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The quickest way to get better at anything is focused practice. While simply going out and taking photographs will help, drills and exercises designed to improve particular aspects of your photography will result in much faster improvements.

The exercises here are broken down into sections:

I cannot take credit for the majority of these – most of them are from various places around the web.

Exercises for technical mastery

  1. Aperture – use aperture priority and take a photo of one subject at every stop. Examine them after to find how they vary.
  2. Shutter speed – use shutter priority and take a photo of one subject at every stop. Examine them after to find where shake appears. (Try with and without stabilization if you have it)
  3. ISO – take a pic of one subject at each ISO. Examine them to find out how noise varies.
  4. Turn on histogram (lower end cameras may only show it after a picture has been taken)
  5. Shoot in manual (aperture, shutter, and ISO) for a day. Advanced: shoot in manual for a week.
  6. Metering – find and use all the metering settings available in your camera
  7. Zoom – photograph a subject with a zoom lens at different distances and zoom.
  8. Focus – shoot in manual focus for a day.
  9. “Darkroom” photography – go into a dark room and change all the settings (aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, metering, etc.) on your camera from memory – bonus points if you can do it without removing your eye from the viewfinder.
  10. Use a polarizing filter
  11. Use a ND filter
  12. Use a graduated filter

Basic exercises (to be done often)

These exercises are designed to improve your creative vision: the elusive “photographer’s eye”.

  1. Use the rule of thirds.
  2. Break the rule of thirds (i.e. put objects centrally, or at the very edges of the picture).
  3. Pick an object and take 100 unique photos of it – forces you to think creatively to keep getting different shots.
  4. Take a photo of the exact same object and scene every 24 hours to see how it changes
  5. Take 100 pictures of objects that have a common characteristic (i.e. all buildings, all are less than 1 inch wide, all are the same colour, start with the same letter, etc.)
  6. Go for a walk, photographing something that begins with every letter of the alphabet.
  7. Go for a walk, looking for anything with great light.
  8. Walk, take a photo every 100 steps.
  9. Walk 100 paces and take 20 pictures from that spot.
  10. Take 100 photos in which colour is the main subject.
  11. Turn camera to black-and-white mode and shoot in it for a day (forces you to think about composition and subject)
  12. No crop – shoot for a day and don’t allow cropping of any of the pictures in post-processing (i.e. frame the picture correctly in camera). Print out the top 10 pictures.
  13. Use a prime lens (or a single focal length – put a fat rubber band over the zoom).
  14. Use a lens that you never use for a day.
  15. Take 100 pictures from a perspective that you wouldn’t normally think to use (lying down, under water, upside down, cropped to 1×6, etc.).
  16. Shoot from a low perspective.
  17. Play with depth of field (i.e. aperture) – take multiple shots of the same subjects for comparison.
  18. Join a critique group
  19. Join a weekly/monthly/unscheduled challenge group

Projects

These projects will also force you to be more creative, but they are a little more involved than the basic drills, usually because they involve more equipment, props, and/or time.

Photographic techniques

  1. Zoom while shooting
  2. Pan with a moving object
  3. Slow shutter speed
  4. Manual long exposures
  5. Macro photography
  6. Super-macro photography

Processing

  1.  Edit a Raw photo
  2. Make a panorama
  3. Create a HDR image
  4. Create a miniature world photo
  5. Focus stack a macro shot
  6. Add textures
  7. Time-lapse photography

Subjects

  1. You
  2. Moving water
  3. Water drops
  4. During/after rain
  5. Lightning
  6. Faces in unusual places
  7. Wildlife
  8. Wildlife with long exposures
  9. Baby animals (best done in spring)
  10. Go for a walk, take a stuffed animal, and photograph it enjoying the area.
  11. Volunteer to shoot an event
  12. Go to a sports event
  13. Downtown fashions
  14. Geocaching locations
  15. Urban exploration: explore an out-of-the-way or dilapidated building
  16. Your pet
  17. Astrophotography
  18. Moon shots
  19. Textures
  20. Go to a park and take unique photos based on where you are sitting (e.g on a swing)
  21. Shoot at night
  22. Concert in the park

Mini-projects

  1. Make a softbox/diffused light source
  2. Make a reflector
  3. Use a polarizing filter
  4. Use a ND filter
  5. Use a graduated filter
  6. Shoot a magazine cover shot
  7. Experiment with portrait lighting on toy figures
  8. Shoot conventionally unphotogenic subjects (e.g. ugly animals or people, trash, etc.)
  9. Shoot a light subject on a totally dark background
  10. Shoot a dark subject on a totally light background (without blowing highlights)
  11. Still life with personality
  12. Food fight
  13. Sparkling background bokeh
  14. Hazy and ethereal shots with plastic wrap
  15. Reflections in water on an old mirror
  16. Abstract ink shots
  17. Abstract oil on water
  18. Smoke
  19. Photograph a “planet”
  20. Shoot through a lens or prism
  21. Create cross polarized colours
  22. Capture a splash
  23. Light trails
  24. Go to a favourite locale but with a step ladder to shoot higher
  25. Fairy tales
  26. Reproduce a photo that you like

Long-term projects

  1. One camera, one lens, one year (digital and film versions)
  2. Photo-a-day, for a:
    1. Week
    2. Month
    3. Year
    4. Rest of your life
  3. 50/50 project: shoot through a 50mm prime lens for 50 days
  4. Photograph one meal a day for a month

 Themes

  1. Leading lines
  2. Unusual angles
  3. Frames and borders
  4. Abstract patterns
  5. Subject off center
  6. Out of focus
  7. Something old
  8. Something new
  9. Sunrise
  10. The middle of the day
  11. Sunset
  12. Night
  13. Shadows
  14. Reflections
    1. Glass, windows, mirrors
    2. Puddles
    3. Sunglasses
  15. Remarkable light
  16. Fireworks
  17. Fire
  18. Water
  19. Weather
    1. Storm
    2. Dreary weather
    3. Rain
    4. Cold
    5. Clouds
  20. Something that embodies the season
  21. Insects
  22. Flowers
  23. Stones
  24. Architecture
  25. Rooms
  26. Doors
  27. Streets
  28. Film noir (link)
  29. Trash & discarded things
  30. Graffiti
  31. Letters and numbers
  32. Signs
  33. Urban underground
  34. Traffic (day)
  35. Traffic (night)
  36. Working hard
  37. Homelessness
  38. Social issues
  39. Shoot a mood
    1. Happy
    2. Sad
    3. Lonely
  40. Food
  41. People eating
  42. Farmer’s markets

 Street Photography Specific

  1. Take a street photography walk through an interesting part of town
  2. Street portraits
  3. 100 strangers project

Landscape Specific

  1. One landscape through the seasons
  2. Country scenes
  3. Coastal landscape at first light
  4. Quiet landscapes
  5. Seascapes at twilight
  6. Cityscapes at dusk

People/portrait Specific

  1. Self portraits
  2. Spend time with a friend shooting them in different ways
  3. Do a photoshoot with a friend or model
  4. Practice posing models (or a friend)
  5. A day in the life of …
  6. Shoot documentary style portraits of people at work
  7. Portraits without faces
  8. Surreal portrait
  9. Twilight portait
  10. Children
  11. Couples
  12. Old people

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