Rick Hobbs Photography

Wildlife/Nature/Outdoor Photography

Photo Tips

Creating A Self-Assignment

The Self-Assignment is a valuable tool many photographers frequently use to expand their image files or to get their creativity flowing again. I find self-assignments help to give my random ideas some direction and keep my photography moving forward. These assignments get you out in the field and are extremely valuable when it comes to re-charging your internal batteries.

Trumpeter Swan

In Minnesota, by the middle of the season, winter usually has a firm grip on our state as she gradually covers it with blankets of ice and snow. This can be a magnificent time to be out in the field and I was determined to take advantage of the opportunities winter offers. For motivation, I created a self-assignment.

The first step in creating a self-assignment is to determine what the assignment is going to be. You should begin by selecting a project that is something you want to do. The assignment could be learning to use a new piece of equipment, create a portfolio of birds in flight, or simply to get out and photograph fall color.

It may help to begin with a general assignment. My general assignment was to get out in the field and do some winter photography.

Next, break it down to define a specific assignment that can be planned and achieved. I decided my self-assignment was to get decent coverage of trumpeter swans. It is important to mention that decent coverage did not mean to simply have a couple of good trumpeter swan images. I wanted to create hundreds of good photographs that covered a wide variety of portraits and behavior.

Trumpeter Swan

A self-assignment can allow you to be creative and even dictate that you try shooting something different such as new equipment, a different style, or try new techniques. These assignments will also help keep your photography skills sharp. Just as professional athletes constantly practice their sport, the more you work with your camera gear, the sharper your skills will be when one of nature's fleeting moments presents itself. With my trumpeter swan assignment I was able to work on basic cold weather shooting skills, panning with swans in flight, and approaching wildlife skills.

A self-assignment also helps keep your vision in focus. When your vision is in focus then creativity and passion are there, and when your creativity and passion are there, discipline and commitment are non-issues. This was never more apparent then when the alarm went off very early in the morning. I had to crawl out of my nice warm bed to drive 100 miles in the cold darkness in order to be in position to photograph the swans as the first light of the day came up. If not for trying to complete my self-assignment I probably would have chosen to roll over and stay in the comfort of my warm bed.

Sometimes a self-assignment can also become a self-examination. Getting up early and spending the mornings standing along the frozen bank of the Mississippi River, in well below zero temperatures, was well worth it. On several occasions, I was able to spend hours alone in the field with hundreds of trumpeter swans as they flapped their wings, warned each other of their territory, and flew directly overhead only to bank around and land in front of me. My payoff was right there in the field, it was an amazing experience.

Trumpeter Swans

To help select an assignment I suggest beginning by determining opportunities in your area. For my assignment, I discovered hundreds of trumpeter swans winter near open water in Minnesota and Wisconsin within 100 miles of my home. In spring some nesting pairs stay in the area and provide on-going opportunities. As a result, I could visit these locations whenever I thought the time would be right to create interesting images.

Next, define the purpose, goals or objectives you want to accomplish with your self-assignment. I wanted to learn more about trumpeter swans and create hundreds of good photographs for my files. In the process, I wanted to have fun in the field.

Once this is done, identify key ingredients that will help you to successfully complete your assignment. To achieve my goals I determined that I needed plenty of subjects available. With hundreds of trumpeter swans in the area I had more chances of photographing cooperative subjects. The weather was going to have a significant impact on my success. I wanted to be on location for the very clear, cold, winter mornings so the steam would rise off the open water and add to the impact of the images. Also, it was important to photograph the swans in flight against a blue sky instead of a white or gray overcast sky.

Trumpeter Swan

After researching and scouting potential areas you can define a general window of opportunity. Then based on your availability and the weather forecast you can narrow it down to specific days.

The following tips will help you to be successful with the assignment you have selected.

1). Do some research and learn as much as you can about your subjects. Understanding and observing their behavior will help you to anticipate photo opportunities. This is also important to make sure you are not stressing your subjects.

2). Select a location where you can spend some time. It is important that you can go back to the location when the time is best for photography. The more time you spend in an area the better the opportunities usually seem to be.

3). Put yourself in the place of most potential. After selecting the location, learning about your subject, and evaluating the weather and lighting, you can put yourself in the place of most potential.

4). Pre-visualize several different types of images. It helps to pre-visualize the types of images you are looking for, however, when you are in the field you need to be flexible and alert for other opportunities that may present themselves.

5). Shoot a variety of images. With my trumpeter swan assignment I created several different types of images. There were intimate portraits that only show part of the subject. I also made traditional portraits and environmental portraits showing some habitat. The type of images I enjoy creating the most are the dynamic behavior shots such as, flight, take-offs, landings, communication, fighting, feeding and flapping their wings.

Trumpeter Swan

For me, the Self-Assignment is a productive and valuable tool that I use to add many new images to my files and to keep my creativity flowing. Is there an assignment in your future?


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