13 Creative Exercises for Photographers


Like the world’s tidal waters, photographic creativity ebbs and flows for many of us. Sometimes creativity can use a jump-start, an artificial method to get the photographer to start looking at the world in a new way in order to facilitate, restart, refine, or improve your photography.

There are many ideas on how to get yourself to push through an artistic block or inspire you to further expand your boundaries. Not all of them involve the camera. Several websites and books publish a mix of assignments or exercises for the intrepid photographer. I prefer the exercises that 1) involve using your camera, 2) are less assignment-based, and 3) are fun!

These are my versions of various exercises that have been passed down from one creative generation to another. If I have reproduced a favorite, I apologize in advance for the inability to credit the original artist/inventor of the exercise.

Exercise 1: Two Dozen

Pick a location. Stand in one spot and make 24 unique photographs while standing in the same place. You cannot move your feet.

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

The first time I did this, I hit a virtual brick wall after about 12 shots, and that was eye-opening in many ways. It really pushes you to be creative with your gear and surroundings.

Exercise 2: Ten of One

Take 10 unique and/or abstract photographs of 1 small subject.

The smaller the subject, the more challenging this can be. A “small subject” should not be “New York City.”

Exercise 3: Four Corners

Choose one subject and place it, where it exists, in each corner of the frame for 4 images.

Can you go to the other side of the subject? Do the same. Shoot all four sides in all four corners if possible. See what you come up with!

Exercise 4: Artificial Restrictions

Create restrictions for a day or weekend of shooting. Limits may include:

  • One prime lens
  • One location
  • B&W only
  • 4-5 P.M. only
  • Manual mode only
  • Overexpose/Underexpose everything
  • Spot meter only
  • Photograph while sitting
  • Only things above you
  • Only things below you
  • No people in the frame
  • No structures in the frame
  • Fill the frame
  • Negative space in more than three quarters of the frame

Force yourself forward with restrictions.

Exercise 5: Shoot a “Roll of Film”

Go somewhere you have wanted to go to take photos but have been procrastinating about visiting. With your digital camera, shoot a “Roll of 24 or 36 exposures.” After 24 or 36 exposures, you are out of “film.”

Look and think before shooting, knowing you only have a finite amount of “film.” If this does not force you to make more critical decisions regarding your images, pretend you bought a roll of 12 exposures! When you are out of film, just walk around or sit and enjoy the place.

Exercise 6: Twelve Abstracts

Photograph a dozen abstracts of a common object.

Depending on the size of the object, you may need a macro lens or telephoto. Similar to Exercise 2, but only allowing the abstract, this exercise should force you to see deeper into an image.

Exercise 7: Portable Subject

Carry a subject with you and put it in the frame no matter where you are shooting.

Think about the famous traveling gnome. Bring a favorite “thing” on your outing and figure out how to include it in your images. Notice how it dictates framing and composition. Be creative with your placement of your portable subject.

Exercise 8: The Un-Selfie Selfie

You have to be inside every frame.

This is not a “selfie” exercise; so bring a tripod or alternative support. Compose, frame, and start the self-timer. Then, put yourself into the photo in a meaningful and thoughtful way.

Exercise 9: Mixing Bowl

Drop many pieces of scrap paper into a mixing bowl. Each piece should have a single word or phrase. Draw a piece of paper, grab your camera, and start shooting.

Examples of what can be on the scraps of paper can be:

  • Blue
  • Circle
  • Panning
  • Soft focus
  • Reflections
  • Shallow depth of field
  • Action
  • Happy
  • Sound
  • Blur
  • Running
  • 4
  • Negative space
  • Signs
  • Weather
  • The Letter “T”
  • North
  • Shadow
  • Slippery
  • Medium Rare

You get the idea.

Exercise 10: Change Up

Try a different genre of photography.

Are you a studio portrait photographer? Try street photography for a day or weekend. Architectural photographer? Shoot sports at a local park.

Exercise 11: Nine Elements

Photograph these nine elements of a scene while in one location.

Go to a street corner, park, or other location and make photographs showing the following:

  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Size
  • Depth

Bonus round? Also add:

  • Focus
  • Tonality
  • Quality of light
  • Pattern
  • Negative space

Want to make it more difficult? Only allow yourself one image per element.

Exercise 12: Steps

Go for a walk somewhere you have always wanted to photograph. As you walk, stop and take a unique image after a predetermined number of steps.

