Have you ever wondered what really sets some photographers apart from the rest? How do some people produce captivating images, time and again, seemingly with no effort at all? More importantly, how can you become one of those photographers?
You may be surprised to learn that the real secret can be described with one word: fundamentals. In fact, we can break it down like this: While you're having "fun" creating photos, be sure "damental" process is working. (See what I did there?)
Images that demand attention don't happen accidentally. Making them happen consistently is a matter of training your eye, mind and hands until the basics are second nature. Fortunately, if you're already an avid photographer, all you need to do is have a little fun to practice skills like composition, depth of field, blurring, stop motion and more.
(Success Tip:Take better photos with this simple deck of cards)
I'm going to lay out some simple exercises that will help you hone your technical skills without suppressing your creativity. If you're using your camera's automatic modes, some of these will push you out of your comfort zone and that's the purpose. Ready to level up? Here we go!
1. Do a few lines. Shoot 10 subjects with lines to define composition. Use converging lines of roads, railroad tracks, bridges, etc. Find patterns of lines in shadows, on household items or in nature. While composing the pictures, try to visualize the lines and use them to create depth and lead the eye to the subject of the photo.
2. Find two things. Shoot 10 images with only 2 things in the photo. Some suitable examples would be sea and sky, rocks and water, or mountains and clouds. Use the two objects to create as much depth as possible.
3. Find some bad lighting. Find or create 10 backlit situations, such as a person or object in front of a window or a tree in front of a sunset. Use your camera's exposure compensation or flash to properly light the subject. (It's alright to use the flash in auto mode.)
4. Stop it! Find yourself a setting with moving subjects, for instance, a duck pond. Set your camera to shutter priority mode and select a fairly high ISO setting. Hand-hold the camera or mount it on a pan head. Use autofocus if you have it. Practice following subjects and try to avoid blurring in 10 photos. (As your results improve, try lowering the ISO setting.
5. Find the depth. Find a few subjects with lots of depth, such as a rock on a football field. Mount your camera on a tripod, select aperture priority mode and focus on the subject. Starting with the widest (lowest) aperture setting, take one photo at a time and work your way to the narrowest setting. Comparing the results will give you a feel for the best setting for a given situation. You can also try this with a macro subject.
6. Shoot the moon. Here's one of the best subjects for really learning how to use your camera. Use the longest lens you have available. Put the camera in manual. Turn off the autofocus. Use a solid tripod and a shutter release, remote, or self-timer. Using live LCD view or the viewfinder, locate and center the moon. Focus carefully, zooming the view if you can. Set your aperture around f8 to fll, and start with a shutter speed of 1/100. Experiment with exposure settings until you achieve the best results. Try shooting different phases.
Now, obviously, not all of these will be easy for everyone and depending on your gear, some of them may not be possible. By doing those that you can on a regular basis, though, you'll soon find the results of your exercises improving. Better yet, you'll notice a marked improvement in all your photos, because you're developing a new mindset. Of course, each of the images you create in an exercise is a potential stock photo, too!
Finally, here's my disclaimer: These exercises will not make you a successful photographer. In fact, you'll need to have an understanding of the fundamentals you're practicing in order to get the most from them. What these exercises will do is help you develop the skills you need to create stronger images.
UPDATE: If you found this article useful, be sure to check out "The Zen of Professional Photography Revisited" for 6 MORE exercises! It's right HERE.
Article by Dana Crandell