You want to be an 'all-rounder' with your camera? Accept the challenge and try out....


Here are twelve Photographic Assignments for you to try. 

  • Will the Assignments make you a better photographer?... Yes. It will get you out and about experimenting with your photography, trying out things you may never have considered. Gaining 'an eye' for a good image comes either from natural talent (and is quite rare) or simply by seeing what you want to achieve, practice and repetition. Being able to get your imagination into an image is the main task.
  • We don't expect every member to attempt these assignments - it's very much a voluntary programme for your benefit... it could be done informally, as you can dip in and out of the 'tasks' in your own time.
  • Most of the assignments could be covered with either a Compact or a DSLR - they could even be covered with a film camera but would be more difficult.
  • While post-processing of digital images is often vital, this is really all about the photo-taking, use of camera, the lighting and having a good and appropriate technique. However, even the simplest photo-editors are capable of converting an image to black and white, so I've included this as an assignment.
  • I've also kept away from any use of a Flashgun - it's a complex (and expensive) business and, for most of us, on-camera flash is less important than using ambient light.... though a fill-in flash can be useful. That's up to you.

A little homework before you begin

  • Shutter and Aperture, with ISO, Depth of Field... the basics of photography
  • Camera Shake and image sharpness - Workshop page
  • Colour settings - Workshop page
  • Selecting your Exposure Modes, Jpeg or Raw, focus points
  • Read the tutorials, read your camera's manual - and take a really good look at the photographers whose websites are linked to on the Links page.

1. Key Camera Controls

Assignment: City Lights!

City Lights
City at Night (web link)
Night Photo Techniques
More Night Photography
Motion capture
Motion Blur
Seems a bit odd to start off with City Lights when we're talking about key camera controls, but I recommend it for learning your camera's functions, buttons, knobs and dials. Find a location that offers a variety of coloured lights, such as street lights, shops, restaurants, offices etc. (How else can I explain 'Downtown'?). You'll need to use the LCD screen more than usual, but you'll get to know your way around your camera. Capture the brilliance, warmth and colour of the city lights. This works better in the dark but late afternoon, towards dusk, is ok.... daylight won't bring out the colour or warmth. This will seem an odd place to start, but bear with it - you'll get to know your camera in the dark.
  • using different sensitivity settings allows you to compare the effect of noise and exposure
  • different white balance settings will alter the effect of colour balance
  • trying a variety of viewpoints gives you different perspectives
  • work fast to capture the colours of the evening sky just before dark, or morning light
  • juxtaposing different elements in the same picture plane adds interest
  • varying exposures on the same composition is a good way to learn about tonal and movement variation with exposure
  • contrasting sharp details with movement blur emphasizes speed
  • Don't forget, if it's dark and you have a lot of blackness in your image, you will get a lot of noise unless working at a low ISO - and that will require a stable camera support. It's really only when light fills the viewfinder that you won't notice noise.
  • Don't forget - movement blur is ok - camera shake is not.
  • Do NOT put yourself at any risk out on the streets and be careful of the cold (which numbs the fingers and flattens your battery). Twilight is really a better time than complete darkness.

Show control of....

  • Aperture - flexible use of the aperture to control depth of field and shutter speeds (narrow DoF and sharpness from a wide aperture, or movement blur and deep DoF from a narrow aperture)
  • Selection of Shutter speed and its consequent effects on aperture
  • Change ISO to give more flexibility in aperture and shutter control
  • Allow yourself a longer exposure to work with blur or allow some movement in your pictures - but try to hold the camera steady (tripod, monopod, or some other support, or wrapping yourself around a lamppost)
  • Think of the composition of every shot
  • Better to see some creative shots that have movement blur (not camera shake), than sharp shots that are too static

