No matter where in the world you live, there are some seasons that are more conducive to outdoor photography than others. That said, bad weather is no excuse to stop learning about photography! Here are 10 beginning photography exercises to try the next time you’re cooped up indoors due to bad weather. Each exercise includes a subject theme, discussion about the type of skills you’ll practice with that particular subject, as well as some questions and/or ideas to walk through in order for you to really take your understanding to the next level.
Pick up an inexpensive bouquet of flowers the next time you’re at the grocery store and bring it home. Pop the flowers in a vase, and start shooting!
If you choose a bouquet with a range of colors (including white flowers if possible), you’ll be able to practice properly exposing your images across the dynamic range. Photographing flowers is also a great opportunity to play around with different apertures. If you’re currently shooting in Auto, pop your camera over into Aperture Priority mode, and give things a try. How does changing from f/2.0 to f/5.6 affect the image? Which look do you prefer?
2. Candles and/or a Fireplace
There are a few different benefits to spending some time photographing a flame. Whether you’re photographing a collection of candles or a fireplace, try experimenting with different exposure lengths in Shutter Priority mode. Try both long and short exposure times, and also be sure to note how the shutter speed affects the overall exposure of your image. Does a longer shutter time translate to a lighter or a darker overall image? How could you balance out a longer shutter opening without overexposing the entire image?
Another benefit to photographing flames is that it also makes you consider composition in a way that many subjects do not, especially in terms of reflections. Try putting a mirror or other shiny surface underneath a candle and photographing it. How does the reflection of the flame affect the overall image? Do you want to include the reflection in your image, or do you prefer to crop it out?
3. Oil and Water
This simple project packs a big punch!
Equipment and supplies
A macro lens will help you out tremendously here, but if you don’t have one, extension tubes are also a great option. This image was taken with a $15 set of extension tubes and a 50mm lens. Basically, all you need is a clear glass dish, two cups, colorful paper, water, and olive oil.
First, take your colorful paper, and set it on a table or counter. Then take your two cups and set them on top of the paper, several inches away from each other. Next, take your glass dish and set it on top of the cups, so that it’s elevated off of the colorful paper. Add a little water, then a little olive oil, and be ready to photograph the bubbles that appear. You may want to spend some time experimenting with photographing the glass dish at differing heights above the paper underneath. Experiment with different types of colorful paper; scrapbook paper is a great resource for this. Try differing amounts of oil and water, and see how those small changes affect your image.
This is a great opportunity to experiment with macro-like photography in a way that has a pretty big impact. If you are using extension tubes rather than a macro lens, keep in mind that your extension tubes may or may not work with your camera’s autofocus. If you’re having trouble getting the bubbles to come into focus, you may need to focus manually (try the LiveView focus technique).
Photographing food is a great opportunity to play around with styling, as well as post-processing. It’s my humble opinion that much of your direction in terms of styling and processing will come from the food itself. In this case, I had a rustic loaf of bread that was covered in different seeds. It reminded me of rustic, communal dinners, and so I wrapped it in a tea-towel and stuck it directly on my table (something that happens with fair frequency to loaves that have just come out of the oven around here). I also knew from the get-go that I’d apply a more matte post-processing technique than I usually use in portraits in order to echo the rustic feel of the bread.
On the other hand, what approach would you take to styling and photographing a sleek cheesecake? Or a classic fruit salad? This short little exercise allows you to push yourself in terms of styling and post-processing, trying out skills and techniques that you may not typically use, as well as spending some time thinking about what types of styling and post-processing would best represent the subject.
5. Window Silhouettes
I don’t know about where you live, but around here it can often be rainy and sunny at the same time. If you find yourself faced with similar weather, it’s a great opportunity to try doing a window silhouette.
Window silhouettes are a great exercise if you are learning photography because it will help you understand how your camera sees light. If your camera is on auto, and you focus directly on your subject, what does your camera try to do? If you move your focal point off of your subject, what does your camera “see” then? Does it affect the focus of your image? What happens if you try out the different metering modes? Does one seem to be more effective than the others in creating a silhouette?
6. Food Coloring and Water
Grab a tall glass or vase, fill it with water, and then drop a couple of drops of food coloring into it.
This is a simple and colorful way to examine both shutter speed and light. Try using a short shutter speed. What does the image look like? Try using a long shutter speed. How is that image different?
In addition, try shooting with all different types of light. The transparency of the water is a great opportunity to practice capturing backlit images.
You don’t need to have perfectly clean or perfectly decorated rooms in order to gain valuable experience and knowledge from photographing them. Just a pick a room and go for it.
Experiment with light sources. How does the final image look when you use only natural light? What happens when you use only overhead and/or floor lights with the curtains closed? How does the image look when you use a combination of natural light and accent lighting? Think both in terms of exposure, and also the color balance of the image. Which look do you personally prefer?
I’m a huge bookworm, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoy photographing books in all sorts of scenarios. I love the texture of the pages, I love the different colored spines. I love basically everything about books!
Photographing books is also a great way to learn about aperture. Pick any book, and crack it open. Look for a short passage that you enjoy. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode, and start with the lowest number you’re able to select (f/4 or f/2.8 for example). Set your focal point to your desired passage, and shoot. How much of the image is in focus?
Now set your aperture to one or two numbers higher than your first setting. How much of the image is in focus this time? Continue shooting up and down your available aperture range, noticing how the image changes as you do so. When might you want to use an image with only a sentence or two in focus? When might you want an image that included more of the book in focus?
Photographing a pet can often present many of the same challenges that you might experience when photographing children. Certainly, this will depend greatly on the type of animal you have as well as their temperament, but it holds true for our cat.
She moves quickly and is often not super interested or cooperative when I’m attempting to photograph her. So, trying to photograph our cat is a good opportunity to practice shooting candidly, as well as waiting patiently for just the right moment. Our cat is obviously never going to walk right in front of me, sit, and smile for a photo. Instead, it’s my responsibility to sit on the couch with my camera, waiting patiently. When she decides to come over and investigate, I’ll be waiting and ready. (Read: 9 Tips for Taking Better Photos of Cats)
10. Craft Supplies
Craft supplies are a great tool for photographic exercises because they’re usually a good source of color. Play around with color and group items randomly. Then group similar colors together.
Next, pick one single item or color to focus on. Photograph it alone, as well as grouped with the others. Is the image stronger with only one color or with many? Do you prefer the colors to be randomized, or grouped together?
Have you tried any of these approaches? What other ideas do you have for bad weather, indoor photography exercises that would help beginners understand an element of photography better?