NEW CHALENGES

Get out of that rut and master a new photographic technique today: Many photographers will experience a time in their lives when their inspiration dries up. Before you pack your camera gear away, take a look at our suggestions on these pages. Designed to open your eyes to some of the photographic opportunities that you perhaps may not have previously considered, use this guide. Thinking outside the box will not only help to get you back on track with your photography, but it ll give you an opportunity to expand your skill-set and existing portfolio of images too. Read on and prepare to get creative! Find yourself It may sound corny, but taking some time to look through your existing image collection and taking note of what works/what doesn t and what you like/dislike about your previous creations is an important step in taking your skills and creative vision to the next level. Be honest in your evaluations, but donbe too critical either: try and look at your photos through fresh eyes and work out what it is that s missing. The next step is to take a look at what the rest of the global photographic community is up to. Search for images relating to subjects that interest you. Look at them from the same objective point of view as you did with your own photographs and go through the same process: what works in these images? What doesn t? Once you ve established your initial gut reaction to these questions, have a think about why. Scribble down any key revelations that come to you throughout this process to remind yourself of them again later. While some of this might sound like hard work, it s a good way of learning to be objective about photographs in general as well as identifying the key points that make or break an image: the composition, lighting, subject and whether or not the photographer has managed to capture a particular emotion, tell a story or communicate a message through that image: these are all important factors in creating photographs that are a cut above the rest. Take your camera with you This might seem obvious but, you can t capture something that inspires you without a trusty camera to hand. Take yours with you. This task gives you an opportunity to evaluate your camera gear: is the reason that you ve fallen out of love with your DSLR that its bulk puts you off from lugging it around with you every day? If so, downsizing to a CSC, rangefinder-style camera or advanced compact might be a good move. We re not advocating you ditch your DSLR; merely that perhaps having something smaller and more portable to carry about on a daily basis may help to spark your creativity, allowing you to capture the moments and subjects that catch your eye with a newfound level of spontaneity, while reserving your bigger kit for special events and situations where image quality is of the utmost importance. Go and explore Get out of your usual routine and go somewhere entirely new. Get on your bike/in your car/set out on foot and just go wherever the road (or footpath) takes you. Forget sat-navs and pre-planned routes, just explore and keep your eyes open for interesting subjects. It s easy to take certain features of our surrounding environment for granted when we see them every day, so heading out somewhere entirely unfamiliar is a great way to find fresh subject matter to spark your creativity. Some places will yield more exciting sights than others, but the important thing is to retrain yourself to look for the possibilities that each new venue presents. Fill those cards It doesn t cost you anything to take multiple shots so snap away-you can always bin any duds later on. Once you ve found something that interests you and taken the shot that seems most appropriate in terms of its framing, exposure and so on, try and take at least a couple more  alternatives  that look at the same subject in a different way. This could mean experimenting with a few different perspectives, zooming in on smaller details or playing around with the exposure to deliberately under/overexpose the image for example. If your camera is equipped with any digital filters or colour adjustment controls, have a play around with those too: finding fresh ways of representing your subjects encourages you to develop a more open-minded approach to your photography, helping to hone your creative vision and allow more interesting and off-beat compositions to come to you more spontaneously. Rise to the challenge Get outside your comfort zone. If you re normally an avid landscape or wildlife photographer, take a break from the countryside and head somewhere urban for some street photography or try your hand at portraiture (or vice versa). If you re unused to working with people in your photography, this is a great way to overcome any fears and boost your confidence. Challenge yourself to photograph —say —ten strangers that you think look interesting: approach them first and ask their permission. If they have access to email, offer to send them the results afterwards. Use whatever it is that you find out about them to build your shot: if they re working/in uniform for example, try placing them against a complementary backdrop or include a few props (such as any tools they happen to be using, or objects like briefcases, shopping bags-whatever s most appropriate to that person); anything that helps to say something about their personality and/ or lifestyle is ideal. Conversely, you can make a bold statement by positioning your subject against something entirely incongruous: a smart businessman/woman against some graffiti or a building site, or perhaps someone dressed up on their way to the theatre or dinner in front of a kebab shop for instance: anything that creates a sense of disparity between your subject s appearance and the surrounding environment has the potential to make a statement. Photograph the photographerShake it up If you always stick to shooting with a versatile zoom lens, borrow, buy or hire a prime optic. Shooting with a lens that you re unused to forces you to look at familiar subjects in new ways: literally. Instead of zooming to perfect your composition, you ll have to move your feet and consider your subject from all angles. Working with just one focal length opens up new possibilities for harder challenges too: for example, try using that lens to photograph the opposite type of subject to which it is best suited. For instance, if it s a wide-angle lens, try creating portraits with it instead of photographing landscapes or grand building interiors; if it s a telephoto lens, use it to pick out details and patterns in landscapes, focusing on the components that make up the natural environment rather than the wider scene. Specialist lenses like macro and perspective control (tilt/shift) optics can also make interesting tools to experiment with if you don t normally use them in your photography. Again, try using them for their intended purpose first to get used to how they operate and the effects they can generate, then head out and look for ways to exploit their most prevalent qualities: the shallow depth-of-field you can achieve with a macro lens or the  miniaturised  effect generated by a tilt/shift lens for example: the possibilities are endless. Be a night owl Environments