So, what did you photograph in the last seven days? What, you didn’t shoot anything in the previous week? Nothing? Too many times, I hear: “there is nothing interesting to photograph” or “I’ve already photographed everything around me.” Well, to me, that means you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Years ago, when I started to get the drive to improve my photography, and I wasn’t shooting professionally yet, I too would fall into the trap that there is nothing interesting in my area to shoot. My interest always has been action sports, such as motocross, surfing, cycling, and downhill mountain biking, to name a few subjects. Well, I live in Connecticut, which isn’t known as the hotbed of these types of subjects. You want quaint New England towns with white churches and town squares? Well, this is the place for you, as we are swimming in those subjects, but that wasn’t the photography I wanted to shoot. Yes, there is motocross, cycling, and even surfing near where I live, or so I found out. But the athletes aren’t the high-level athletes I wanted to shoot, and the surfing didn’t look like the surf photos I’ve seen from California. So, I kept using the excuse, yes, excuse, that it just wasn’t worth spending my time shooting amateurs at non-interesting locations. So, my skills never got better.
That was until a non-photographer friend who was tired of hearing me complain gave me one of the best pieces of photography advice I’ve ever received. She said: “Why don’t you simply pretend that the thing you want to photograph is a big event, and you have the assignment to cover the event?” That bit of advice landed on me like a ton of bricks. Later that day, I started to think about that, and I decided that weekend, I was going to go to the local motocross track.
So, what subject or type of photography interests you? Write those down right now, everything that you can think of to describe the subject or type of photography. Do you like landscape photography? Then, perhaps write down: lakes, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, hiking trails, scenic overlooks. Just write down anything that might come to mind.
For me, I wrote down motocross, and I then started searching the internet for motocross tracks or races near me. I found a track about 45 minutes away from where people pay for the day to ride the track. There are no races at this facility, but that didn’t matter. I called the track and asked if I would be permitted to shoot there, and the lady said I could shoot all day. I decided that weekend, I would head out early to the track and treat it as if I was on an assignment. Sure, the riders weren’t the best, and the track lacked the feel of a professional race track. That didn’t matter, because I pushed myself to get the best photos I could for that location and those riders. Years later, now that I’ve been photographing professional motocross racing for some time, I realize that photographing amateurs is harder than photographing professionals. Those early days made me work harder to get interesting images. I’ve used this same approach with every sport I’ve shot and probably will for every future subject matter that I want to photograph.
So, that brings me back to my question of what did you photograph in the last seven days? For me, it was my daughter’s equestrian event. As a proud father, I was going to be there all day to see my daughter ride. Since there are so many riders, there is a lot of time between my daughter’s riding times. So, I did the old self-assignment approach. I worked the event as if I was covering it for a publication. I scouted the stadium course and the cross country course early in the morning, looking for interesting backgrounds and where the sun would be coming from later in the day. I then photographed the paddock as the riders and horses were preparing for the day. This competition is one of their more relaxed and fun events of the year, and they always have a theme, so riders and yes, even the horses dress up to support the theme. This year was Disney movies, so of course, if this is an assignment, I need to capture that aspect too. Do I plan on photographing equestrian events in the future? I don’t know, but I do know that I had a good time photographing. I worked on photography skills that can help me in my professional career, and I was able to provide some beautiful images to the other riders on my daughter’s team.
Now that I have described how this approach has benefited me in my photography career, how can it help you? Again, you need to take that first step and stop thinking there is nothing near you to photograph. In fact, the less you have to photograph, the better this approach is, as it will make you work harder for those exciting images. It will not happen with just doing this one time. Make that list of subjects and descriptions of what you like to photograph, and then use Google to find locations or events that are near you that might be similar to what you want to photograph. Want to photograph bands? Well, most festivals, be it an arts festival or a food festival, will have entertainment and most likely a band. Photograph that as if you are a reporter covering a big concert. Want to photograph waterfalls in Iceland? Find a local park that has a waterfall. Scout the location for the best time of the day to shoot there. Go back and photograph it in different weather conditions. Want to shoot fashion? Ask a few friends to work with you as if it is an assignment, then buy them some pizza afterward.
Here are a couple of additional benefits you might get from this assignment approach:
- Thinking ahead and deciding what type of gear you will need and instead of always bringing everything.
- Ensuring your gear is ready to go when you are.
- Training yourself to be on time or better yet, early.
- Not giving up when the first few images are disappointing. You wouldn’t go back to an editor and say: “It was too hard, so I gave up.”
- Realizing that your photography skills will improve each time you use this approach.
If you are photographing an event, you will develop skills focused on interacting with event organizers. Any professional photographer will tell you these skills are just as crucial as any photography skills. I would argue that they are even more critical.
So, stop the excuse that there is nothing to photograph near you, do your research to find something, and then, treat it like it is the most important assignment you have that week.