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Photo Contest Insider Blog

30 prompts to help you improve your photography in one month

May 10, 2017

Practice is the best way to get better at something – period. It doesn’t matter how much you study up on theory, nothing can compare to getting a camera in your hands and taking some pictures. But sometimes, it can be hard to think of a subject, or find inspiration. Use these 30 prompts for 30 days and you will never run dry of ideas. What’s more, you can improve your photography skills immensely, and all in the space of just one month.

  1. Using bulb

Turn your camera’s shutter speed all the way down until you hit ‘B’. This is bulb mode, in which you get to decide on the exposure time. Stabilise your camera, either on a tripod or a steady surface, and point it somewhere with lots of movement. This could be a road, a river, the sky, or anything else you can think of. Experiment with bulb mode and your f stop setting until you get an interesting and impressive movement shot.

  1. Go towards the light

Experiment with light today. Start in a well-lit area of your home, by a window or door. Set up your camera and subject in the same place, and take several shots: one with natural light; one with natural light and the lights switched on; one with the curtains drawn or light blocked and the lights on; one with your on-camera flash. Compare the results and see how you can manipulate light to create certain effects.

  1. Turn the camera on yourself

Now’s a good time to practice your selfie. It doesn’t have to be your face. Try taking photographs of your own hands or feet from the perspective as if you were looking down at them yourself. It can be tricky without a tripod, but with some contortion, you’ll get there!

  1. Inject some humour

Draw faces on ordinary household objects to create a humorous scene. If you don’t want to deface them permanently, cut out circles from paper and draw the faces on there, before attaching them to your objects with tape. This is all about seeing the scene and composing the frame.

  1. Super-speed

Find something that normally happens faster than the eye can properly process. A good example is a dripping tap. Increase your shutter speed high enough that you can freeze it in action. Keep going until you have the perfect shot – a drop of water frozen in the air with no hint of movement.

  1. Your window

Many of the first photographs ever taken were done from the window of the artist, simply hoping to capture their own view. Take the time today to compose, frame, and photograph the view from one of your own windows. Record your view for posterity!

  1. In the style of…

Choose a famous photographer and take a photograph in their style. First you must study their style as closely as possible – try to find interviews or descriptions of how they work to be sure. Then try it for yourself. If you want to test your success, show it to a photography forum and ask who the other users think you picked.

  1. Black and white

Today, take a photograph of anything you like. Quickly switch your camera into black and white mode, then take it again. Convert the first image to black and white in post-production and compare the two – which has the best tones?

  1. Alien landscape

Get as close as you can to a textured object, such as a carpet or a furry toy. Use the closest lens you have and try to capture the texture as if it was an alien landscape. A macro lens will handle this best, but cope as well as you can with the equipment that you own.

  1. Silhouette

Put something in your window and photograph it in silhouette. Best points for creating a silhouette that looks like a different subject to what you really used. For example, using a toy which creates the impression of a person standing at the window.

  1. Stay up late

Take a photograph of your sunset tonight. The challenge is to make the colours as close to reality as possible. Try to do it in-camera as you will forget the true colours by the time you get to post-production.

  1. Dramatic portrait

Use lighting and your camera settings to create a dramatic portrait. If you don’t have any models hand, use a toy or figurine, or even a pet. Some ideas: create a spotlight with harsh lighting; light from below to create macabre shadows; use on-camera flash for blown-out highlights.

  1. World in a water drop

Find a way to create a world in a drop of water. When you photograph the water, it will contain a reflection of whatever is around it. Choose your set-up carefully so that the water drop tells a story.

  1. Frame inside frame

Take a photograph of a frame. You can put whatever you like in it. Bonus points if it is another, smaller frame. The key is to make your composition as interesting as possible.

  1. Photo tricks

Take two or three photographs today, then splice them together in post-production to create a trick effect. Good example: photograph a doorway, then have someone stand in it and photograph with the exact same framing. Layer the two on top of one another and erase or lower the opacity of the layer with the person, so it looks like they are a ghost.

