Basic Photography: A Set of Exercises
By Skip Schiel
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2003 and earlier
1. Let your eye be drawn by special forms of lightshadows, reflections, through translucent materials, doubling, hazy, etc. And photograph the light, bracketing your exposures (bracketing means making a series of exposuresat the light setting suggested by your light meter, plus one full stop or half stop on either side).
2. Create with light, using some form of artificial light, such as strobe (flash), photoflood, high intensity incandescent light, or some combination. Or try "painting with light," i.e., in total darkness, using time exposure, spread light from a flashlight or some other portable source.
3. Combine natural and strobe light "fill-in flash." Best if you take notes and devise a set of experiments for different combinations of natural and flash light.
4. Use filters. For both color and black and white film, try a polarizer and split neutral density filter. For black and white only experiment with at least a, red filter. Keeping notes about original colors and filters used will help later make comparisons. Photograph sky, human skin, foliage, colored signs, rocks, and colored clothing, at minimum.
5. Choose one subject and photograph it with a variety of frames, angles, distances between camera and subject, height of camera, tilt of camera, etc. Work the idea thoroughly but only by changing frame, nothing else.
6. Choose one frame, dont change it, make a series of exposures, so the only thing changing is the subject or light. (Examples: a crowd, runners, the landscape during waning or waxing sun)
7. Show action, by panning, using a slow shutter speed, photographing something moving rapidly, or in some other way, imply motion.
8. Exploit stillness, the unarguable stoppage of time that photography seems to invariably do. Try a still life, a serene scene, a grove that appears to have been hidden for millennia, or something like a rock that suggests timelessness.
9. Make a series of photographs very close to the subject. You might try close-up devices, such as a macro lens, extension tubes, close-up lens, or bellows. Explore a startlingly new world.
10. Suggest intimacy, either through physical closeness to what you photograph, or in the expression of the thing being photographed (person, animal, tree), or in the quality of light.
The thing itself
11. Show something as accurately as you can, where verisimilitude predominates. Make a true rendering. This could be a building, or interior, or window view, something you know well and now are truthfully portraying. Or the thing shown might be an event.
12. Show something as metaphor, the thing standing for something else, such as a tree for the tree of life, or the moon as the mother of creation, or wrinkled skin as aging, or clouds for emotions. The image is the equivalent of something that might not be photographable.
13. Photograph something animate: faces of another and of self, bodies (other than faces), pets and other animals, anything said to be "alive."
14. Make a photographic still life, where little or nothing is "alive." See if you can bring an animate or sentient feeling to the composition.
Comparisons between black and white and color
15. Add color to a B&W photo by painting. Try magic marker, food dye, or some other means you can concoct. Try at least one image that is only partially color, and one that is
only one color.
16. Subtract color from a color photograph by reproducing it via a photocopy machine ("Xerox") or scanning in black and white. Indeed, try scanning a photograph and outputting via printer to compare digital with the older analog form of photography.
Many of these exercises are based on notions from John Szarkowski, former Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. His book, The Photographers Eye, published in 1966, in particular. To him and his observations, I am indebted.
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