Your Next Challenge

In Creativity and Inspiration, The Craft, The Life Creative by David86 Comments


For almost six months since mid-February, I didn’t pick up my camera. Not once. Yes, I needed a break. No, I don’t think to be a “real photographer” you need to pick up the camera every day. I don’t think we owe the camera any obligation at all; it’s there for us, not the other way around.

But a couple of weeks ago, I felt the spark again. I recognized that I was starting to feel like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, the way he was at the beginning with his joints all rusted up, asking for oil.

But what to photograph? I started a portrait project last year called The Treasury, a casual series of monochrome images of the people who make my life richer. But in the wake of the pandemic and closing our home to anyone who’s not my mother (and even she had to wait a while), that project went on hold. I deliberated about this, and here’s what I discovered: I was in a rut. And I missed my camera.

When I considered my next project, I kept coming back to things I was good at. Things I’ve done before. Safe things. And what I have learned is that those things don’t often teach me something new. They don’t challenge me.
Challenge is everything to me. But not just me: you, too. We need challenge if we’re to escape or avoid boredom. We need challenge if we hope to get into creative flow. And we need it to learn and keep the edges of our craft sharp, which in turn helps us understand new possibilities, and that also helps our vision move forward.

So I decided to try my hand at self-portraits, and here’s what I learned: I had no idea how to do self-portraits. I didn’t know how to tether my camera to my laptop. But 10 minutes with Google and a few moments of self-inflicted rage directed at the technology (Oh, you mean the camera has to be ON? Well why the heck didn’t you say so!) and I figured it out. I didn’t know that my Nikon had multiple options for the self-timer, either. Did you know you can set many DSLRs (and likely mirrorless cameras) to take a certain number of frames with a certain amount of time between those frames? I had no idea. Why? Nothing I’ve done before—none of my usual work—demanded I learn this.

The moment I’m done writing this to you, I’m heading back into my studio to turn the lights on, fire up the Nikon and do a few more portraits (see below), or try to. I’m still in the learning stage—the experimental stage where most of what I make is junk. But once in a while, I do something fun that results in an unexpected image, and I get the spark back. The spark that I only get when I learn a new thing and take some creative risks. Do I have any idea where it’s going? None. But perhaps in a year or so I’ll look back and see that my playful approach to learning and imposing some new challenges resulted in a body of work I’m proud of. Or maybe I’ll just be really glad I know how to tether my camera or use the self-timer with more control. Maybe what I’ll learn is that I’m lousy at self-portraits. I don’t know.

But I do know that challenge is what pulls us forward. I also know that there is almost nothing we can’t learn, or learn from.

These are some of the images I made after writing this article. It’s a start, right? Who knows what I’ll learn and discover in the coming months as I pursue this. I made these with one strobe, a cheap 18″ softbox, and a black paper backdrop. I really like the self-timer because I don’t exactly know when it’s going to fire so I’m more natural. Then it does nine frames, giving me plenty of time to relax.

I’ve had a number of emails and discussions on social media lately, all of them saying similar things: I don’t know what to do, or, I don’t know what to photograph, now that I can’t do the projects I used to find so much joy in.

Pick a challenge. Find something you don’t know and learn it.

I didn’t know how to do self-portraits, but I knew I could figure it out. So can you. I spent a few minutes on some YouTube videos I found after a simple search and then just started playing.

Perhaps for you, it’s macro photography that gives you a chance to learn to use indoor lighting and get creative with discovering the hidden worlds of the flowers in your garden. Or maybe it’s still life photographs. Maybe it’s time you learned to use that flash to freeze the wings of those hummingbirds at the back window.

I don’t know what your challenge will be, but don’t make the point of it to be really good right off the bat. It’s not. Neither is the point to make great photographs. The point is to learn. To play. To laugh a little when you just can’t get it right and to be creative in solving that problem. Perfectionism has no place here. In fact, the uglier it all is, the better. Because that means you’ve got more to learn, and the challenge will be greater. Where the challenge is greater, so too is the possibility of real creativity and real growth.

Not sure where to begin?

Here’s a list of some possible challenges that might get you playing with new directions, and if these aren’t your cup of tea, then perhaps they’ll give you ideas for challenges that are.

  • Self-portraits. Already know how to do this? Add a constraint. Make them all with one strobe. Use a slow shutter and rear-curtain sync and move around during the exposure. Want more? Stop thinking of this as a self-portrait but as a portrait of an emotion. What would you need to do to make a photograph about frustration? Boredom? Joy? Try a new emotion every day. What changes do you need to make with the light, colour, framing, choice of moment?

