Of course, there are many more than just one creative exercise that we can do that will help us improve our photography. This one happens to be one of my favorites though.
Creative exercises push us to grow
This is one exercise that I continually practice. I find it fun and challenging. It makes me stop, slow down and really think about what I’m doing.
What is it? Find one subject and continue photographing it in as many different ways as you can think of. It can be more difficult than you think.
The Bean in Chicago and one way to do this exercise
The Bean is one of the most photographed places and objects in Chicago. It’s a must-see spot when visiting Chicago, but, how do you create an image that is different from what you’ve already seen? It’s not easy. Sure, go ahead and get your “tourist shots,” the whole Bean, your reflection in the Bean, the underneath alienesque reflections and the other usual suspects. But then what?
I suggest putting your camera down. Walk around, take in the sights and sounds and feel the energy that is usually buzzing around the Bean. What else can you see? What is something only you would notice, what is your own, unique perspective on the Bean? It’s a challenge to find something different, but it’s fun to see if you can.
This is one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken of the Bean. I titled it “Meet Me at the Bean.” It was one of those “right place, right time” shots, but the thing about right place/right time shots is that you still have to be looking and seeing what is going on, being completely aware of the compositions as the people and yourself move around.
You have to be completely aware of the light. In this shot, it was the light that grabbed me. The sun as it lit up the woman in the shot and created that wonderful long shadow. It also created a contradicting shadows by bouncing off the buildings in the background.
Every time I am at this location, my main goal is to see it and photograph it differently.
Tips for doing this creative exercise
Adding other elements to your shots can add something different and some interest to an otherwise same old, same old shot. Here I used the handrail and found a fall leaf to just add a pop of color to focus on.
There are so many ways to shoot reflections in the Bean. Again, my goal is to find something different. Is this? I’m not sure but the best way to find that ‘shot’ is to keep shooting, move your body, turn the camera at an angle, hold your camera high above your head, or down on the ground. Change your perspective.
Look for the abstract. Make people think and question what they see or ask you how you did that.
One of the easiest ways to get new perspectives and different images is to shoot at night. Not only that but also change your typical view.
Focusing on the details or honing in on smaller parts of a larger scene can help to create unique images. We don’t always need to see the whole scene to know what it is we’re seeing. Zoom in, crop in, only shoot small areas of a larger object. All of these things can bring a new perspective to something that has been photographed and seen many times.
Sometimes perspectives may not be so obvious. Wander around the entire area you are shooting, look for unique vantage points, higher or lower (think upstairs/balconies or downstairs in a park) or wander a little farther out. Find interesting framing opportunities like this one. I keep repeating this but it pays to pay attention. Watch and see what is around you with the plan of photographing a unique image in your head.
Another way to find unique images is to experiment. Don’t be afraid to play with your camera settings. What happens if I do this? Try some long exposures using ND filters, or at night without filters. Also, experiment with post-processing. Again, what happens if? Move sliders, click on presets, change tones and colors. There are infinite possibilities while doing this creative exercise.
Going to a location at different times of day, different times of the year and in different weather is a good way to find new ways to see that location you’re photographing. Spring flowers make for a good subject matter. Using my camera to create the image I wanted in order to keep the Bean out of focus in the background is just one more way of creating a unique image that included the Bean in some way.
Once you’ve done all of this, do it again. And again. And again. Just like a painter continually practices their craft, we as photographers need to do the same. This is also a great exercise to do if you’re feeling a bit stuck in what and how you photograph.
Join me in Chicago
Want to do this creative exercise in person with me, in Chicago while photographing The Bean? I’d love for you to join me this Sept. 1-4, 2022 for the See! Chicago photo tour. We’ll see much more than Millennium Park as we wander the city and work on finding unique perspectives and compositions together.