Cambria coast

Give Yourself A Photography Assignment

Early in my career I often found myself wandering around various towns, frustrated, looking for something to photograph. I came to realize that there are always lots of subjects to shoot in any location. All I really needed was a framework, or storyline, about the subject or location. I needed to have something to say before I picked up my camera. I needed an assignment!

Instead of wandering aimlessly, I began to give myself self-assignments, something I continue to do to this day. This forced me to see what was really important about a particular subject and work on creating images that illustrated my viewpoint. My photography quickly got better and I found I was enjoying photography even more.

What do you like to photograph? Do you like to explore small towns, wineries or farmers markets or photograph orchids, sailboats, historic sites or portraits of people? What’s your passion?

Town of Cambria

Quaint tourist destination Cambria, on California’s Central Coast.

Self-assigned photography assignments often fall into three main categories—locations, series and events. Locations can be anything from a National Park to a city or town. What is unique about that location? Is it the physical beauty, the culture, food and wine or maybe even the weather? What makes it interesting to you personally? I had a talented student go to Oaxaca in Mexico to photograph the brightly painted building in the Colonial Center of the city. When he returned, he showed me a beautiful portfolio of colorful buildings, but each had a brightly painted, jewel-toned VW Beatle in front of it. It seems Oaxaca has a tradition of restoring old VWs. He had taken a location assignment and turned it into a series, or collection, of Volkswagen portraits.

Southwest Indian Ruins

Selection of Indian Ruins in the American Southwest.

A series assignment can be anything, from a group of portraits of local chefs to a series on lighthouses, antique cars, California Missions—anything with multiple versions of the same subject. This often requires a greater commitment of time and a larger amount of research before beginning the shoots. This also forces you to create a variety of images while shooting similar subjects multiple times. As a bonus, you get to immerse yourself in the subject during a long-term photography project.

Summer Solstice Parade

Summer Solstice Parade characters in Santa Barbara, California

Event assignments usually require the shortest amount of time, but can be quite an intense experience and often physically demanding. Parades, celebrations, competitions—these can run from a few hours to a week or so. Again, doing some research in advance guarantees you will be in the right place at the right time to capture those powerful images that define an event.

Sit down now and list half a dozen projects that would be fun to photograph. Fill in each with shoot notes—subjects, locations, dates, special equipment—anything that will help you capture great images and expand your coverage. Then go do it!

Stop the aimless wandering looking for something to photograph. Give yourself the framework of an assignment and shoot what really defines the subject. The quality of your photography will improve dramatically and you will have fully developed photo essays to share with those around you. And please use the Reply Box below to share your favorite subjects with other photographers following this blog. Everyone needs ideas.Thanks.


Nurse log among Coast Redwood trees, Redwood National Park, California

Create A Sense Of Depth In Your Photographs Using Leading Lines

One of the age-old dilemmas of photography has always been the desire of photographers to create a three dimensional feel in their images using a two dimensional medium. A number of compositional techniques have evolved to create this sense of visual depth, with leading lines being one of my favorites.

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

Essentially, a photographer includes diagonal elements in an image that create visual lines leading back into the image. These lines can be objects, such as rows of grape vines in a vineyard or they can be composed of just light and shadow, which I used to focus the viewers attention on two racing sailboats on San Francisco Bay.

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

Almost anything can be used to create leading lines. even the simple tracks of a lawnmower leading to Opus One Winery in the Napa Valley.

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Leading lines often have a destination. The curved walls at Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins in Chaco Canyon National Historic Park in New Mexico draw you back to another part of the ruins. Just as often, however, they merely draw the viewer back into a scene, creating that sense of depth, as does a large log lying in a redwood grove in Redwood National Park in Northern California, seen at the top of this page.

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico

Have you ever shot a landscape and felt it was a little flat, just two-dimensional? Sometimes a flat composition can be very graphic, but often it is just plain flat. Look for those objects or shadow patterns in the foreground that will give your audience that visual path that creates a sense of depth. After a while leading lines will become part of your compositional approach to creating imagery, eliminating those dull, flat photographs of the past.