  • Still-life from the kitchen. Find three things in your fridge to photograph. Need inspiration? Start by creating an homage to Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30. Now go to the market and find something else. An artichoke? Ugliest carrot? And then, when you’re done with the outside, photograph the inside. (But seriously, do a Google image search for “ugly vegetables”–there are some strange things to photograph!

  • Macro in the garden. Get so close you can’t tell what you’re photographing and make these a study in colour and shape. No macro lens? Get a set of extension tubes. They’re cheap and powerful.

  • Home interiors. I’m embarrassed to say I used to steal copies of Architectural Digest from my high school library. That’s the kind of rebel I was. I still find interiors really beautiful, and hard to photograph well. Imagine you’re tasked with a 12-image series of your home for Architectural Digest. Learn to compose and light for interiors. Watch some videos on YouTube.

  • Strobes. Figure out (finally!) how to use that flash you’ve got sitting around. Better still, figure out how to use two of them. I’m betting there are months of play in there. No willing subject? Combine this with self-portraiture. Or, I don’t know, an eggplant. Document the long, slow rot of that noble vegetable.

  • Night photography. The pandemic hasn’t closed the night sky. Teach yourself how to photograph at night. There are hundreds of great articles online that’ll teach you the basics for free.

  • Panoramas. Do you know how to shoot and process a 6-image panorama? No? Take some time to teach yourself. Don’t know where to begin? Start with a Google search of  “how to make a panorama photograph” or “make a panorama in Adobe Lightroom.” One search for the latter just got me a handful of great videos and articles.


I am never happier than when I’m working on a challenge and, specifically, something new to me that requires my full attention. This is when time flies by for me—when I get into the flow and emerge from whatever I’m doing with a sense of having done something I didn’t think I could do. It’s not always easy, but if it’s too easy, it’s not a challenge, is it? But it’s what has kept my own craft (and yes, my vision as well) growing for the 34 years I’ve been pursuing it.

What have you been doing to challenge yourself? I’d love to hear about it. And it just might help others get some ideas for their own next steps into the unknown. You can do that by leaving a comment here on my blog. While you’re here, I’m happy to answer any questions (or try to, at least) about what I’ve learned about self-portraiture.

For the Love of the Photograph,
David.

Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this. I found it super relatable. About a year ago I found myself in a rut and not creating any photos even though I wanted to. I started a goal setting plan. One step on my plan was to photograph 1 thing anything every day. I focused on using my macro lense because it can be used on almost anything. I took photos of everything from flowers to running medals to socks. I got close and tried creative perspectives. Eventually I found my flow in photography again.

    Kyle Reynolds
    https://krnaturalphoto.com/

  2. What a nice article! This what is wonderful about photography…you will always be a lifelong learner as there is always a wealth of things to learn! I’m a high school photography teacher and have been happily learning and doing alternative processes this summer, like lumens prints and chlorophyll prints on leaves. So fun! I definitely recommend playing around with cameraless processes if you need a break from the computer!

  3. Thank you David for another enjoyable and inspirational article. Your self portraits are great and looks like you managed to relax in front of the camera, which I find challenging. I also do not enjoy looking at my self-portraits in Lightroom and noticing wrinkles I never knew I had.. lol
    Your article made me think of an exercise I did years ago and really liked. It involves an egg only and the play of light and shadow. If you wish you can add other elements too. The reason I found this exercise helpful because the shape of the egg resembles the shape of the head. I will do this exercise again and will post some images on the FB group later.
    Keep well and never stop challenging us.

  4. Pingback: Fotoauswahl: Fotos erstmal liegen lassen | Mal schraeg und mal schoen

  5. David, it’s always refreshing to get your take on the methods, means and motivation driving our photography and image making process. These are very different days we now face and the distance between people and the lack of human contact is a bit sad. So I have found myself going back and reprocessing older images with people and mixing them in with my most recent photos that are empty of real people, but still show signs of life. I get out several times a week and walk the mostly vacant side streets by myself, alert and alive with a camera on my side.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/sanwarzone

  6. Hello David, how are you?
    I love your ability to meet challenges! I admit that I should imitate you and try self-portraits, but that really scares me.
    Since the beginning of the quarantine, I thought about taking pictures inside a room of the house every day, the things that were inside. With the macro lens especially.
    But because I had bought a Wacom tablet right before all this Covid moment, I was distracted learning how to use it. And what I was going to do for retouching became an excuse to start drawing on my photographs. They are at
    https://www.leoridano.com/es/gallery/ilustracion/
    And I’ve been at it for a while now. It relaxes me a lot and helps me to see another aspect of the picture I had taken which is my imagination!
    What I find most difficult is getting used to the time it takes to draw compared to the speed and immediacy of photography.
    Thank you very much for your input, as always.

