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5 Photo Challenges to Help Up Your Photography Game

Julian is a filmmaker and photographer. He received his M.A. in Communication from Wichita State and currently works for Yale University.

Below are five photography-related challenges to spice up your game.

Below are five photography-related challenges to spice up your game.

Keep an Open Mind

Once we've established our own photographic style or niche, it can be really easy to keep doing the same stuff time and time again. While this is good, and you should absolutely keep shooting the way you like and the things you like, it's always good to keep an open mind and try out different methods of shooting. After all, it can't hurt to at least expand your repertoire!

If you've found yourself in a creative rut, check out these five challenges that will perhaps help you step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

5. The Ugly Location Challenge

The ugly location challenge is pretty self-explanatory, and it's a great concept for finding new locations to shoot. Essentially, you do the opposite of what you're used to doing as a photographer and instead look for the ugliest location you can find. This will push your composition, posing, and editing skills as you work to manipulate the location to look the best or most intriguing that you can.

For your purposes, you also might not things of an "ugly" location necessarily, but maybe an unconventional location instead. Photographer Jenna Martin (@jennamartinphoto) took her model to a Lowe's hardware store in order to try this method.

Instead of searching out the usual beautiful locations around where we live, I had the idea to do just the opposite.

— Jenna Martin

Lowe's was perfect for the ugly location photo challenge.

Lowe's was perfect for the ugly location photo challenge.

One of the locations she chose within Lowe's was the lighting department, which is a phenomenal idea. This would give you the most options for lighting your model and scene, as well as give a great backdrop for the picture. And she succeeded in turning the location into something wonderful!

Five photo challenges to help you up your photography game, including the Hobby Lobby challenge.

Five photo challenges to help you up your photography game, including the Hobby Lobby challenge.

4. The Hobby Lobby Challenge

The Hobby Lobby Challenge went viral in February of 2018 when teenager Kelsey Maggart did a photoshoot with her friend Sierra Horsting and used the fake flowers in a Hobby Lobby as their backdrop. After posting several photos to Twitter, their photoshoot went viral, prompting other people to take their models to craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael's so they could take part in the challenge. The idea here is that you use backdrops in these craft stores and try to make the photo look like it was actually taken somewhere else (i.e., outside or in nature).

This is challenging due to the fluorescent lighting that's present in retail stores, the fact that customers will be walking around, and your background may not be readily available to you. You'll have to manipulate the items and props in the store to help you get the right shot, which can be incredibly helpful for a budding photographer looking to get out of their comfort zone.

So grab a model, a friend, or even a family member and take a trip to the closest craft store. You might be surprised by the images you come out with!

3. The Dollar Store Challenge

This challenge is really fun because it has you do something that you may be really used to, especially if you're a new photographer: working with props. Props are awesome because they not only add an additional element to the shoot but give your model something to interact with as well as another method to add meaning to your photographs.

The idea here is that you limit yourself to a set amount, say $5, and that's all you're allowed to spend in a dollar store for props. Essentially, you can go and buy yourself five different props to use in your shoot. This is great a building your method of conceptualizing a shoot because you're forced to think about the different ways you can use each item while you're picking them out. This will help you a ton when it comes time to conceptualize future shoots where you're not restrained on props.

And after that, you go and shoot! For my shoot, I bought bubbles, party streamers, shredded paper, wood beads, and silly string. Unfortunately, the bubbles didn't work well, and the only good shots I really got out of the prop section of the shoot were the ones below.

But don't get discouraged if you didn't get many good shots! Sure there are rules to these challenges, but that means your shoot must focus entirely on the challenge. We got tired of messing with props and eventually wanted to just do a regular shoot, so we ditched the items and just did our natural thing. As a result, we got some good photos without the props as well!

Self-portrait. Day 1 of the 30-day photography challenge.

Self-portrait. Day 1 of the 30-day photography challenge.

2. The 30-Day Photography Challenge

The 30-day photography challenge is pretty simple. You take one photo every day for a month (and post them to Instagram if you want!). Each day has a different theme, so you'll need to make sure your photo follows the challenge rules for that specific day. For instance, day 1 of the challenge calls for a self-portrait like I featured above.

The challenge is as follows:

  • Day 1: Self-portrait
  • Day 2: Rule of thirds
  • Day 3: Black & white
  • Day 4: Texture
  • Day 5: High angle
  • Day 6: Low angle
  • Day 7: Silhouette
  • Day 8: Sunset
  • Day 9: Bokeh
  • Day 10: Lens Flare
  • Day 11: Landscape
  • Day 12: Portrait
  • Day 13: Dynamic tension
  • Day 14: Light painting
  • Day 15: Colorful water drops
  • Day 16: Balanced
  • Day 17: Unbalanced
  • Day 18: Frame within a frame
  • Day 19: Panorama
  • Day 20: Depth
  • Day 21: Water splash
  • Day 22: Slow sync flash
  • Day 23: Panning
  • Day 24: Harris shutter
  • Day 25: Shallow depth of field
  • Day 26: Light graffiti
  • Day 27: Street photography
  • Day 28: Architecture
  • Day 29: Night
  • Day 30: Hidden camera mirror photo

Some of these may be kind of vague, especially for someone who is just starting out, so be sure to check out the link at the top of this section for additional info on the challenge. The challenge page offers great resources to use to reach challenge day.

This challenge not only makes you try new things, but it also gets you looking ahead to future shoots. You know that on Day 19, you'll have to do a panorama, so until then, you'll be thinking of all the options you have available for a great panorama. The fact that you have an entire day to spend on one photo, this challenge operates at a slower pace than the other ones mentioned, which can make for a more comfortable experience for someone looking to step out of their comfort zone as well.



1. Gurushots

Gurushots is a platform where site-proclaimed photography "gurus" host daily challenges for photographers. These challenges can last anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks long. Basically, each challenge focuses on a specific theme like street photography, photos of anything blue, or animals. Users then submit between 1 or 4 photos of theirs that meet the requirements of the challenge to see how well they do.

What's great about Gurushots is that the challenges are almost entirely community-driven, meaning that besides submitting your work, you then vote on other people's photos. This works for both you and the community because as you vote for other photos, the visibility of your own submissions is increased, meaning that they'll be seen by more users than if you weren't participating in the voting procedure. And in this case, more visibility means more chances for you to get votes.

Each challenge has multiple winners, too! Top photo, top photographer, and Guru's top pick are all categories you can win in, and each challenge is hosted by an assortment of entities meaning there are prizes for winners as well!

I love the feeling of seeing the votes roll in on my photos, and it's just neat finding out what rank you can reach in each category. I don't play for money necessarily; I just like pushing my photography and seeing if I can improve with each challenge, but if the prizes are incentives for you, then don't hesitate and start playing! If anything, it's fun, and you get to be part of a community that shares a passion with you.

Good luck!