2. Exposure Control

Assignment: Still Life

Still Life
Still Life 2
Some examples
More examples
... and still more examples - these even contain some details on how they were made
Most Exposure Tips can be found in the 'City Lights' pdf, above. Even more tips about lighting indoors can be found in the Portraits Assignment, below
Using as many or as few light sources as you wish, create an atmospheric still life. Experiment with the arrangement of every element in the composition, from the objects themselves to the background and foreground, until you find the best picture possible. Control the lighting and shade meticulously so that no manipulation of tone, colour, or object is later needed. Try various exposure settings to learn the effect on tonality of varying the placement of mid-tones.
  • use the highest resolution setting on your camera, and the lowest ISO you can manage with the light available.
  • if possible, shoot in RAW format so you can make adjustments later (but don't get bogged down with this - if you can only do JPEG, stick with it)
  • flat lighting is usually easiest to work with, but choose lighting that suits the subject and don't be afraid to experiment
  • use a tripod to ensure the sharpest results
  • small apertures will maximize depth of field

Show the ability to display texture, shape and colour in your own arrangement of still life objects. A traditional still life relies on the arrangement of a collection of associated items, but feel free to go for singular items if you like. Use the examples for inspiration.

3. Getting the best image

Assignment: Urban Nature

Urban Nature Group
Search for nature against man-made structures and try to record them with the very best quality. You can work with general views of the environment or in close-up to focus on details that are usually overlooked.
In photographic competitions, the 'Nature' category limits us to pictures of flora and fauna that cannot include 'the touch of human hand' ...... this can be different, and a 50-50 divide between manmade and natural, in one image, is encouraged.
I'm sure you've seen, at some time, various wild animals in the city, or in your backyard - fox, raccoon, groundhog, skunk, rabbit, chipmunk, squirrel, coyote. Then there are those flowers that grow in the oddest places, cracks in the pavement etc., or the wildlife of all kinds that takes over empty or ruined buildings.
  • use a high sensitivity setting to capture movement (low ISO will demand longer exposures)
  • shoot in RAW format if it is available on your camera
  • use lighting that suits the subjects: flat lighting is usually easiest to work with
  • if using a tripod is awkward, a monopod is a great alternative, or look for any handy support on which to rest the camera to ensure sharp results
  • use the full range of focal lengths available to you, experimenting with zoom setting at each perspective
  • check out the Urban Nature Group on Flickr

Shooit three images....

that demonstrate reasonable composition, choice of aperture and working distance, with a good selection of lens focal length.

4. Getting ideal Colour

Assignment: City Streets

Ben Willmore
Matt Stuart
David Solomons
'Everyday Life'
Imagine that a photo magazine or website has asked you to illustrate a feature on the techniques of composition and choose a well-known landmark as your main subject. Use every trick in the book to produce an unusual interpretation.
  • use wide-angle settings from medium distances to capture the general atmosphere of the scene
  • long focal length settings will compress space from a distant perspective
  • patterns and lines help to organize a composition
  • wide-angle lenses used close up to a person or object help to provide a frame and context
  • find details and keep it simple - big sweeping cityscapes are for another day

Shoot three images....

with people in them, outdoors
to demonstrate good composition, finding of patterns, shapes and movement using the strongest colour combinations possible - check a 'colour wheel' to find complementary colours - or subtle transitions of tone and colour, up to you.

5. Mastering Composition

Assignment: Composition on Location

Michael Kenna
Richard Martin
  • try out every viewpoint you can reach; crouch down for a low angle and clamber higher too, if possible
  • hold the camera at different angles - don't limit yourself to just vertical or horizontal
  • use only a single zoom setting for a while, as this forces you to move around more to make a composition work
  • move on to different focal lengths - isolate small details or go for the whole broad scene
  • vary your exposure - in bright conditions this will emphasize different parts of the scene, thus changing your composition
  • think how a bright sky and dark foreground can complicate the exposure and find ways to get around this

Shoot three images....

that demonstrate an understanding of the uses of appropriate focal lengths, lines, shapes, colours, shadows and perspective. You can include people or you can concentrate on the architecture or dynamics of buildings and streets.