offer exciting opportunities to create some stunning nocturnal photographs. Night-time rural landscapes, star trails, the moon, long exposures, traffic trails, and light graffiti: all of these ideas and more can be used to explore the possibilities presented by your surroundings long after the sun has gone down. If you choose to head somewhere rural, you ll have the benefit of little or no light pollution (depending on how far you are from civilisation). One of the main tools you need for any of these forms of image —making is a good sturdy tripod: not necessarily the latest lightweight carbon fibre model —in this case, something heavy and robust is far more suitable to help combat camera shake. You ll also need a camera with a Bulb setting so you can go for really long exposures. Keep your ISO low to reduce the amount of noise in the final shot and use a torch to help you lock the focus before switching it off again for the exposure. Whichever idea you choose to pursue, a remote shutter release is another useful tool that prevents you from having to touch your camera to trigger the shutter, once again helping to ensure your results are as crisp as possible. Experiment in order to resolve the level of detail that you want, and —for projects like light graffiti —it can be useful to enlist the help of another person. Play around with different light sources: torches, LEDs, lasers, glow sticks; anything goes! Introducing light sources of differing colours can help liven up a composition, while planning ahead and creating the image you want to achieve in your head beforehand is invaluable. Let your imagination run wild and write or draw whatever you like with your light source(s): just keep moving throughout the exposure to avoid appearing in the final image. Photograph the photographer Self-portraits don t have to be dull: you can get just as artistic as you would with a model and there s no-one else around to pass judgement on your creative expression. The kit required for this technique is pretty simple: a tripod, camera with a self-timer or remote release and your imagination. If you don t have a remote, use any object to  sit-in  for you while you lock the focus before getting into position for the shot. Lighting can be as complicated or fuss-free as you like: the natural light filtering through a large window or patio door is ideal if you prefer an organic look, while studio-style images can be captured using a desk lamp or two or off-camera flash if you re au fait with the Strobist technique. Once again, experimentation is all-important: try out different light sources, softening their effect with aPhotograph the photographer piece of voile fabric or tracing paper for instance, or using a bare bulb for a harsher, low-key look. Props can be useful, but avoid cluttering up your composition. Use only relevant items that tell the viewer something about you, or that help to explain the story/demonstrate the concept that you want to convey in your imagery. Express movement In a similar way to the short brush stokes used in the Impressionist style of painting inject life and movement into static scenes, there are some interesting techniques you can try to create a comparable effect. Two of the easiest and most popular methods to try are  camera toss  and  zoom burst  techniques. The former simply involves choosing your subject, selecting a slow shutter speed and then performing some action that keeps your camera in motion throughout the exposure. You can throw your camera in the air (if you re confident enough!), whirl around on the spot, or use the strap to suspend and swing your camera from side to side or in a circular motion for example: try out different patterns of movement and shutter speeds until you get the abstract effect you want. Zoom burst shots are best taken with the camera mounted on a tripod if feasible, but it is possible to shoot these handheld too, provided the exposure isn t too long. Dial in a shutter speed of around 1 sec to start with-altering this according to the results you get and the conditions-then compose your shot. Zoom in on a distant subject, lock the focus then zoom your lens out again. Press the shutter release and zoom back in on your subject again during the exposure. The result should be a sharp central subject with a  rushing  zoom effect around the edges of the frame. Play with your food Forget stuffy still-life images and have some fun with food! Pouring, drizzling, dropping food items into liquids, playing with colourful subjects and generally thinking outside the box can lead to some exciting foodie snaps. Incongruous compositions can also be a lot of fun to create and often yield an eye-catching result that will make viewers look twice: try putting foods into unusual receptacles, freezing colourful fruit and veg in blocks of ice, or getting close using a macro lens and picking out abstract details. For inspiration look out for the works of Carl Warner (www.carlwarner.com), Terry Border (www.bentobjects.blogspot.co.uk), Patrice de Villiers (www.patricedevilliers.com) and Ilian (www.ilian.co.uk). Switch spectrums Try your hand at Infrared photography: all you need is a camera that s not endowed with an overly efficient IR filter in front of its sensor and either a screw-in or  drop-in  square infrared filter to pop on the front of your lens. Newer models will often have more effective IR filters, helping to remove unwanted infrared light from that entering through the lens, but many compacts and DSLRs-notably the Nikon D70 and Canon EOS 300D for instance-are particularly good for this type of photography. You can invest in specially converted models that have had the IR sensor removed completely, but we advocate trying this technique with your own camera before going to any additional expense. Set up your camera on a tripod and-before you attach your IR filter to your lens-compose the shot and lock the focus (you won t be able to see anything once the filter is attached). Dial in an exposure of a couple of seconds initially, adjusting this where necessary according to the lighting conditions and the primary results you get. Once again, a remote release or your camera s self-timer are useful tools to combat camera shake. Once you ve honed the exposure, you should be getting distinctive-looking shots featuring alien-looking landscapes, where colours are distorted and skies are dark, while foliage and human skin is bright. These can be enhanced/manipulated further on your PC later on, to produce alternative images of the world around us. Once you ve picked an idea that sparks your imagination and played around with the techniques suggested here, try taking things a step further and coming up with your own ideas that expand upon the theme. Explore ways of expressing emotions and concepts through your work and you should find it easier to see the world through fresh eyes. Be spontaneous in your photography and don t be afraid to try anything that pops into your head: this is your opportunity to diversify, hone your skills and elevate your standard of photography to a new level. Be fearless in your experimentation and you ll be rewarded with results that exceed your expectations.

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