  7. Thank God someone else has highlighted this issue of lack of spark. I felt that as well but thought that I might not be a dedicated photographer as the others. But as you have highlighted it, I have understood this in a better way. Thanks for sharing. It was really informative.

  8. Thank you for your openness, David. It’s always refreshing to hear the struggles of professional photographers that remind me that nothing comes easily.

    I “sat for myself” and shot a few dozen portraits, playing with light, moving the reflective umbrella around, casting a range of poses from serious to melancholy. Without opportunities to capture live music and theater, I’m trying my hand in product photography. Your exercise reminded me to pick a subject and shutter the heck out of it from different angles, lighting, props, and compositions.

    I’m hopeful that I can figure out a style that calls to me and perhaps a future client. Thankfully, I don’t rely on social media Likes as feedback, however, I need to find that outlet to receive honest feedback. That’s been my biggest struggle – can someone please tell me what’s good and what I need to improve with my photography.

    Keep talking, David, because I’m listening!

  9. My wife Tillie, passed away last week. She was an accomplished portrait photographer. I was her first, and I like to think favorite, photography teacher. Although I consider myself her equal in the technical aspects, she was far more natural than I in being able to build rapport with her clients. Our daughter attends a small – ~100 student – high school for profoundly academically gifted students. Over the summer, the school’s director had contacted her to say that the school wanted to revamp its marketing and web presence and asked her to take new portraits for the faculty and staff. In a few weeks, after raw emotions have calmed, I will be taking the school portraits. An honor and a challenge. David – you have been a source of inspiration to both of us. My thanks to you for all you do for the photography community.

    1. Fred, I am so, so sorry for your loss. The moment I read this I knew exactly who Tillie was – her avatar on FB and Insta, with her 100-watt smile was hard not to remember. I’ve sent you a private email but please know how sorry we are to hear about Tillie.

  10. It feels like just the right time for me to read this, David. Early in the quarantine, late March, I woke up after a restless night with bright flashes and blurred vision in one eye, my camera eye. I won’t bore you w/ the medical details, but as of this week, the doctors are clear that it’s a neural issue that may or may not get better. Or worse. I can take pictures, but it’s so different… I see the scene w/ both eyes, my left eye compensating by filling in the detail, and then I use my blurry eye to take the picture, seeing well enough to know what’s in the picture, but not well enough to see the details… and then can see the results if I wear strong reading glasses. SO, it’s POSSIBLE to make a photograph, but that felt connection through the camera… I miss that so much. And I’ve taken so few pictures. Tried twice to challenge myself shooting w/ my left eye & omg, it would’ve been comical if it wasn’t so awful. My hands brought the camera to the wrong place on my face! My left eye tried to close when I’d go to shoot! My hands didn’t know how to change settings when the camera was at the “wrong” eye. So, yesterday, I tried again… w/ my blurred eye. Slower. With intention. And pauses. And I had moments of feeling a bit of a groove. And I got a couple images that I love. I knew where the sweet spot was at times. I knew where to put my body. I saw the shots shaping up. One clear moment of “YES!” I’ve been realizing that I’ve been afraid to commit to trying to make work, because I’m afraid of going further down a path that I might lose. I started going deep w/ photography a few years back, after a significant loss. And there’s a part of me that stepped back, saying “Not this, too. I can’t lose this, too.” But I’m here today saying I’m not going to throw it away before it’s taken. “I’m not throwing away my shot.”

    1. Author

      Well done, Kathy. Way to be resilient and stubborn and open to this bringing you something amazing. We don’t control the cards, just the way we play them and I see persistence and courage in the way you’re playing this hand. Well done. This is me over here on Vancouver Island cheering for you. Brava!

  11. I came to the camera from other disciplines getting my start with a simple point and shoot (Canon G1X). Chasing light has since turned into a major addiction and I have a better camera now which leads me everywhere. Since the shutdown, I have had very little client work, so my days are filled with shooting and processing. I bought your book, Within the Frame, a year ago and listened to your interview on Creative Live last week. It is wonderful getting to know you and I so appreciate how much of yourself and your experience you are willing to share. It is such a gift to those of us wandering around without a hand to hold. Thank you.

    My challenge is to get to know my camera technically—as a tool and rely less on the adjustment brush to make me happy.

    1. Author

      Yasmine, thank you. As for wondering around without a hand to hold – I think there’s no better way to sum up why I do what I do – just to hold hands with like-minded and like-hearted people. I’m glad you’ve found me. Let me know if I can help.

