Photography Exercises Thread


TPF Noob!
Mar 7, 2012
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Hey All!

This thread is intended as a collaborative posting of exercises for the beginner (to novice; to, perhaps, even advanced) photographer to increase their skill, or understanding.

There is no specific area I was intending to target so please feel free to post exercises that will help with composition, elements of design, processing, anything!

I'll start it off with a few I picked up from books and sites along the way. I'll give credit where I can and everyone else should as well (when necessary)

Exercise: Knowing what your lenses see (Bryan Peterson; Learning to See Creatively (book))

Set your camera's focal length to a specific number (ie. 35mm, 28mm, 100mm...) and DON'T change it during this entire exercise.
Take a picture of a subject (preferably something that isn't going to move during the course of the exercise) so that the subject is in the "middle" of the frame with a lot of empty space all around.

Keeping the camera at your eye begin walking towards the subject. Every five paces take another exposure while keeping the subject in focus. Keep getting closer until your camera can no longer get the subject in focus.

The purpose of this is to understand the "vision" of your camera, ie. what your camera "sees" from different angles and distances. You'll notice that the original image contains the subject as well as a lot of other unnecessary things and as you get closer the subject will become more focal. As you get closer you may also notice that important parts of the image are cut out. This is the intended result. To understand at what distance that specific focal length is useful for capturing what kind/ size/ shape of subject.

The exercise should then be repeated on your knees (starting at the same point) and then on your belly.

Once you take the last picture on your belly, roll over onto your back in that position and take on last shot looking UP at your subject.

The entire exercise should be repeated with other focal lengths and lens sizes!

Bryan recommends "maintaining a regimen of this exercise once a week for three months" which will result in "you having a vision that is shared by fewer than 10 percent of all photographers".

He explains that the end result of this is: the ability to "stand at the edge of a meadow or lake and scan the entire scene, picking out a host of compositions even before you place the camera to your eye". This is because you now have the "vision" of your lenses in your minds eye. Meaning you can see what your camera would see, before actually looking through it!

(More in a minute)
Exercise: Mastering the Basic Principles of Design (Bryan Peterson; Learning to See Creatively (book))

Gather up about 80 of your images without people in them. (if you can't do that then find 80 that ALL have people)

Take a sheet of blank paper and write the 6 elements of design across the top of 6 columns (Line, Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, and Colour).

Now carefully go through each of your pictures and put a check under each column that you feel is represented WELL in each image.

Peterson says that more than likely we will all have one or two columns that we seem to slightly favor. This is due to our personal preferences when it comes to design.

The goal of the exercise though isn't to find the columns you excel in; it is to discover those that you don't focus on enough!

After completing the list you should find the columns with the least checkmarks and go out on a "photo journey" and focus your attention on taking as many pictures as possible that incorporate THAT element. So if you are lacking "texture" go out and take as many pictures as you can that focus solely on texture!

This will help to make your mind see ALL of the elements when taking pictures; not just those that you favor!

after a few months of this, do the original exercise again and your chart should be more evenly spread out!

After time you should be able to evenly incorporate ALL the elements of design into ALL of your images!
Good thread idea Oscar! One that I found very useful was "Find the blown highlights in a scene (Made MUCH easier with advent of digital photography). Go outside, and take a picture, doesn't matter when, where or what. DON'T LOOK AT THE IMAGE! Now, spend 2-3 minutes looking carefully at the scene and spotting anything you think might be a highlight. Once you've done that, bring up the image on your rear LCD with 'Highlight preview' or whatever your camera calls it (The 'blinkies') and compare what the camera found as blown highlights with what you thought were blown highlights.

It's often surprising where blown areas can be found; the edges of leaves, wet surfaces, reflections, etc. It doesn't take long at all and you will develop a good eye for where they are in an image. They're not always bad, but if you know where they are, you can employ them to advantage or recompose to eliminate them as desired.
Thanks Tirediron!

Exercise: The Quality of Light (Bryan Peterson; Learning to See Creatively (book))

Go out to a location (close to home preferably) and take a composition of the sunset while facing East. Take the same composition one hour later, two hours later, at Noon, two hours before sunset, one hour before sunset, and at sunset. (ALL facing East.)

Do the same facing South (or North)

Put the photos on your computer (or light table if you are using film) and examine them all.

Regardless of the subject matter of the photos you should really be able to see the difference that shooting at different times of days will make on the mood, composition, and overall feeling of your photos. This is because regardless of the fact that the photos are of the same thing, you will notice they invoke different emotions and appear drastically different!
Great idea Oscar. Here's one that I put to a group of newbies not so long ago. It relates to understanding and knowing the difference between portrait and landscape modes and which one might be better in any given situation.

Take a drive in the country (assuming you are close enough to "the country" to go for a drive) and take about a dozen sets of "landscape" pictures. If you live by the ocean try seascapes, or if you are in a big city, try cityscapes - doesn't really matter, although scenics with a great amount of distance in them, like landscapes, are probably best. Take two pictures for each set, one in portrait orientation and the other with your camera in landscape orientation. Use a small aperture, such f16 or f22, a low ISO such as 100 or 200 and make sure everything in the distance is in focus and remember to shoot in raw. After you have returned to your computer, pull up each image in your software and compare the two orientations of the same shot and determine which you like best and why. Often proves an eye-opener for some and forces people to think outside the horizontal rectangle.

Relatively simple exercise, but I find that folks are often surprised by the differences that they see. One variation is to walk around a city and take shots of buildings - office buildings, churches, statues, etc. in both modes and compare the two orientations.

My 0.02¢ FWIW.


learning that a horizontal orientation can dramatically change the mood of a picture took me an embaressing length of time; i still probably struggle with that somehow...
Thanks Western! That is definitely a good exercise! Its amazing how much space "opens up" when you turn the camera to portrait, it adds an incredible amount of height to your photos and enables you to add different elements you wouldn't have had before!

Keep them coming everyone! Even if it is just something simple that you do, post it here! If it helps someone become a better photographer, even just a little bit, then it is more than welcome!
Thanks SCraig, that is an excellent exercise as well! Finally have a day off work tomorrow, so I'm going to be taking a lot of pictures and trying out all of these exercises!

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