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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Week 13: Unlucky; it's time to do some work! How to do the assignments

If you really want to improve your photography it's time to stop reading and start shooting - and writing! Yes, that's right. In order to learn stuff you have to get practical and go out and practice, practice, practice. And then, in order to absorb what you just did you need to review it and the best way to do that is to write about it - like I do.

So I'm going to give you the same assignments that my students do at college. If you do them, and you write them up on a blog, I guarantee you will learn faster and better. I probably shouldn't say that, someone will try and sue me 'cos they didn't understand that was a figure of speech. But it's true. All my students look at me in horror (or maybe pity?) in week one when I say they have to start a blog and write stuff up each week - and at the end of it they all say that was the best thing possible. Really.

So, the next thing I'm going to do is show you how to structure each assignment. Again, this is not a random thing. This is laid out the way it is because it works. It works because it's exactly the way that professional photographers work an assignment. It's how I work.

1: Visual Research.
Start by looking for ideas and inspiration on-line through websites like and Flickr . The idea is to see what other photographers have achieved with similar subjects or techniques, to inspire ideas of your own. When you have found 2 or 3 examples of images that you like and can use as inspiration, save them to your desktop and upload them to your ‘blog” with annotated notes on why you have chosen these images, and a reference to where the image came from for copyright protection. The idea is to look for an inspirational or "benchmark" image that tackles a similar subject to what you want to shoot, and ask yourself, how can this image help me to understand and achieve my own photo?  Does it use interesting lighting? How? Is it a great composition? Why? Is it an unusual camera angle? How does that help it? You get the idea. It's all about understanding what other photographers are doing to get great shots and learning by from that. And it's about looking for great ideas that you haven't thought about so you expand your own horizons. Pro photographers do this all the time.

2. Ideas & Planning. 
Now list/describe your ideas and what you hope to produce on this assignment and then go onto list/describe your planning. Planning will include thoughts about equipment, location, lighting, weather, models, props and other necessary items that you will need to have in place in order for you to succeed with your ideas. Again, photographers do this - before every assignment most pros are making notes, thinking through the angles and planning the details. You need to be prepared. Great photos don't happen by accident - or at least not often! Mostly they are the result of an inspired idea followed by hard work and planning.

3. Test shots and analysis. 
The point of doing test shots is to try out your ideas and techniques and see if it all works out. By doing this you will learn what works and what you need to change and you will have the opportunity to re-assess your photos and do them again to get a better finished result. The process will allow you to learn quickly from mistakes and through experience. Include your best 3 or 4 test shots on your blog with an analysis of strengths, weaknesses and what you learned or are going to change/do differently. The analysis of strengths and weaknesses is critical for your understanding and experience.

Let's think about that for a moment. We all know that if you do something once you stand an even chance of getting right or doing a good job. If you do it twice you can be pretty confident you'll do a better job. It's obvious that practise makes perfect. So it makes perfect sense to go out and test your initial ideas for a great photo if you can. Then analyse it in the cold light of, well the computer screen. You'll see mistakes, errors of lighting, composition, camera angle, choice of lens or whatever. You'll see parked cars in the background, litter on the ground, twigs sticking out of your models ear! Stuff you just didn't notice through the viewfinder 'cos you were too busy wrestling with apertures and shutter speeds and focus and getting the angle right. But now you have the opportunity to try it again with that new found knowledge. So go to it.  Incidentally, pro shooters don't often get the chance to re-shoot, we have to get it right there and then, that's what we're paid for. Doesn't work out that way sometimes though, and I always test ideas out when I can. Saves a lot of stress on the day.

4. Final photography. 
Now you are ready to undertake the final photography, with all the benefits of research, planning, testing and analysis. Once you have the final images completed, you can upload them into a “Photo Post” on your blog or Flickr page or whatever, with appropriate cations for each image and get some feedback from your network of "critics"! You need as much feedback as you can get. What do people really think of your images? Ask them. Get honest, useful, critical analysis - and not from your mum! She'll love everything you do, however bad it is.

5. Project Evaluation. 
Finally, you will need to write a short project evaluation which will outline what went well with the project overall; what went badly/wrong and what you think you have learned from the assignment as a whole. The project evaluation is intended to encompass the whole process of the assignment including research, ideas, planning, testing and final photography. The idea is for you to sit back and take a long hard look at how did with the project. Did you succeed or fail? How? Why? 

As photographers, we have to be honest and open about our work. We must learn to recognise poor photos from good photos. We should try to learn from our mistakes and repeat our successes. The late, great American landscape/adventure photographer Galen Rowell said that he always tried to figure out what really worked in his photos so he could try to keep doing that, and what really didn't work so he could try not to do that again. That's our aim here.


  1. Nice post! Your photography guidelines help a people to gained a correctness knowledge from you about the Photography course

    Thanks for sharing....

  2. Brilliant photography ! your photography give me good knowledge about the stree photography.