8 photography exercises to train your eye and mind

Artists rarely wait for inspiration; instead, they seek it out using creative exercises.

The artist John Baldessari, for example, advised his students to go to thrift stores, find broken objects, and mend them. In her seminal book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises readers to go on “artist dates,” or weekly solo adventures to places that interest them, from museums to toy shops. Once, Paul Klee famously had his students draw the human circulatory system.

Photographers have their own unconventional prompts that they use to overcome creative blocks and train their eyes. We asked eight experts from different backgrounds, from food and lifestyle photography to advertising and portraiture, to tell us about the exercises they’ve developed to get their creative juices flowing and their minds focused. Read on for their best ideas.

Rebus & his truck © Lisa Godfrey 1. Photograph the same subject every day, week, or month

“During my shelter-in-place, I photographed my dog, Nita, every day,” the Philadelphia-based lifestyle photographer Lisa Godfrey remembers. “I photographed her in multiple locations but also in the same two places to help illustrate the passing of time. There’s a short version on my Instagram @godfreysdogpack. I’m working on a longer version that is a little more dramatic as the landscape starts to green up.

If you don’t have time to shoot every day, make it a weekly or monthly project. “I also have a long-term personal project of photographing dogs in the Adirondacks,” Lisa tells us. “I have been doing this for over ten years, and I produce a yearly dog calendar that I use as a promo piece. It has helped me land a number of projects with national brands over the years. On average, I photograph a dog a month. Sometimes it’s one of my dogs, sometimes not. It gives me a goal and keeps me motivated.”

Talking to Strangers in Brooklyn #5 © Matt Carr 2. Try the street portrait challenge with strangers

“I have a bad habit of expecting all my creative projects to be good enough to go into my portfolio,” the portrait photographer Matt Carr admits. “It’s an unrealistic expectation to put on yourself, and it can block any creativity before it starts. So when I’m feeling that way and not actively working, I just grab a camera and hit the streets to take street portraits using ambient light.

“I find it exciting to find someone intriguing, convince them to do a portrait, and use what I have to make something interesting. It’s slow work, and seven out of ten people say ‘no,’ but those three who agree can make your day.

“For a young photographer, there are some valuable lessons there. First, it helps you understand how to handle rejection, and second, it teaches you how to use any light and background you can find. It can also teach you how to work with people who aren’t used to having their photo taken and how to communicate with people who aren’t in a creative field.”

Image © Judy Doherty 3. Go shopping

“My favourite prompt is to go shopping for farm-to-table produce,” the food and product photographer Judy Doherty tells us. “I love to go to the farmer’s market to see what is in season from the person who grew it.

“From there, I

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