  12. Love the self portraits! I never thought of using the timed shots. Will have to try that someday.

    My Covid creative project was to create a new blog about our land and what we have accomplished here. It’s https://www.thereddoorgarden.ca/

    I challenged myself to learn WIX as well as write entertaining stories. Let me know what you think. I’m thinking of taking a story telling writing class to help the process.

    I have been struggling with my next photo project though, isolated as I am in the country. It is hard to find something interesting in a place I see every day and have shot thousands of times. I can’t resist taking pictures of my flowers but other than extreme macro, I haven’t found a new way to do this. I have been perusing Pinterest and I have some ideas for when I go back into the studio – I like Maplethorpe’s hard graphical light studies of flowers. In the meantime, when the sun shines, I must be outside. My studio is for the colder, darker months.

    One thing my brother told me when we were discussing the difficulties of gardening on our land was “not to fight the land but to work with what it gives you”. With this in mind, I think I will do a study of leaves. I want to understand the different types of trees anyway so this is sort of a botanical study. As you say, start ugly, just start.

    1. Author

      Leni! I love your writing. You had me hooked from the moment you threw the rake and cussed out the land with such honesty. Take the creative writing workshop, but don’t rely on it – your writing is interesting, it flows, and hardest of all – it’s honest. I love it!

      1. David, thanks so much! I don’t know of the blog will go anywhere but it has been fun to put together. I think about this land ALL. THE. TIME. We put so much work into it, I really felt I needed to share the journey. I have other plans for my writing and photography as well. My aging parent and having to work remotely are driving me towards writing and away from making a living with photography. But I have a feeling that’s not such a bad thing. I will always shoot, it’s in the blood now.

        I really appreciate all that you say and do for this community. You are my mentor from afar. Hopefully, some day, my husband and I will join you on that safari. 😀

    2. I’ve never used an ND filter so thought I would give it a try last weekend as I can’t get to Africa for my wildlife photography. I’m not keen on taking landscapes – so spent two whole days with water – rivers and the ocean – and had a great time – couple of shots were very pleasing – and the rest were sketches – and I shall be playing now forever because I really enjoyed it and have broadened my mindset and my enjoyment with the world beyond wild life

  13. I didn’t wait for your very interesting article to begin. 😊 After having taking pictures of window mannequins for two years, I try now to get pictures of my fellow humans: portraits, without strobe, just with daylight (which I think you approve, since I believe to know what you think of the plastic people 😊). And honestly, both “styles” are not in my eyes completely that far from each other.

    With strobe could be the second step… (because I hate it).

    1. Author

      I love the way you press into your craft, Ghislain. And I’m very glad you don’t let my own opinions of mannequins get in the way. 🙂 Some of your best work (to my eyes) have included juxtapositions between humans and plastic people. Keep at it! But I can’t wait to see where you go with the portraits!

  14. I loved this article – I think because you revealed that you don’t know everything about photography. I feel like I want to go in so many different directions, and there is so much that I don’t know and it feels like everyone else knows so much. It was a lesson that one can take photographs without knowing it all – and that one just needs to learn what one needs to learn to improve that photograph. Not everything needs to be learned at once. While I “knew” all this, I needed the reminder and will probably need the reminder again and again.

    1. Author

      One of the things I love most about photography, Trudy, is that it’s just so vast there’s no way I could ever know it all. I love learning and get bored if I cant challenge myself or discover new things. Drop in whenever you need the reminder. 🙂

  15. I did a project like this several years ago and it was a blast. But I didn’t know about self-timers (I used a remote) or setting my camera to take several frames, so this is good inspiration. I’ll have to try this again.

    When I was doing this, it was around Halloween time and the local grocery store had a really cheap fog machine. So, of course, I bought one and had a blast incorporating the fog into the shots. The only downside was that the machine made a hissing noise that freaked out the dogs. But that issue was quickly resolved with treats.

    Cheers!

    1. Author

      Fog Machines and Treatz will be my next book title. 🙂 Hope you’re well, Scott.

  16. Now for something totally different, Idk if you get the CBS Show 60 Minutes in BC but they have a story on their Aug.2 schedule about the pilgrims in Ethiopia and it appears from what I saw it’s the same area you have visited and shot before. I’m sure you can probably watch it online.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Steve. I’ll see if I can find this online. Perhaps they’ll show it again. Hope so!

  17. David
    The ugly vegetables made me laugh, I too have been struggling with a creative slump and being cooped up inside. I have just started a project I am calling “Urban Grunge” or “Urban Decay”. Nothing to show for it yet but the intent is to convert the images to black and white and show my 10-24 mm lens some love.

