I love setting myself little personal challenges. We can shoot the same old stuff, day in, day out if we don't force ourselves to change things up every once in a while.
My first experience of a challenge with constraints was when I was getting started as a photographer. My black and white film class was asked to shoot a project on a theme, but we could choose any theme we wanted. I find that freedom is actually harder to work with than a set of rules, so I set some parameters:
- self portraits (meaning no one else could look through the viewfinder, or click the shutter)
- black and white film
- 50mm lens
- all manual controls
I bought a cable release for my Nikon F100 and got to work. It was really, really tough (seriously - who shoots self-portraits with a film camera?!) I soon bought a longer cable release and started experimenting with forms (pillows, brooms, brooms with pillows attached) to help with focus. It slowly started making sense. I went from frustrated and mad at myself for making things so hard, to excited to play. I was learning so much about composition, and a lot about the quality of light and how it affects portraits. A little vanity helped here!
Most of my recent challenges have focused on making me more comfortable with shooting wider, something I have always seen as my weakest area, and at the same time the most important for the photojournalistic work I love. A couple of summers ago I took a 10-day sailing trip with some friends and shot using a 35mm lens at 1.4 for the full ten days. This past summer I shot my entire two-week vacation using a tiny Ricoh GR fixed 28mm point and shoot.
The photos below are from last year's Black and White Challenge that was doing the rounds on Facebook and Instagram. I decided to create atmospheric self-portraits that felt like movie stills. Whether or not I accomplished my goal is irrelevant; I spent a few days creating and practicing, thinking outside my documentary box. And it was fun.