way and don’t let the negativity of others (or your own doubts) prohibit your creativity.