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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

This post is going to help you to focus, set yourself a photo challenge task, complete it, and take better photos, all in less time. It’s about preparation, and thinking about your desired result, before you even leave the house.

Who actually has the time to go out and take photos for the fun of it?

It sounds ridiculous, but that’s just the world we live in. With photography, the websites I own or work for, social media, app development, and personal requirements such as the gym, it’s hard to find the time to actually go out and take photos for myself.

So that’s why I developed a 1 hour photo challenge. From start to finish, I set myself 1 hour to take just a single good photo, and I’m starting to see some results I’m happy with.

How many of you go out and take photos, with no real objective in mind, and come home with some nice photos, and maybe a handful of average photos?

Lets have a look at what I’ve been doing….

Set Yourself a Photo Challenge Brief

I will find a location, set myself a time that I know is going to work, and give myself an hour from whenever I leave my car/home. For the photo that we’re going to be looking at today, I was sitting on the beach the night before, and low tide was around about the same time as sunset. I thought it would be a great idea to come back to the same spot the next night and catch a photo.

The location is a Brighton favourite, it’s West Pier, which burned down about ten years ago. Around Brighton, taking photos of the pier is probably considered a little bit played out, so I knew that I was going to have to have a combination of good composition and excellent weather conditions.

When you know where and when you’re going to take a photo, as well as the sort of photo you’re looking for, you’re already going into it with a much clearer focus.

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept – Ansel Adams

Prepping Your Hour

I knew the time and the place, so then all I had to do was pack a bag and get there. I know that it’s going to be getting darker, and I may want to play with slower shutters, so a tripod is a must, and I know that I’m mostly going to be shooting wide, so a couple wide angle lenses are important too.

The more prepared you are, the more focused you’re going to be, and the better result you’ll get from your hour.

Like the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.

Taking the Photos

I arrived on the beach, in my car, about 10 minutes away from where I envisioned taking my photos. I bought myself 1 hour’s worth of parking (£3.50 for an hour’s parking at 6:30 in the evening, have a laugh!), and set off. Using my time wisely, I played with some camera settings and cleaned my lenses as I walked.

Time was ticking. I wasn’t just up against the hour I’d set myself, or the parking fine, I was losing light too.

I arrived at where I originally got the idea for the photo, which was taken below. I had originally thought that this would be a great location, but when I arrived, it was clear that I would have to rethink. The sky was cloudy, so I wasn’t seeing the sun, let alone a spectacular sunset.

Nevermind, this is not a time to give up, it’s a time to rethink, and work with what I’ve got to work with.

Constantly be looking at your scene, examining everything infront of you, and ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s adding to the photo?
  • What’s taking away?
  • What’s the most interesting part of the frame?
  • Where/who/what is your subject?
  • Do you know what you want to express, and is the message clear?
  • Do you like this photo?

These are just a few examples. When I asked myself these questions, I noticed that the bottom third of the frame was entirely boring, the subject wasn’t clear, there was no direct path for the eyes to follow, and it wasn’t working in this weather.

It’s these questions which are the essence of the 1 hour photography project. Focus on your task, and be more efficient with your time.

NOTE: See those black pillars on the right of the frame? That’s where I ended up taking my final photo.

By getting closer, I was able to remove the buildings which were on the right hand side of the photo, making the pier bigger, and the people more interesting. The birds were more dominant though, and the reflection worked better. There were still a few problems though.

The reflection on the beach was the original idea for when the sunset was clear in the sky, with no sunset, the beach looked a bit boring. The bottom third of the frame was improved, but it still wasn’t really adding anything to the photo. And if it’s not adding, it’s taking away. Time to move on.

I climbed over the breakwater, and moved onto the beach, avoiding the tide where I could. The foreground of this photo is much more interesting, because the foam in the water added colour and texture to the photo.

The main problem that I had with this photo was that my eyes were being drawn away from the pier. The diagonal lines of the tide were pulling me over the the kayakers, and when the pier is the subject, this is just not what you want. Because they’re on the same line in the photo, it’s harder to encourage someone to focus on one, rather than the other.

Taking a step back, I could include a more interesting foreground, with a contrasting stoney beach, and the kayakers were altogether more interesting too. The diagonal lines were still there, but I found the pier to be more prominent.

I still wasn’t happy though, I didn’t like the contrast in the sky, and to be honest, it’s not a very interesting photo yet. It’s alright, but not good.

Time was pressing on, but I figured that if I was fast enough, I could move on to where the pier leaves the beach.

These big rusty pillars line the beach, extending out to the burnt out pier, and when you’re standing in front of them, they’re incredibly dominating. The trouble is though, I have peripheral vision, but my camera doesn’t. I took a quick snap to see what it looked like, but it wasn’t working for me. Plus the sea looks like a smiley face.

Remember, constantly question your photos. Adding pressure to your photo challenge will either make you buckle, or force you to get better results. A clear companion for the pier was that cloud forming behind it, as it adds some great texture and dynamics.

Getting closer and closer still, I had found a way to make the foreground much more interesting. With partially buried parts of the pier surfacing through the water, I could use the foreground and background effectively. This gradually leads your eye to the pier.

By slowing my shutter speed slightly, it meant that I could capture a little bit of motion blur from the water, which was very nice. Try not to overdo this, because your photo will start to look the same as all the rest. I could have stopped here, but I didn’t. Why?

I continued to question myself, a familiar question I always ask when taking photos: what don’t I like about this photo?

Well, I didn’t like the dark rocks in the bottom left hand corner, nor did I like that the ruin in the foreground was bigger than the ruin in the center of the frame, and I wasn’t particularly taken by the sky either.

Getting just slightly closer to the action, I was able to capture this, my final photo.

The sky was more interesting, with the rain clouds and pink sky were more dominant. The foreground was less distracting too, with the ruin pointing towards with pier. The very slight motion captured in the tide was just enough to satisfy me, and this was one of about five photos, and I was waiting for a small splash on the ruin in the foreground.

At this point, it was about 45 minutes since I left my car, and it was time to head back. Because I had been focused on what I wanted to achieve, and I knew what it was I wanted to capture, I was able to produce a photo that I’m very happy with. I’ve managed to take a photo of a classic subject, in my own style, in a short space of time.

I hope that you try setting yourself a 1  hour photo challenge, because when you set yourself a task, and focus on how you want to complete it, your results are often much better.

It’s like going to the supermarket without a list. If you don’t take one with you, you end up buying stuff you don’t need, and miss the stuff you do.

Always be prepared.

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The 1 Hour Photo Challenge

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)