The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.—Woodrow Wilson
A sure sign that we’re starting a new year is the fact that my email inbox and social media feeds are full of invitations to participate in various photo challenges. Some are monthly, some are weekly, and some overly-ambitious souls think I might be interested in a daily challenge. No, I’m not. I don’t necessarily have anything against a good photo challenge, but I do think there are considerations one should make before committing so such a thing.
Within my overly abundant archives of photographs, I maintain a folder labeled “Random.” Into the “Random” folder goes all the images that I capture while out wandering about, not necessarily looking for anything in particular. These are typically landscape and architecture shots where I see something unusual, out of place, humorous, or, on rare occasion, uniquely lit by catching the sun at just the right moment. There won’t be enough to make a series or expound upon at length, but one image that, hopefully, says something significant. This folder is very full.
Given the bulk of my “Random” folder, I’m not quick to take on any projects that are unlikely to do more than add content to that already voluminous catalog. I’m not lacking for inspiration and have an abundant supply of concepts. What I need is time and willing accomplices, which are not things a photo challenge can provide. However, for those who are tempted to participate in a photo challenge, we have some recommendations.
Find a photo challenge that actually challenges you.
Not all photo challenges are created equal. Some are extremely difficult to fulfill. Some are very narrow and limited in their topic range. Before signing up, take a careful look and see if the challenge matches your interests and the time you have available. Personally, if I were going to do a challenge, I would likely consider something broad and creative, such as the Dogwood Photography 52 Week Photography Challenge.
Make sure you actually have time to complete the challenge.
All our lives are busy and going out looking for photos to meet a specific challenge can sometimes take several hours out of a schedule. Look carefully at the topics and see if you have time to actually chase down the things on the list. The more specific the list, the more challenging the time factor is likely to be, even if everything on the list is supposed to be “common household items.” Not everyone keeps apple cider vinegar on hand, for example.
Choose a challenge that interests you.
One certain path to failure would be for me to sign up for a photo challenge involving flowers. While I like flowers, chasing them down for a single photo doesn’t inspire me like it might inspire others. Some photo challenges are open enough to match a variety of interests, which is great. More specific challenges, however, should be approached with careful consideration.
Consider the equipment necessary to complete the challenge.
A photo challenge that explores the use of slaved strobes could be really interesting and fun, unless one doesn’t have slave strobes or extra stands. I’ve seen a few macro challenges running around as well, but if one doesn’t have a good macro lens is such a challenge a good match? Sure, one could go out and purchase the additional equipment, but if that equipment isn’t going to actually pay for itself is it worth the expense? Don’t take up a challenge that leaves you with equipment you’ll not use again.
What modifications are possible?
A creative photo challenge, such as the one from Dogwood, gives photographers and students plenty of space to modify the challenge to fit their own particular style of photography. Challenges that result in everyone having pictures of identical items or carefully curated themes can be great for beginners, but not so much for more advanced photographers.
At the end of any good photo challenge, one should be able to present a reasonable collection of photographs that have the potential of becoming part of one’s portfolio, or, at least, feel they have learned something positive from the experience. I think such events can be most helpful for those who understand the basics of their camera but don’t have a lot of experience actually shooting. If so inclined, take a look around. There are dozens of new photo challenges starting this week. Find one that works for you and jump in!