6. Portrait

Assignment: Capturing Character

Arrange a portrait session with an acquaintance - someone you know but preferably not a member of the family. This is more difficult than working with someone you are close to, but not as tricky as working with a complete stranger. Using any means at your disposal - available light, flash, props, surroundings - to obtain a portrait that conveys the subject's character. Follow the steps shown in the accompanying pdf files, parts 1 to 5.
  • use a medium or long telephoto for full-face shots - the 'ideal' lens on a 35mm camera is about 80-90mm - so that's going to be around 55mm for most of you on APS-C sensor DSLRs
  • to show more of the subject's setting, use a wider angle lens
  • for a portrait of the sitter surrounded by their environment, shoot with an even wider lens length
  • use a reflector to help control any deep shadows
  • keep the eyes sharp
  • keep to a low ISO unless absolutely necessary

Shoot three images....

portraits using different facial angles, face only or 'in their environment', showing a relaxed subject.

7. Documentary Photography

Assignment: A Day in the Life

Record a day in the life of your subject, who may be a shopkeeper, farmer, office worker, student - whatever takes your interest and whoever is happy for you to do the assignment with them. Try to capture a telling characteristic of their life in just one shot, which could be witty, observational, personal, close up or a long view. Don't set up shots: instead, try to observe and catch the moment naturally. Your aim is to convey an aspect of the subject's life, but only three images are required.
  • draw on all your knowledge of your subject to anticipate action
  • be unobtrusive in your style of photography, working discreetly and quietly
  • use flash if you must, but a relatively high ISO may be better
  • use a wide angle lens with a large aperture to enable you to get in close and capture wider views when you're working in available light

Shoot three images....

all linked in the same 'story', or of the same people or event. It may help to think of them as just three out of a slideshow of 30 or more.

8. Using Available Light

Assignment: Light and Shadow

Jonathan Chritchley
Ray Metzker
Photograph the relationships of buildings with their settings with lighting effects from natural or artificial sources or a combination of both. Look for close details, an unusual angle, an intriguing composition, or a combination of colours for their own sake.
  • Use high-contrast and high saturation if it is available on your camera (you'd have to use Jpeg)
  • keeping your zoom lens to one focal length will help you concentrate on composition
  • a low ISO setting will ensure the best colour quality and clean blacks
  • keep the camera square on to the subject to eliminate converging parallels - unless you really want them
  • for minimal distortion, the middle of a zoom lens's range is usually advisable
  • use apertures in the middle of the range for the best image quality

Shoot three images....

to reveal light and shadow in outdoor shots. Bring out texture, shade, perspective. It can be monochrome if you like.

9. Travel

Assignment: A Revealing Angle

Try to convey a sense of discovery and involvement in what you see and feel on your travels. Think about the photographs you have already seen of the locations and try to imagine how you could frame a composition or use perspective differently in order to reveal a little more. You could save this one for a longer vacation or just try it on a visit to a different town or city.
  • gain as much local knowledge as possible so that you can be a guest rather than a visitor
  • use the short or wide-angle end of your zoom as much as possible
  • catch people's attention and win permission to take a photograph
  • go off the 'beaten track' and do your own thing
  • it really doesn't matter whether you take your pictures in Kingston Ontario or Kingston Jamaica

Shoot three images....

covering the above points - the world's your lobster.

10. Landscape and Nature

Assignment: Spirit of Place

Darwin Wiggett
Maciej Duczynski
Visit a beauty spot and imagine you have been commissioned by the local tourist authority or a travel magazine to create a definitive image of the subject - a picture that could be used on a website showing local attraction (e.g. Fort Henry, Rideau Canal)
  • use the full range of focal lengths to gain plenty of variety
  • photograph the subject at different times of day to record how the light affects the scene
  • if you are visiting a site that is privately owned, obtain a permit in advance
  • there should be no need to add a caption to explain the image

Shoot three images....