    1. Author

      Fantastic. And you could sneak in some vegetables too. Urban Vegetable Decay! 😉

  18. How timely that you’ve sent this. Photographing the horse racing here in South Australia has been very quiet on the track with only essential staff in attendance. There is no social interaction, just the grind of cranking out the work. As is everywhere else in the world, there is no chance of any travel either, no chance of a trip to Africa to photograph in the wilds, no trip to Venice to wander and get lost and have to stop for a cuppa and cake in a great cafe that you’ll never find again. I then started my project, Trackwork Tuesday. I get out of bed at 4:00am and head off to the racetrack do do my own thing. Horses under street lights being walked to the track, in headlights of cars as they cross the road, getting ready in their stalls and then as the sun rises everything changes again as the long shadows reveal new scenes. The other week it was foggy, I nearly wet myself with excitement as I neared the track.
    Haven’t been through the photographs yet, I’m waiting until I can’t remember what is outside the frame, it’s what’s within the frame that’s important (might be a good title for a book?) and I want the photograph to have its own voice, not the one I had when I took the shot.
    I never thought I’d be excited to be getting up at 4:00am when it wasn’t for a game drive, but Trackwork Tuesday has been good for the soul.

    1. Author

      Terry, my lawyers will be contacting you about the proposed title for your book. 🙂 I’m thrilled to hear the excitement. Anything good for the soul gets my approval. I know when I photograph, Cynthia will often ask if I made anything I like, and my usual answer is “no, but I had fun!” When that happens it also usually means there’s something in files that will grab me. I’d love to see what you find!

  19. Exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been promising myself to work on lighting, yet without a (willing) subject, I decided that I would have to volunteer for the job myself. It took a while to convince myself to get out of my comfort zone and to stop thinking and start doing. I spent a couple of fruitful hours learning how to tether my camera, adjust the lighting, remember how to fire the flash remotely, etc., and can happily say that although the photos themselves are nothing I would want to share, I have acquired a few skills that I can build on.

    1. Author

      That’s great, Sarah. And you never know what will come, right? Keep playing with it and you’ll end up with all kinds of unimagined ideas. You might even start to like the photographs. 🙂

  20. That strikes a chord, I thought I might be the only one staring at my camera instead of using it. I’ve been browsing through some photography books to find a catalyst in Salgado and Cartier-Bresson (Christmas gifts) and after reading your article I’ve found a bit of inspiration. I’ve noticed that usage of State Parks and National Parks is higher than I’ve ever seen, COVID has taken away movie theaters and malls and people are hitting the trails more. I’m going to do a series capturing that increased usage in B&W. If nothing else, it gets me taking photos again and gives me an excuse to hit the trails more often!
    Thanks!
    Mike

  21. Like you David, I haven’t been shooting much in the last 6 months. To keep myself sane I turned to processing prior images in BW. I always put it off as theres never enough time but I’ve always loved BW photography so now I don’t have that excuse. So with the time at hand i decided to start investigating the good the bad and the ugly from a trip from last November to Morocco. I found that when you take a body of work that you know and remember well the shift to another media is a creative jolt. The beautiful rich deep colors of an image may look like crap when converted to BW. The hard light from an image at midday now in BW is dramatic and embracing ones shadows sinks in. It is remarkable how you begin to see and think differently when you explore different directions even if its just processing. Now I am thinking about images purposely in BW.

    To all stay safe and grow.

    1. Author

      Yes! This is it exactly, Charles. It’s the seeing and thinking in new ways! And don’t forget, not all B&W conversions are created equal. Hues can translate into tones in so many different ways and rich deep colours can often translate into rich deep tones. Use that B&W mixer and don’t be afraid to push things a little. 🙂

        1. Author

          Nik Silver Efex uses colour filters. It’s cleverly hidden in the area called Color Filter. 🙂 Within that you have some presets (the circles with colours in them, from Grey to Red, Orange, Yellow, etc. Under that you have the option to be more controlled with either Hue or Strength. Spend some time playing with those and see what the different combinations do for you. I think you’re off to a good start in your Flickr gallery. Nice contrast. Hard to comment on the conversions as I’m not privvy to the colour versions, but remember too, the question always needs to be asked: is this image a contender for B&W or must the colour remain in order to give the subject its best expression? Only you can answer that.

          1. I use Flickr as sort of a contact sheet to see what happens in comparison to other images. Finally gotten to the point where i have at least a sense if BW might work. I’m still surprised at times as some images work and some don’t. Pushing the colors is a mind boggling level of complexity but if you hit it right its magical. I also like to use the various film emulations as grain seems to work quite well on some street images. I have been comparing them against the color versions and its fascinating to see mood changes and what happens when i really push the blacks or whites into silhouettes. Amazing how strong some images become with hard shadows and strong light to simplify the reading. Having fun and learning is all i can say.

