Photograph; It’s a great way to get out of the house, to explore the world around you, and it can be a reason to visit new places. Sometimes, however, your own home and the time you spend indoors can also be an important source of inspiration and a tool for you to find yourself and overcome your shortcomings. Whether you’re staying at home because of the weather, a global pandemic, or simply because you want to stay home, don’t let staying home limit your photography practice. Let the challenge of indoors allowing you to find new ways to approach photography, and give yourself time to experiment.
Exercise 1: Find the Light
The first lighting-class I took in college was that the professor gave everyone a simple incandescent bulb and that it was our only light source for a photo shoot. Everyone hated it, but even then, I knew there would be value in working with such a simple tool as a basis for working with more complex tools later on. The first task assigned in first grade was to turn on the light and then hide it somewhere, preferably in another room. You should leave the light in a place where you cannot immediately feel or see it. Turn off all room lights and then photograph your bulb in total darkness. This exercise will test your patience and long exposure skills, but will also give you an idea of how light shapes objects in the absence of other ambient light sources.
Exercise 2: Outside in
- The second reward of being outside is the feeling of looking out of a window; Find and photograph your favourite scene from a window.
- Then photograph again, but in a different way. Do it the next day, then again, again and again.
- Force yourself to examine and elaborate the scene; use different lenses, take pictures at different times of the day.
- See if you can make the scene work for you, and conversely if you can portray the scene as accurately as possible. Things tend to get a lot more interesting over time.
Exercise 3: Food Diary
- The emphasis on being at home is multifaceted, and one of the areas that have evolved as a result of days at home is the increase in home cooking.
- Try to improve your food photography skills as you hone your new culinary skills.
- Photograph a recipe and send it to a friend, photograph your food as if it’s being served at a five-star restaurant, or simply photograph your food on a daily basis.
Exercise 4: Screenshots and Local Photography
- While not necessarily an exercise in strengthening your own technical photography skills, working with existing images can really help you develop your photographic mind and expand your relationship with images and how they function in the world.
- Typically, working with local or found photos may require researching photo archives at flea markets or other public places.
- I recommend working with screenshots and cinematic in this home version.
- Take some time to learn more about photography’s close relationship with cinematography, and capture some screenshots from movies you’ve watched or your favourite movies from the past.
- Compile these screenshots or still images into an edit and start viewing them like taking a photo.
- Learn from a cinematographer’s composition, but apply your own context and timing to make something original.
Exercise 5: Portrait Studio
- One of the photography genres that thrive in closed, controlled spaces is the portrait.
- For this exercise, I recommend making it as formal as possible rather than intimate.
- Make it an event.
- If you are at home with others and they are willing subjects, then perfect.
- If you are alone at home, simply add a “Self” to the beginning of this exercise title.
- This is great for photographers like me who are shy of the camera and aren’t naturally inclined to photograph other people.
- Even if these are photos you’d never want to show to others, they can help build skills in behind-the-scenes comfort that will last forever.
Exercise 6: Portrait of a House
- What does your house look like?
- How does it feel to be in your home?
- Can you provide an accurate depiction of both in 10 or fewer photos?
- How do you do this so that viewers have both a realistic visual and an emotional connection to what it’s like to be there?
Exercise 7: The Minute Game
- Take the popular “Steps” or “Distance” exercises where you take a new photo after walking a predetermined number of steps or driving a predetermined distance.
- This slightly more still version requires you to take a new photo every few minutes.
- You can choose every hour, you can choose every 15 minutes, or you can choose every 3-5 minutes for a faster rate of fire.
- Bonus points for trying different intervals and seeing how the change in time will affect the pictures you make.
Exercise 8: Naturmort
- Similar to portraiture, still life is another type of photography that thrives in closed, controlled conditions.
- Feel free to make any kind of still life you want, but I’d recommend looking at some of the Dutch still life paintings from the 1600s, such as those by Vermeer, Claesz, and Heda, for inspiration.
- Study the work of these painters to understand how the subject, arrangement, and lighting can so dramatically affect the way you view food preparation, for example.
Exercise 9: The Nine Elements
Make sure it fits perfectly to try within the confines of your own home. Photograph these nine elements of a scene in one place.
While keeping an eye on these elements, you can strengthen the challenge by doing it in several rooms or more than once a day. Use your static position to your advantage to study how light and time of day really transform a subject.
Exercise 10: Photograph a Song or Music Piece
- Can you listen to a song or a piece of music and then photograph it? I think you can do it.
- Make images as real or abstract as needed; make your photos representative or as emotional as needed.
- Use practice, intuition, and creativity to transform another environment into your own tool.
- How can photography induce some of the same personal responses that music can?
Exercise 11: Build a Tower
- An exercise for compressed designs.
- See what a weird solution you can come up with for a problem that probably doesn’t exist. Or to put it more succinctly: play with your toys.
- What can you shoot at home with your longest telephoto lens?
- How many lenses do you have that are superfluous?
- Can you really get a 24-hour exposure if you add neutral density filters together?
- Try to overcome some weird technical hurdles you can imagine and do it just for fun.
Exercise 12: Go Without a Camera
- Work and photogram without a camera.
- Can you keep using your camera-biased mind to take a stunning photo without a camera?
- What can you force yourself to do beyond placing a few sheets on the paper?
- If you need inspiration take a look at Man Ray’s Rayographs or Wolfgang Tillman’s Lighter pictures.
Exercise 13: Take a Film Roll
- We asked you to shoot a “Camera Roll”.
- I’m going to suggest an exercise without quoting and suggest you actually shoot a roll of film, really.
- Feel free to do any of the above exercises along with the movie (especially the “Find the Light” one if you’re feeling daring) and then keep this roll of film in mind.
- While digital is more efficient, you may find that your technical instincts will be boosted by a roll of film that relies on you making firm decisions without the advantage of immediate feedback.
Todd Vorenkamp – www.trvphoto.com