Covering the above points. Consider timing, lens use, a sense of 'life' and display good composition and choice of viewpoint.

11. Sport

Assignment: The Essence of a Sport

Photograph a sport that you know well in order to communicate what it is about it that engages you Is it the thrill of the speed, the delicacy of balance needed, the feel of water or air on the skin, or the camaraderie? It might be an extreme close-up that gets the feeling across or a general view. This can be three dissimilar shots of the same sport or of three different sports.
  • use shutter priority auto-exposure set to the shortest exposure times to capture rapid action that is passing across your field of vision
  • set higher than normal sensitivity setting to allow for short exposure times
  • use longer shutter times to create blurred motion shots
  • take wide-angle views from close to the action if you can get near enough

Shoot three images....

taking account of the above and paying attention to timing, backgrounds, spectators, atmosphere, movement.

12. Composition for Black and White and other artistic styles

Black and White photography generally relies on composition and lighting - to show tone, texture and shape. So the 'trick' is to develop an eye for those things and ignore colour. Using your skill and imagination, and exercising your freedom to work with any kind of subject or approach, with or without manipulation, produce images that are expressive and subjective, rather than objective and representational. Imagine that your photographs may be used for a magazine, poster or greetings card.
  • art imagery accepts a very wide range of technical quality: what matters is that the quality is appropriate to the message or intention
  • other forms of art such as movies, music and fine art can be very inspiring and can suggest ideas and themes for your photography
  • make use of the qualities and characteristics of your equipment; accept any distortion in the lens or strange colours rather than fighting them
  • work at them rigorously - your images will improve steadily

Shoot three images....

of your best work. Remember the importance of shape and composition - just converting a colour shot to b&w will not be enough - try to demonstrate that you've thought of the shot in b&w to start with, by use of composition, light and shade, tones, textures etc.

Want to have some Guided Photographic Practice?

Try these weekly assignments.... they may just lead you to trying something different, perhaps finding a new style of your own. Use them as you please but try to keep your own weekly schedule. Be tough on your own pass/fail rate but don't get too bogged down with one assignment.

  • Week 1 - Wide Angle
  • Don't fall into the trap of only using zoom lenses at their longest focal length (zoomed right in).... sometimes a wider perspective is much more powerful.
  • Week 2 - Water
  • A topic that has a lot of scope and might range from pictures of anything from water droplets on a leaf, to a rushing waterfall, to the crashing of a wave on a coastline to a serene lake.
  • Week 3 - Still Life
  • Setting up your subject and the lighting... 2 desk lamps to help eliminate the shadows.. or maybe try borrowing a light tent (some members have them). Take a look at the links in Assignment 2, above.
  • Week 4 - Hands
  • Doing anything!
  • Week 5 - Repetition
  • Any subject - as long as there's some repetition there - lines, circles, anything.
  • Week 6 - Smoke
  • Entirely up to you - consider editing the colours after shooting.
  • Week 7 - Cityscapes
  • Self-evident, I think.
  • Week 8 - Construction
  • Plenty always going on - another angle on this may be a daily picture of a building going up, connected by a slide show or joining them together in a row or even a grid of many.
  • Week 9 - Morning
  • Somebody in the house getting up in the morning? Breakfast time? Busy traffic in the city? Early morning mist over the lake, canal, river?
  • Week 10 - Circles
  • Week 11 - Self Portrait
  • Week 12 - Rectangles/Squares
  • Week 13 - Food
  • Week 14 - Converging Lines
  • Week 15 - Contra-Jour
  • Week 16 - Natural Framing
  • Week 17 - Low Light/Night
  • Week 18 - Panning
  • Week 18 - Food
  • Week 19 - High ISO
  • Week 20 - Portrait in Natural Light
  • Week 21 - Breaking the Rule of Thirds
  • Week 22 - Sleep
  • Week 23 - Monochrome
  • Week 24 - Fruit and Vegetables
  • Week 25 - Wind
  • Week 26 - Rivers

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