  22. Lovely self portraits! Thank you for refraining from the selfie pout, lol! I thoroughly enjoy the inspirational pod casts of a beautiful anarchy btw. Thank you for sharing your humor and wisdom with the us, it all makes my world a little brighter.

    1. Author

      LOL. I safe my pouting and duck-lips for selfies. Self-portraits are different, mostly a chance for me to pretend I’m more dignified and serious than I usually am! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement, Krishna. To make your world a little brighter is my one great calling. Thank you for that.

  23. I thought it was just me. Except for family travel photos (few and far between right now), I haven’t seriously picked up my camera for over a year. I thought I just needed to let it, and my psyche, rest. As I get closer to a new phase of my life, in about 60 days, I am feeling the desire to reintroduce myself to photography. I have a couple of projects I’m hoping to develop. Thank you for validating the need to step away occasionally. All the best.

    1. Author

      Hi DeWitt – The camera is there for you, not the other way around. We all experience seasons in life and while it’s important to keep creating, keep learning and exploring, the camera is not always the best tool for that. It’ll be there when you need or want it. And as a bonus, I often experience that the moment I stop feeling obligated to pick up the camera, that it’s my choice and I can be playful with it, and do it my way, is the moment I start wanting to do so again. 🙂

    2. Thank you for this encouraging post. Playing around (or learning something new) is just what I need to do. I did play with photographing the comet Neowise, which was fruitful, fun, and I got a pretty good shot, nothing that will win awards but as you say, that is NOT the point! It’s MY photo of this comet and it makes me happy.
      Great post- Thank you, again.

      1. Author

        The pleasure is mine, Kim. I haven’t even SEEN the comet, so you’re miles ahead of me! 🙂

  24. Thank you, David, for yet another very moving article. Love your selfies. Since an early March workshop with Eddie Soloway (you and he have been my “mentors” this year – even though your photographs are very different, you share many of the same messages and philosophy.), I have had a macro project with plants in my suburban neighborhood. It’s been really fabulous, fun and enriching beyond my imagining, but it’s time to move on. – or just add another one. My new project, starting today, is abstracts that combine beautiful lines/forms/colors/tones with a meaningful concept. Though I’ve been a psychologist & philosopher for most of my career, I actually started as a graphics artist. I think I have enough basic skills in photography now to try something more abstract. My challenge to myself: can I combine my love of design with my love of gently challenging people’s limited conceptions of themselves and of the world? No clue how this will work, but I’m very excited!

    1. Author

      Thanks for that, Pamela. I love your stated challenge. The answer is yes! Now the harder question is how? But it probably begins with the way you see things differently. Change your perspective and you’ll change ours. No easy task, but to me this is what photography is all about. Seeing the world differently and helping others, through my images, to do the same. Keep me posted!

  25. I shoot a lot of high school sports, travel and wildlife so that’s largely gone. I’ve always wanted to do more portrait work so I’ve been working on that with lots of YouTube videos and concentrating on using my flash and some new accessories from MagMod along with a new softbox modifier. I live in a small town in Kansas and I’ve started a series called Girard At Work and I’m working on portraits of people doing their jobs…the more laborious the better. I social distance, wear a mask and have as little contact as possible with others but do still go out to shoot. I’ve also been spending a lot more time re-editing/processing images and reading. I’m currently reading a new bestseller called Start Ugly by a prolific Canadian writer!

  26. Once again, thank you for a great article with excellent ideas. My latest challenge is to do great mobile phone photography. I find that the phone camera limitations make me think a little differently about photography. Very challenging (work with what you have), but very liberating to know that I always have a camera with me.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Cecile. Challenging yes, but creativity always thrives with something to push against. Keep at it!

    1. Author

      I took more than a peak. Looks like you’re having a great time, Len. Loved the image of the woman praying. Well done!

  27. Excellent ideas, David.

    The comet Neowise gave me a chance to try photography the night sky even though I live in the suburbs where there’s a lot of light pollution.

    Closer to home, I also tried my camera’s intervalometer, but not for selfies. Instead, I learned how to use it (and some free software called Shotkit) to create time lapse videos. My wife grows daylilies, and they bloom in hours, making them an ideal subject.

    In neither case did I create anything great, but I did create some mementos and had great fun doing it.

    As for other suggestions for your readers, I’d recommend a copy of your “visual toolbox” book. It contains so many useful suggestions for discrete learning opportunities that I can’t imagine anyone not learning a few new things from it.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Ron. Don’t sweat making something great. Sweat the learning and the discovery, the something great always comes as a surprise a little further down the road. 🙂

  28. Hi David

    My challenge: Doing ultrahigh speed frames, using my SB600 flash at 1/64 output = approx 1/30.000 sec shutter speed.