  1. Centre of attention

Use a shallow depth of field to make an ordinary household object the centre of attention. Bonus points for creating what looks like an interesting scene in the background, if only we could focus on it. Use of bokeh is actively encouraged – string up some lights or shiny material to make this happen.

  1. Panorama

If your camera does not itself have the capacity to create a panorama, take several photographs and stitch them together yourself in post-production. Choose an interesting scene.

  1. Paint with light

Grab a torch and a tripod. Set your camera up, and open up the shutter for a longer time. Use your torch, pointing at the lens, to write a message or draw a symbol. Try again and again until it looks perfect.

  1. In the pan

Find something that moves past you – it could be cars on the road, for example. Practice panning until you get a perfect shot with the subject frozen and the background lost in motion blur. Even if the subject is mundane, the technique here is the point.

  1. Can you guess what it is?

Hunt for mysterious objects, unseen interiors, and hidden depths. Take a series of photographs that look like complete oddities. Test someone to see if they can guess what they are – if they can’t, you’ve done well. If they can, find something even more mysterious to try.

  1. Faking it

Choose a painting that you admire. Recreate it in a photograph. Easy level: use a still life with fruit and vegetables. Hard level: choose a well-known and iconic portrait. Even harder: art which features mythological creatures.

  1. Pin it

Take a series of photographs in the style of a Pinterest step-by-step guide. It can be for anything you like – even an ordinary daily task that everyone knows how to do. Edit them up side by side – you can use a tool like Canva to create an easy mock graphic.

  1. Let’s go outside

Go somewhere with cafes and people walking around. Sit down at the café, put your camera on the table, and use live view (or guesswork) to take secret photographs of passers-by. Try to tell a story about the location with the people that you choose.

  1. Build it up

Look around your town or city for the most interesting buildings. Take some photographs as if you were an architecture photographer. Later on, review your work and compare it to professional architecture photographs. Learn about where you could have improved your shots.

  1. Colour spectrum

Try to take a photograph which includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and black or white. If you can’t get them all in one, try to take one photograph embodying each colour and then put them together as a series.

  1. Hidden messages

Around your home or around your neighbourhood, look for hidden letters and numbers. These are things that align in certain ways, or at certain angles, to look like the symbols we recognise. Bonus points if you can complete a full alphabet or the full numbers 0 to 9.

  1. Reflect on your results

Find a reflective surface: a mirror, water, a piece of metal, or so forth. Take a photograph of a reflection that you can see in it. Try to frame the image so that it looks as if the reflection is the real thing. You can even flip the image around in post-production so that it is the right way up or round. Your aim is also to keep the camera out of the reflection, so using angles will be important here.

  1. Patterns in everything

Use zoom or a macro lens to capture patterns in all kinds of places. Some starting points for you: leaves or flowers; upholstery; wallpaper or paint; flooring; brickwork; clothing. Try to approach the pattern from an abstract point of view, so that the viewer sees the pattern rather than the object it was taken from. This will be especially tricky with patterns that we know and recognise, like bricks.

  1. Be a foodie

Take an artistic photograph of your food. Try to frame it and pay as much attention to detail as if you were a professional food photographer. Clean up crumbs and sauce smears first. Get the lighting just right. Make even an ordinary meal look like haute cuisine through your lens. Take some time to study food packaging or recipe books before you get started, so that you know what to do.

  1. Minimalist

Take a photograph which has as little in it as possible, without being a plain white background. For example: photograph your kitchen table so that the table lies flat across your lens, forming a single line rather than showing the whole of the surface. Find a metal railing against a plain wall and crop your frame down to just one straight bar. Experiment with what you have around you.

After completing these prompts, be sure to look over your work and see what you could improve or which shots were your favourites. Not only will you have learned new techniques and honed your skills, but you will also have new ideas going forwards. Try repeating any of the exercises that you enjoyed the most. You may even find that you have discovered a new professional direction based on which challenges you excelled at the most!

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