One of the things that most of us love about photography is that it’s an ongoing journey. Even the most experienced professionals continue to learn new things and improve their skills.
If you feel like you’ve hit a plateau or find yourself in a creative rut, you may need to do something specific to challenge yourself and get moving in the right direction again.
In this article we’ll look at 10 examples of ways that you can challenge yourself. Take a look at the list and pick a few that seem interesting to you.
1. Start a Series or Theme
You may find renewed excitement or energy in your work if you focus on a particular theme or start a series of some sort. There are all kinds of possibilities here, so you can just choose something that works for you.
For example, I live in southern Pennsylvania. I realized late last year that many of the locations within a 3 or 4-hour drive (PA, NY, MD, and WV) that I wanted to visit are waterfalls. I decided to make it a priority to photograph as many of the waterfalls in my region as possible. So far I’ve made it through about half of my list, and the other half should be completed by the end of the year. It’s a fun theme, and I’ve learned and improved by shooting so many different waterfalls. And, of course, I still photograph other things as well, I’ve just made a conscious effort to pursue this theme for a while.
2. Commit to a Year-Long Project
The best way to improve your photography is to get more practice. If you commit to consistently take more photos you are almost certain to see your work improve, especially if you are still relatively new to photography.
There are many different ways you can go about this, but one option is to start a 52-week or 365-day challenge that will put you on track to get the experience that will improve your work.
365project.org is a site where you can upload a new photo every day to document your journey. You can also network with others who are doing the same thing.
Another option is the 52-week challenge created by Dogwood Photography. It includes tasks related to landscape photography as well as other types, like portraits.
3. Try Night Photography
Shooting at night is another way to get unique results. You could capture the landscape, a star-filled sky, the Milky Way, or the moon. The same scene will look completely different at night than it does during the day.
If you don’t have much experience with night photography this is a great way to challenge yourself, because there are a lot of intricacies to shooting at night. See this article for tips on night landscape photography.
4. Return to a Previous Location
If you find yourself not getting out to photograph as often as you would like because you’ve already photographed the interesting places near you, why not pay another visit to the same locations? Returning to the same locations is a great way to improve your skills and your results. The same location can look drastically different from one season to the next, in different weather, or at different times of the day.
Challenge yourself to photograph the location from a different perspective. Don’t settle for the easy views that everyone photographs. Make an effort to find new subjects, new angles, new compositions, or new ways to capture the same scenes.
Become an expert of the locations near you, and you’ll find that your photos will drastically improve.
5. Find a New Location to Shoot
This may seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but it’s really just another option. You can even do both if you like. Finding a new location can be exciting and fun, and it’s a great way to get photographs that are different from the ones you already have.
There are a few different ways to go about finding new locations. One of my favorites is to do a search on Flickr. You could search for “Pennsylvania landscape” or something similar. Instead of searching by using a state you could also use a city/town, county, or region. Many photos on Flickr will include information in the title, description, or tags that indicate where it was shot.
Photography forums are also a great resource. You can search specific popular forums and you may find other people who have already asked for advice on locations in your area. If so, there are probably responses from other users with their suggestions. If not, you can start a new thread and see what locations are suggested by others.
If you’re researching locations in the United States, another great resource is the state guides at Loaded Landscapes. You’ll find a list of the best places to photograph in each state, a map, and brief descriptions.
There are also several apps that have been created for the purpose of helping users to uncover great locations, but I’ve found the resources listed above to be more helpful, as some of these apps just don’t have much data except for in very popular locations.
6. Enter Photo Contests
There are plenty of photography contests that are open for entries. You can submit your best work to these contests. If you win something, that’s great, but even if you don’t win hopefully it challenges you to get the best results possible.
Outdoor Photographer frequently hosts contests that can be entered through their website. Shoot the Frame and PhotoCompetitions.com are also good places to find contests that you can join. There may also be opportunities in your local area. For example, the town where I live has an annual fair with art and photography competitions.
7. Focus on the Details
Rather than tackling common subjects like sunsets, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife, make an effort to focus on the details of the landscape.
Interesting details are all around us, so there are plenty of opportunities. Botanical gardens often provide great opportunities for this type of photography.
8. Try Long Exposures
The same scene can often look much different and more striking with a long exposure. Slow shutter speeds allow moving water to blur, moving lights to create trails, and moving clouds to look dynamic.
Long exposures don’t have to be limited to night or low-light situations. You can use a neutral density filter to take long exposures even during bright daylight conditions. See this guide to long exposure landscape photography if you need some guidance.
9. Learn a New Technique
Another way to challenge yourself is to set out to learn and master a new technique. This could be a photography technique, or something related to post processing your photos. There are a lot of different possibilities here, one example would be to get experience with focus stacking. Master this technique and you can enhance the focus and sharpness in your photos, when applicable.
10. Limit Yourself to One Lens
Putting limits on yourself can sometimes allow you to concentrate your efforts. You could go out to shoot a local park or some other location and only take one lens. For example, you could skip the typical wide angle lens that many landscapes are shot with and instead use only a 50mm lens. Instead of changing your lens you can focus on finding subjects and opportunities to use the lens you have with you. It may help you to look at a familiar location from a different perspective and find new possibilities.
The ideas listed here are just some examples of the many ways you can challenge yourself in your own landscape and nature photography. Feel free to use your imagination and find methods that work well for you.
About the Author
Marc Andre is a landscape photographer from Pennsylvania, and the editor of LoadedLandscapes.com.