15 Photography Exercises Guaranteed to Improve Your Skills
Practice makes perfect
It takes practice to produce high-quality photography. As a beginner, it’s vital that you learn some basic photography exercises in order to improve your skills.
The very best photographers practice regularly, in order to better understand their equipment, improve picture composition and develop their individual style.
To help you on your way, here at the IDI Blog we’ve listed our 15 favourite photography exercises that are guaranteed to make you a better photographer…
1. 100 Paces
This is one of those photography exercises aimed at improving your skills of observation.
Place your camera on an automatic setting and take 10 pictures of your surroundings. Make sure that all of the pictures are different.
Next, move 100 paces forward 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.
Advanced tip: To crank it up a notch, repeat the exercise with your camera set to manual.
2. Guess the Settings
Ask a fellow photography enthusiast to play “guess the settings” with you – make a competition out of guessing the settings for each image before looking.
You’ll soon become much better at recognising the effects produced by each different setting.
[Flickr is a great place to learn about the various camera settings. If you look below each image, you’ll often find the settings listed – f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, and so on.]
3. Macro Max
A common mistake made by beginner photographers is a failure to fill the frame.
To rid yourself of this tendency, practice taking shots which involve you getting as close as you can to your subjects without losing focus.
Not only will you produce professional-looking, detailed images, but you’ll also get to know the capability of your lens.
4. Squirrel Hunter
Moving subjects are particularly tricky to capture, so a bit of extra practice might be needed to hone your skills.
A great exercise to help with this is visiting your local park and taking some photographs of squirrels, pigeons, or whatever other wildlife you see running around.
Advanced tip: For an even greater challenge, try capturing some close-up shots of moving insects.
5. Shooting Blind
Digital photography gives you the freedom to take hundreds of shots during a single trip and delete them as you go.
But with the option to delete so readily, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of not focusing properly on each shot.
Set yourself a limit (e.g. 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 home.
You’ll soon discover the merits of taking your time. Alternatively, you could go out shooting with a simple film camera.
6. Black and White
Black and white photography exercises require you to look at the world in a different way. Contrast, textures, and shapes become more prominent in the absence of colour.
Set your camera to monochrome and go for long walk, capturing images as you go.
You’ll soon see that some images are enhanced by their lack of colour, while others might require a more complex palette to work well.
This exercise is intended to give you an insight into the mind of your favourite photographer. Select a few of their best images and try to recreate them as closely as you can.
Don’t worry if they’re not exact copies; this approach will help you to pick up new techniques, which will influence and progress your own style.
And remember, the photographers you admire didn’t become great by chance – they had to practice too.
8. Shot in the Dark
Getting used to low light situations can be challenging.
To practice, go out shooting after dark with your flash turned off. You’ll soon learn to make the most of low light sources and long exposures.
This exercise will help you to get to know your settings better, and it’s fascinating to see how the camera captures night scenes differently to the human eye.
Reminder: Remember to take a tripod with you!
9. Selfie Conscious
As a photographer, it can sometimes be easy to forget what it’s like to be on the other side of the lens, especially when taking portraits.
Why not try setting your camera up on a tripod and taking a number of self-portraits?
For capturing your “selfie”, a remote shutter release or timer will do the trick.
By putting yourself in the hot seat, you’ll have a more rounded understanding of your craft and a little more empathy for your future subjects.
A chess board is a great tool for learning about depth of field and aperture value.
Place the pieces around the board, as if you’re in the middle of a game, and get in close. Experiment with different aperture settings to see what effect they have.
First, try to get all of the pieces in focus, before then trying 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.
With a little experimenting you’ll learn a lot about aperture and depth of field, which you can then take beyond the board and apply to your own photography.
11. On the Hour Every Hour
The next time you have a free day, take a photograph of the same subject every hour.
This exercise will give you a deeper understanding of light and its changing effects throughout the course of a day.
You’ll soon be raving about the photographer’s precious ‘golden hour‘ (shortly after sunrise and just before sunset, when daylight has a reddish glow).
Pro tip: Pick a day when there is a clear sky to get the best results.
12. Upon Reflection
Spend a day shooting only reflections of your subjects.
Use puddles, car mirrors, glass, polished metal – anything you can find with a reflective surface. Be sure not to press the shutter unless you’re pointing at a reflected image.
This exercise will help you consider new ways of photographing familiar subjects, giving them a new angle and adding another dimension of interest.
13. Know your ABCs
Take 26 photographs, each of a subject beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Take your time over every picture to get the best image of your alphabetised subjects.
You’ll have to get creative as some letters are far more difficult than others. Best of luck with X.
A variation of this is to grab a friend and each pick a letter at random. The first one to return with ten photographs of subjects beginning with that letter wins!
14. No Zoom
Zooms can make photographers lazy. They can sometimes be an easy fix for any problems you have in getting around your subject.
But don’t be afraid to get up close and personal. Disable your zoom and go out shooting with a fixed lens.
This will encourage you to engage fully with your subject and capture it from more interesting, intimate angles.
15. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Imagine that you’ve been commissioned by a local authority to capture your surroundings in a way that would appeal to visitors in a new tourism campaign.
You’ll soon find that capturing places in their best light isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.
Next, switch it around and take a selection of photographs which make the area look less appealing than it actually is.
These exercises will help you to see places that you’re familiar with in completely new and contrasting ways.
If you found these photography exercises helpful, and want to expand on them further, check out our free eBook: How to Take Better Pictures – Beginner’s Guide to Professional Photography.