Have you ever heard the term “spoiled for choice”? It means you have too many choices, making it impossible to choose. That’s where we live, as photographers in this digital age. Our creative options are limited only by our own imaginations and that can be, well…paralyzing. Whether you’re an experienced photographer in a creative slump or a beginner who doesn’t know where to begin, limiting your choices can help you learn faster and see more. Next time you head out to shoot, think about ways to limit yourself, rather than about the limitless things you could do! To help you get started, use these creative photography ideas to do at home or just about anywhere your find yourself!
Why Would You Limit Yourself?
Remember how your high school English teacher would tell you to write an essay of any length, about any subject you liked, and hand it in whenever you felt like it? Nope? Me neither. As a teen, you probably thought they were being mean. As a mature adult, I’m sure you can work out their reasoning. Let’s face it, most of us never would have gotten anything done. Especially the creative types…like us.
Photography can be an overwhelming subject if you’re trying to learn everything at once. Even after you’ve developed the basic skills, it’s easy to become distracted by the world full of potential subjects.
Here are just a few ideas to help you place some constraints to boost your creativity.
If you’re having trouble learning the exposure triangle, try using an old, manual film camera. I know, it sounds counterintuitive, right? However, not being able to see results immediately will force you to slow down and really think about your settings. You’ll be unable to change your ISO once you have loaded a roll of film. That will limit you to only two settings you can change: aperture and shutter speed.
Simplifying it down to two, rather than three things to worry about may help you over that hurdle. Your biggest challenge at this point may be finding a place to develop the film, so an alternate plan could be….
Yup. Here’s a way to use your imagination for good, rather than letting it run wild. Save a bunch of money and hassle and pretend to use a film camera. Set yourself a film-like limit on the number of photos you’ll take (12, 24 or 36). Sticking to this number will force you to make sure you have the very best composition and your exposure settings are appropriate.
You won’t be able to “Spray and Pray”, or you’ll use up your shots and be heading home in five minutes. Next, and this is the important part, NO PEEKING at your LCD screen. You can’t look at the photos you took until you get home. If you are prone to cheating, turn your articulating screen around so it’s facing the camera body or tape over it.
My bet, if you try this exercise, is that you’ll come home with the same number of really great photos as you usually do, but with a couple hundred fewer bad or mediocre ones.
My first manual camera was a plastic lens Diana camera that I picked up on Kijiji. I thought it would be excellent to learn on. I was wrong…and right. It did help me learn the exposure triangle in a hurry, but I was never very happy with the results.
Looking back at those photos, it was mostly because my compositions sucked. Probably the biggest thing I came away with was that all the funky, soft focusing plastic lenses, light leaks, and cross processing in the world were not enough on their own to make a boring photo interesting. By the time I got my first DSLR, I had a very basic grasp on the exposure triangle and a glimmer of understanding the importance of composition.
Using a manual lens that doesn’t work with the camera’s autofocus OR metering system is another way to speed your learning. Once again, you will be forced to figure out exposure settings on your own. Frustration will ensue, but you’ll learn. One bonus with this method is that, with a little research, you can pick up some great older lenses for very little money. If you can learn to use them effectively, you’ll have some great upgrades on your kit lens at a fraction of the price of the more modern models.
A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal length and does not “zoom”. They tend to be much less expensive than good quality zoom lenses and to have larger apertures when wide open. This means the lens will let in lots of light, making it ideal for indoors and allowing for fast enough shutter speeds for action photos when outdoors. We had a prime lens weekly theme not too long ago, you can learn a little more about prime lenses in that post.
Large, wide open apertures (like f1.8 or f1.4) will also produce the lovely, dreamy, soft background that portrait photographers prize. In other words, a prime lens is a great investment in your photography. Going out to shoot with a prime lens on your camera is a great way to force yourself to move around a subject and search for the best focal distance and angle, rather than just zooming in from where you stand.
Shooting a variety of subjects with a fixed focal length will teach you how that focal length behaves in terms of compression and distortion. How close can you get to a subject? What is the depth of field like? How does the subject appear in relation to the background? Experiment with less common uses for the focal length. For example, shoot a landscape with a long focal length (like 85mm) or a portrait with a wide angle lens (like 24mm). If you don’t yet own a prime lens, you can always go out with the kit lens that came with your camera and leave it set at one focal length. Just make sure to keep your hands off that zoom!
If you don’t yet own a prime lens, you can always go out with the kit lens that came with your camera and leave it set at one focal length. Just make sure to keep your hands off that zoom!
Use Specialty Lenses
If you have grasped the basics of photography, but find yourself in a creative slump, try a specialty lens. Two manufacturers making some very interesting (and relatively affordable) lenses these days are Lensbaby and Laowa.
Lensbabys are known for their tilting lenses that create a spot or slice of sharp focus with interesting blur effects around the edges. They also have some excellent, non-tilting lenses, like their extreme Fisheye, the soft-focusing Velvet 56 and the swirly blur producing Twist 60.
Laowa makes a 2:1 macro lens, a 15mm wide angle Macro (used in the photo above) and a zero distortion 12mm lens. Using lenses like these will challenge you to look at the world differently. You may not come away with a lot of shots for your portfolio, but you will find yourself creatively refreshed.
Other Creative Photography Ideas To Do At Home
It may seem like I’m suggesting you need to invest in new equipment to practice this creativity boosting technique. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are so many ways to limit yourself and focus your creativity. In fact, you don’t need any special equipment at all. Try out any of these creative photography ideas to do at home without having to invest in anything more than your time.
Use A Less Sophisticated Camera
One way you could participate is to limit yourself to a more basic camera, like your cell phone. Many photographers have found themselves creatively inspired by the limitations of their mobile devices. Some have elected to replace their bulky DSLR’s all together, in favor of the “camera in their pocket”. I envy them whenever I’m carrying 30 lbs of gear on a hike!
Go out and focus on shooting one subject. It can be anything that interests you, flowers, dogs, cars. The “what” doesn’t matter as much as narrowing your focus does. You will quickly grow bored with shooting the same subject in the same way. That’s when you will begin to look for new angles and seek more abstract compositions. Dig even deeper and try a series where you imply the subject, without ever showing the whole object. In the car example, you might show a close up of a hood ornament, the treads of a tire, a landscape in the rear view mirror. The viewer would immediately recognize each of those as “car”. This would be an awesome idea for a separate, specialized PhotoBlog feed and a 365 project!
Spend an afternoon photographing only subjects of a predetermined color. For example, things that are yellow. You could turn this idea into a weekly project, that would make another great Instagram theme…
One Small Area
I once read the idea that there is at least one great composition within 10 meters (about 30 feet) of wherever you’re sitting right now. I love that idea. Next time you are bored and feel like you never do anything exciting enough to photograph, challenge yourself to find 10 photo compositions in your backyard, or your block, or your local park, or your living room.
All of these suggestions are meant to help remove the distraction of endless possibilities. By limiting your options, you can break vast chunks of learning into more digestible, bite-sized pieces. You will also force yourself to think more creatively. It’s easy to get a great landscape photo on vacation in Iceland. It’s another matter entirely to get a great landscape shot in your local park, but you’ll become a much better photographer for trying!
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