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One of the key ideas in my new book 100 Creativity Assignments is that giving yourself assignments and briefs to follow helps you become a better photographer.
If you bought my ebook The Magic Of Black & White: 50 Assignments then you’ve already seen this idea in action.
One reason that assignments work is that you can apply them retrospectively to photos you’ve already made. The assignment briefs help you see themes in older photos that you didn’t realize were there.
For example, take Assignment 39. Urban Decay in my new ebook (I’ll post a link here when it’s available). The brief of this assignment is make photos that show urban decay.
As I was looking through older photos for an image to illustrate the brief, I realized that I had unconsciously followed this theme several years ago when I made some photos in Ketchikan, Alaska (see below).
I also have photos of urban decay made in Chile, which I showed you in last week’s article about contact sheets (click the link to read it).
Seeing these older photos encouraged me to explore my own town and make some new urban decay photos. This is where the assignment gets interesting. It encourages you to compare photos made today with photos made in the past, and photos made in your own neighborhood with photos made in other parts of the world. Here are my newest urban decay photos.
Why assignments work
One of the problems I’ve experienced over the years of being a photographer is lack of inspiration. There have been times when it seems that there is nothing interesting to make photos of.
The solution is to create a project or assignment. Assignments are a great way of learning because they encourage you to follow a theme. They give you something specific to photograph, which is often more productive than going for a walk with your camera looking for something interesting.
Projects are more complex than assignments and help you explore a theme in more depth.
Either way, it’s a different way of thinking. Instead of asking yourself “What am I going to take photos of today?” you ask “What am I going to photograph for my assignment today?” You go from aimlessly photographing a variety of subjects to one where you explore less subjects but in greater depth.
My two assignment ebooks are a great place to start (you can get The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments here). Here are some more suggestions for finding assignments:
1. Look through your old photos to see what themes emerge. An assignment or project may suggest itself.
2. Set yourself a skill that you want to improve. For example, if you want to become a better portrait photographer, then set yourself some assignments that encourage you to practice portrait photography.
The same idea applies to skills like food photography, long exposure photography or night photography. I’m sure you can think of others. It doesn’t matter if the assignment theme is broad, as you can narrow it down into smaller, more specific assignment ideas as you go along.
3. Document your local area, a place you visit often, or your family or pets. These are long term projects that can take place over years or decades.
Make your long term projects more manageable by setting yourself specific briefs to follow. If you’re photographing your local neighborhood, for example, then you might be interested in assignments 39. Urban decay, 33. Street art or 38. Historic buildings from my forthcoming book.
Breaking a big project idea into smaller assignments makes it more manageable and less daunting.
For example, here are some street art photos that I made in the city of Bristol.
How to use Lightroom Classic Collections to manage your assignments and projects
One of the biggest problems facing any photographer is how to manage your growing photo collection. Some photographers may have been using digital cameras for 20 years. That’s a lot of photos to keep track of.
Lightroom Classic is good for organizing assignments because it lets you arrange your photos into Collections. You can bring all the photos that belong to a assignment together into the same Collection or Collection Set, no matter where or when they were taken, or how they are organized on your hard drive.
Here’s how I do it. This method works for me, but feel free to adapt it to your needs.
1. Create a Collection set called “Assignments”. All assignments go in here. If you’re following the assignments in one of my books then I recommend naming it something like “100 Creative Photography Assignments” instead. This helps you keep track of your work as you carry out different assignments from the book.
2. Create another Collection Set for each Assignment.
3. Inside each Collection Set create two Collections. Name one “Shortlisted photos” and the other “Finals”. The idea is that you add all relevant photos to the Shortlisted photos Collection. From those you chose the best (or the ones that make the final selection) into the Finals Collection.
The result looks something like this:
What to do with your assignments
One of the benefits of using Lightroom Classic is that it gives you several options for turning your photos into something more tangible.
1. You can make a contact sheet for each assignment showing the photos that make the final selection. You can also make contact sheets for the shortlisted photos.
My article How To Make A Contact Sheet In Lightroom Classic explains how to do it.
2. You can print your best photos, adding several photos to the same page if you want (as in the example below).
My article How To Make Amazing Layouts In Lightroom Classic’s Print Module shows you how.
Here’s an example of what you can do:
3. You can make a photo book using the Book module.
My article How To Make A Simple Photo Book In Lightroom Classic’s Book Module explains how.
4. You can set up a website using Adobe Portfolio.
My article Is Lightroom Classic’s Web Module Obsolete? will get you started.
These ideas are important because they help you make something that you can show to other people. You’ll get much more from each assignment if you turn your best photos into something that you can hold in your hand or see, and be proud of.