10? 20? Your favorite number? Every city block? The world changes a lot in just a few feet. Stop to capture this. Two different fire hydrants do not two unique photographs make.

Exercise 13: Two Trips

Put your camera somewhere safe. Walk somewhere without a camera and look for photographs. When you reach your destination, walk back over the same route while still looking for photos. Finally, with camera in hand, retrace your steps for the third time and capture those photographs.

If in the field, leave your camera in your camera bag. Do not pull it out until you get back to the start. No cheating. Be disciplined. Look hard. Be observant. Walk slowly. Your 180-degree perspective will reveal as much or more.

Exercise X: Design Your Own

Take bits and pieces from what is above or come up with anything that gets you to take creative images and break through walls. Share them with us and other photographic artists in the comments section!

You can find a lot more tips online or in books. Some of these take the shape of a photo assignment that takes you out of your comfort zone or introduces you to something different than what you usually do. Others are more creatively based. Beware of the creative exercises that focus on the technical workings of the camera—the goal should be to expand the creative mind. Getting bogged down in a camera’s menu is not likely the best path to this goal. Having said that, improving technical proficiency is always a good thing, but just keep your focus on the creative and less on the nuts and bolts of a particular image.

The images are important, but they are not critical. If you get a few “keepers” from your exercise, awesome! If you come away with junk, but engage your mind and eye, then the mission is accomplished!

Lastly, not only should a creative exercise be challenging and self-inspiring, it should be fun and never, ever feel like a chore. For an audio-visual look at these exercises, check out this video.


I host a volunteer Zoom photography group for seniors. We are having a great time, and I love coming up with interesting, creative, sometimes offbeat, assignments. Thank you Todd for these really great ideas!!

Hi Amye,

I hope these ideas work well for your group! Thanks for reading and for the kind words!



Hi Todd, As a high school photography teacher, it is frequently difficult to motivate students to push their creativity. The Two Dozen assignment really broke through their apathy! It was fun looking at how their progression of photos started with photos at standing height, looking straight ahead and evolved to looking up, and down, changing camera settings to capture blur, and using their iPhone to reflect the scene in the bottom of the photo. Thanks for the great article!!

Hi David,

Thanks for the kind words! I have to give credit to one of my MFA instructors for giving me that assignment years ago so that I might struggle with it and then pass it along to our readers!

I do not know if it was his creation or not, but it is definitely a fun challenge!

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!



Love #7.  It's really fun.  I did that one year on the Kelby WW Photowalk.  I wasn't too inspired that day but found a cool looking, dried up Queen Anns Lace flower/seed head and started putting it in front of every photo.  People were like 'what are you doing?'  I took WAY more photos than I intended with one of the last in a silhouette shot in front of a glowing red seat near the Mall.  I won the local photo contest with that :).  I've done it a bit like this too with a small toy car and Minion figure. 

Hi Mindy,

Great stuff! Thanks for stopping by as a veteran of one of the exercises. Very cool that you found inspiration and awesome photos that way! :)

Thanks for reading!



Exercise 5: Shoot a “Roll of Film” - LOL - that's what I do in "real life," and I only get 10 shots with my Mamiya RZ67 and Dora Goodman pinhole camera! ...not withstanding, I love this post! Thank you!

Hey Christopher,

Very funny! Yes, you can have a roll of 10, 24, 36, or maybe one of those giant rolls that used to come on big spools!

I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for reading!



Hello. I am thanking you, the creator of these exercises, because I am using these as a strategy in my art class with subject photography. My junior high school students are challenged even if they are only amateurs. It piqued their interest and are actually enjoying the activity. Again, thank you.

Hi Lorelei!

Thank you for the thanks! I hope your students are enjoying the exercises! I teach college photography and use these exercises as well!

I appreciate the feedback!



Exercise X: Square Frame

Exercise X': Square Frame, B&W

Hi Todd,

In 2012, I did Exercise 4: Artificial Restrictions and Exercise 5: Shoot a “Roll of Film” together for a year.  I photographed the year exclusively using B&W film. 2012 was a year to experiment with B&W contrast filters; it was probably March before I started visualizing in B&W. I shot 62 rolls of film that year. That year, I had a project to photograph the sunrise over Columbia, SC from the Lake Murray Dam on the equinoxes and solstices and also the Full Moon moon rise and moon set. Six rolls of film was my budget for an airshow. I loaded a new roll prior to the start of the Air Force Thunderbirds and ran out of 36 frames. I reloaded during their performance and was ready when they came back around.