    1. Add some blue color to a large bowl of water
    2. Make sure you are in complete darkness
    3. Setup your camera on a tripod in Bulb-mode
    4. Drop a cherry-tomato into the bowl
    5. Manually fire the flash just about when the tomato breaks the water surface
    6. Redo no. 5 until the timing works
    7. Enjoy waterdrops completely frozen in time

    Best regards Peter

    1. Author

      Fun! I did stuff like this at one point (many moons ago) and while it was never “my thing” I sure did learn a lot! The variations on this are endless.

  29. David I have taken the time to do some online workshops with people like Valerie Jardin and the folks at Santa Fe workshops. I have a business coach who challenged me to go out and shoot & edit one image that I have to send to him that was shot that past week. It forces me to get out there and shoot and try to explore new places and things to shoot I would not have shot before.

    1. Author

      Fantastic. I think Valerie’s a wonderful person though we have yet to meet in person. I love that you’ve got someone that keeps you moving forward and accountable too – there’s a lot to be said for being pushed out of the comfort zone!

  30. David- I am not sure what I love most about this article— it has to be the vulnerability you shared with your readers. It struck a cord with me for sure. How many people out there, who are no where near your level of awesome have felt lost in their craft. To hear you say it and share how you dealt with it was very powerful to me. I love the self-portraits and that you seemed to have so much fun in the discovery. I am a member of an on-line community called 52Frames and this coming week’s challenge is to try something “new to me.” I shared your article as inspiration!

    Just about to place my order for your new books. I have recently started a blog on creativity and your books could not have been more perfectly timed. Congrats on what I am sure will be stellar content.

    1. Author

      Thank you for that, Jen. I’m all about the openness. One of the things I learned early, and I have no idea why this struck me so young, is that humans long to be fully loved, but without being fully known, it’s meaningless. Transparency only helps others feel less alone and makes our relationships stronger. 🙂 We all get lost, might as well be lost together. Thanks for ordering the books – your enthusiastic support means the world to me.

  31. The self-portraits are great, but your not-knowing and rage against the machine made me giggle. hard.
    (no malice in that laughter, just the relatability of our usual unmapped journeys with tech).

    It’s a great year for Queen Anne’s Lace, and Joe Pye is just emerging. I love the dance of the flower heads, particularly in late afternoon side light and dappled shade. It’s so hard to capture a sense of the dimensional space between. I have my NikD-7100, kit lenses and a 35 mm f 1/8. No layer function in the version of ACDSEE I fumble through. I can bracket and attempt focus stacking but still have no means of combining photos. Not sure it’s realistic to attempt in-camera capture of nuance without a lot of post-processing. I’ll grab a big card, shoot raw, play with exposure triad as I go. Maybe odds will help me take at least one “better lucky than good,” photo. Suggestions welcome.
    Happy challenges, all.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Christine. Suggestions? Yup! Keep at it. Don’t try to do too much. Just go with what feels interesting and go deeper and further on one interesting / challenging thing rather than trying too many things. You’ll make more mistakes but you’ll learn more. Work with what you have and push the gear and techniques to the limit. Challenge is key, but so is enjoying it. 🙂

  32. I’d been out taking photos for most of the pandemic, then July I stopped. Barely left the house. So took a full month off. Not one photo trip. (I do landscapes at sunset, flowers, and travel stuff is totally shut off, sigh.) Completely caught up on work stuff. Now August is here, time to start back up. I have a couple of locations to visit and explore for my landscape photography. Old places that haven’t been overworked. And there are still photos to process in lightroom. My feeds are almost dry and need to be refreshed.

    But the question is: how to move from taking pretty good photos that friends and family enjoy, that are “pretty good” to something more interesting or important. Something that people might want to return to. Something that says something. Something more than cheesecake, something that hooks the viewer and makes them want more.

    1. Author

      It’s an important question Robert. The next question I’d be asking is “what’s missing?” I hear you saying what you want. Something more. Something that says something. But what’s missing now from those images that prevent that? Is it light? Mood? Mystery? More candid moments? Sounds like the challenge for you is not in getting those shots just now but in discovering what’s missing and how to add those elements. For what it’s worth, these are the questions most of us will ask for most of our lives as we long to create work that is always a little more. More meaningful. Says more. You’re not alone, my friend.

