|It’s easy to get distracted by an interesting subject and miss what’s going on with the light. Workout #1 will help you focus your attention on the qualities of the light in your scene.|
How do you become a better photographer? You can read articles in magazines like PCPhoto, study books and attend workshops. All of these pursuits will help you learn new and improved techniques for photography. Of course, the best thing that you can do is take pictures—lots of pictures! Yet, you could just keep taking the same old pictures as before, not improving your photography. One way to stretch as a photographer is to do self-assignments.
I’ll give you a series of exercises that you can start doing immediately, and I guarantee they’ll stretch you and your thought process as a photographer. One of the great things about digital photography is that there’s no cost to take pictures as there is with film. Therefore, you can try these exercises without worrying about wasting precious frames. Just go out and have fun exploring the possibilities of your camera and lenses.
Let me reemphasize that—have fun! These exercises can be a way to jump-start learning about new and better ways of taking pictures, but don’t let it get too serious. Keep it light with your gear, too! Don’t burden yourself with anything more than the recommended equipment for each exercise.
Workout 1: Light Awareness
Light is critical to photography. Without light, you can’t take pictures. One of the keys to becoming a better photographer is to “see” the light. Often, a photographer sees the subject, but not the light. Certainly, the subject is important, but if the subject overpowers your mind as you’re taking the picture, you might not see the light. The camera only sees the light and emphasizes that light, even if it’s not flattering for the subject. This exercise will help you learn to find interesting light.
Exercise: See The Light
What You Need: A camera and a zoom lens, preferably one that goes from wide to at least moderate telephoto. Do this exercise in any convenient setting, but be there at a time of day when the light is low.
What To Do: Get out and photograph light. Don’t look for a subject. Don’t look for interesting scenes. Find interesting light. Make a series of photographs, at least 20 to 30, where every picture is about the light. Look for spots of light, colored light, edge light, light contrasting with shadow, shadows (shadows are as much a part of light as the light itself)—anything that shows remarkable light.
Review: Look at the light and what it does in your photographs. See how the light can be interesting in and of itself. Look at how light and shadow are interacting throughout the image. Notice how your eye moves around the photograph, looking at the light and contrast.