Hi Ralph,

It sounds like you beat me to the creative punch here! Nice!

The Blue Angels are better, by the way. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

I've started doing the "roll of film" with a single ISO and film simulation mode. For some reason after years of digital it's so much harder than a big roll of T-max 400.

Hi Aaron,

Isn't "analog" shooting suddenly more difficult than it used to be? Ugh. Thanks, technology!

Thanks for this! I'd love to see one for video - found this page because I'm stuck in a creativity rut!!

Thanks, Squarehead! Creatively, you could apply some of these exercises to video...I think!

Thanks for stopping by!

Lucky that i found your article. I enjoyed reading it and i to tell this tips to co photographers. Thank you for sharing!

I am glad you found it as well, Maui! Thanks for stopping by!

This site saved me today, great lessons for my photo students! Thanks!!

Hey Emma, I am from B&H and I am here to help! :)

I am glad to be of assistance today. Cheers!

Good list of ideas. Thanks. Was getting stuck in a rut.

It happens to all of us. Glad it helped, McCabe! Happy shooting!

My daughter is going to take a digital photo class at her middle school (7th grade). These are some great ideas we can do together while learning concepts of composition and seeing photographically. "Simple" ideas can result in great images. Thanks. 

Thanks for reading, Glen! I hope you all enjoy the exercises and make great art!

Lucky enough to stumble across this article. Thanks:) they seem really fun ideas to start with!! especially the portable subject....

Thank you for these ideas!  I am setting up an event with some photography friends to try some of these out.

Good luck, Ali! Let us know how it goes. :)

Todd, what a wonderful dozen of tips. I will print them and drop them in my bag for my next photographic journey. Thanks !!

Thanks Germán!

Good luck with the exercises!

I love all of these ideas. It really makes you think about taking more meanfully pictures instead of just snapping way.

Hi Rachel,

I am glad these resonated with you! Creativity is the most fun part of photography for me!

Thanks for reading!

For a long time I've been trying to capture photos on my own want angle, but the result is different from what's on my mind. And now I can say that I found the answer to my problem. Thank you to the creator of this blog. Keep helping everyone!

Thank you for reading, George! Good luck shooting creatively! 

Those seem like some fun inspiring exercises. Thanks for sharing!

If I can add one, I would add let someone else use your camera to take a few shots of something they would like to capture. Most people like using a camera every now and then, especially if it is different from their own which is probably their phone. Offer them a tip of your own, teach them something you know. Also take a moment to see what someone else happens to see while you are in the same spot. 



Hey Ken,

Of course you can add one!

And, that is a great tip! For some workshops, the night before, I ask the students to bring a photo of a fork with them to the class. Some photograph a stainless utensil, others get creative. It is always interesting to see what people capture!

I just a Samsung S8 phone. I want to do this with my phone. This is a test list.

You can do these exercises with any camera, Benny! Good luck!

So very glad I stumbled across this article. I want to rush right out and get started but I don't think my boss would appreciate it. ;p  That being said, it's almost the weekend and it's the first weekend all year someone doesn't have something planned for me to do. Guess what I'm going to do?

Thank you so very much for the awesome ideas. Your images are amazing and thought-provoking.

Happy shooting, Glenda!

Need me to tell your boss you are heading out for a bit? :)

Good luck and enjoy your creative weekend!

I'm testing out a model 420 Polaroid that I rescued from a thrift store, and these are great exercises to get me acquainted with the camera! Thanks so much- recommending these to my friends!

Thanks, Lucca!

Yep, these exercises are for any and all cameras! Enjoy the 420!

I hate the cold. So I hate winter except for snow and ice. I' going to use all of these to force me to get out.  That way I 'll be that much better when it gets warm out again. THANKS

I'm so happy to find this.  My best friend purchased a Sony a5100 for her 12 year old, saying he likes to take photos.  I told her to get him something "affordable" to see what he can do without his iPhone, and I'd be over after Christmas to take him photo-hunting.  Now, with some of these ideas in hand, I don't have to spin in a circle trying to think of fun things to do. THANK YOU!!!! :)

Hey Janet!

Awesome! I am glad you found this and hope you had fun with the exercises!

Yeah, thanks for this exercise, will try this!!

Let us know how they work for you, Pavitrha!

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