      1. David, thank you for that discussion. It’s other ways to ask some of the key questions (where have we heard that before? 🤔. So I did get out yesterday, took some fun shots, fairly standard (for me) kind of pretty. But did try to ask myself some of the questions you have been pushing (between the podcast, the emails and the traveling lens course.) Couldn’t figure out how to answer any of them, but did start asking. What’s my best representation of this subject? But I don’t believe in a single best representation, because there are so many dang good ones. Though, as time goes by and I look back at older pictures, fewer of the interesting ones (Or so I thought at the time) still seem interesting. So it’s like the very best ones maintain my interest, but so many of the secondary ones are now visibly second best, but it took the lag time to understand that. My conclusion is there are fewer potentially great pictures than I originally thought.

        Onward through the fog.

  33. Here in the mountains of North Carolina there are truly amazing sky & clouds formations, spectacular, really, so I have been photographing them, often when I walk the 1/2 mile down to the mailbox. So now, I am gaining a library of skies for when I have a great image with a boring sky. Yep, I will change out a sky if I want to and it makes my image better…. sorry to all the purists out there. 😉

    1. Author

      No purists here. You do you, Tom. It doesn’t have to be my way, it has to be your way. Keep at it.

  34. Since I have had the privilege of being out in nature at home, I have been out and photographed for my forest project. Now I have selected about 200 images and printed them in a small format. Now the final selection will take place to create an exhibition and a book. The project has so far been going on for just over 2.5 years. I have also worked with multi-exposures and ICM during this strange period.

    1. David, thank you for the inspiration!! It’s quite coincidental (or not) that I read this post! I’m also about to pick up my camera after not taking any pictures for a while and to learn timer options on my camera to shoot self portraits for my yoga training assignment.

  35. Great ideas, David, thanks! I really should take the time to finally learn how to shoot night skies and/or panoramas. Of course, my usual would be garden macro, but I don’t have a garden, so I’d probably have to buy some grocery store flowers. I’ve been resisting shooting anything at all, though, considering I still have a gigantic backlog of unedited files I’ve also been resisting editing, and the last thing I need is MORE…. And I’ve been trying to get up the motivation to redesign my web site. Geez, I think I just talked myself out of everything. 😂

    1. Author

      Pick one, Lori. Do that. Maybe adding new images doesn’t have to feel like adding to the pile. Maybe just shoot for the love of the discovery and give yourself one hour, post-shoot, to pick ONE image to work on and call done. Do what you can with what you have, rather than doing nothing because you’re overwhelmed. Maybe you need to let go of some of the expectations and think smaller. One image at a time. Go where the joy is, not where you feel the obligation is.

  36. Your article was timely. I was out last night challenging myself.

    I’ve been messing around with Lume Cubes lately trying to figure out how to use them, using them in certain ways with certain accessories included to see what they do, etc. Last night I was trying to shoot a waterfall in St Paul so it was the only thing lit up in the dark. Couldn’t get the result I wanted and time was running short. If I didn’t have to get out of the park because it closed (some places are loose with the closing but you never know…not worth a ticket to me-lol), I would have spent several more hours trying to get the effect. I ended up pulling out a flashlight and lighting up the falls and surrounding rock cove. Spent several (10?) tries trying to get the effect I wanted light painting the area. I literally would be briskly walking up uneven terrain of sticks, logs and rock in the middle of the creek in complete darkness to get to where I needed to be before I turned on my flashlight to start “painting”. Fun learning. So much more to learn to become good. And I’m going to someday get that look where just the falls will show in the dark. That’s one of my challenges!

    1. Author

      Fantastic, Stephen. An evening with waterfalls, solitude, and some playful experimenting sounds great. Just be careful out there. Watch those ankles walking around in the dark. You don’t know how nice ankles are until you don’t have them! 🙂

  37. Perfect timing….thank you! I have been considering self portraits….as I have been in a rut too for the past 6 months, not able to travel with my work. Your words have given me new inspiration…..:)

    1. Author

      Go for it, Lee! I’m not going to lie, I find it incredibly challenging, but I’m going to do one session a week with no expectations and each session I’ll switch something up and just aim for one image that does something specific and different from the last. Keep me posted!

    2. Love these self portraits David! I’ve been reading some great photography books (The Heart of the Photograph and The Visual Toolbox). I intend to do some of the assignments from the latter and really like your suggestions for learning something new. Photographing night skies is something I’d like to learn to do better. Currently I’m exploring an offshoot of photography by taking a photo encaustic course. Special effects without a computer. So to speak. I’ll miss travelling this year but there is always so much to learn and now I have the time to do it. Thank you for your inspiration.

      1. Author

        Oh, photo-encaustic is wonderful! Who are you doing the course with? Cynthia did a couple of these workshops and loved it. She doesnt do it anymore but the ideas she got in those workshops now informs her photography in other ways.

        1. It’s an online video course with Clare O’Neill. I can see how one can start to look at things differently with encaustic in mind.

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