Three Workouts to Improve Your Photography

Three Workouts to Improve Your Photography

Photography is a learned skill just like playing the violin or learning to play golf. It takes practice, consistent effort, and hard work. And, it takes seeing the world in new ways. Compelling pictures are not a matter of what you see, but rather, how you see.

Nationally recognized professional photographer Justin Hackworth shares three exercises to improve your photography by learning to see differently.

Exercise #1: Find the Alphabet in the Everyday

This first exercise is a great way to change the way you see and you can do it any time. In fact, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing this on a regular basis. The idea is to take pictures of everyday objects that look like letters of the alphabet. See if you can go all the way from A through Z.

Keep in mind that this is just and exercise on the path to making great pictures. You may or may not get a picture you are happy with in this exercise, but that’s not the point. The point is to start to make a conscious shift in the way you see the world.

The letter M

The letter N

The letter O

The letter P

As you start to look at your everyday surrounding with a new perspective, and you do it on a regular basis, you start to see a shift in the way you see things. Then when you pick up your camera, you’ll have a different perspective than you did before. And that’s the whole idea in photography is to show us something we’ve seen before in a way that we’ve not seen.

See examples below.

Exercise #2: Take a Picture of Your Bed

The next exercise comes from the very famous photographer Dorthea Lange, who used to give this assignment to her classes. Another famous photographer, Imogen Cunningham heard about the assignment and made this picture

photo by Imogen Cunningham

This is best to do with a bed that’s being lit with natural light. What this exercise will do is it will help you pay attention to the way light falls on an object and if you shoot the same bed at different times of day you’ll see how the quality of light will change.

Here are a couple pictures I made when my photography teacher Kent Miles gave this assignment.

To make a great picture, use great light. The unmade bed assignment will help you develop your eye to see, recognize and use great light to your advantage.

Some examples of JHP photos with great light:

Exercise #3: Take Just One Shot

Go somewhere or get someone to photograph, and only take one single picture. No practice shots. No do-overs. Just one photograph. And try to make it the very best picture you can make. This will cause you to slow down, be deliberate, and to think about what you are doing. The idea is to teach you to really think about what kind of pictures you want to take.

My friend Trevor Christensen and I did this last week at the same time. We showed up at his friend’s house and each made one picture. Here are the results.

by Justin Hackworth

by Trevor Christensen

A remarkable example of this is the photographer Jim Brandenburg who was a successful National Geographic photographer and was used to shooting hundreds and hundreds of images per assignment. He gave himself the challenge to only shoot one photograph a day for 90 days and the images are collected in the book called Chased by The Light.

On my blog there’s a link that says “Ask Me Anything” and I’m happy to answer any photography related questions.


Justin Hackworth is a nationally recognized photographer based in Utah, working throughout the United States for a variety of wedding, portrait, corporate and editorial clients.

His photographs have shown in the Finch Lane Gallery, Art Access Gallery, the Central Utah Art Center, the Kimball Art Center, the Springville Art Museum, Brigham Young University, the Millennium Art Center, Photo District News, Photographer’s Forum, Irreantum, and American Photo. Selected pieces have been acquired by the Utah Arts Council and the Millennium Art Center for their permanent collections.

He is a member of the following photographic organizations:
International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers
Professional Photographers of America
The Salt Lake Seven

Justin has over half of the state capitols memorized and can often be seen eating at Diego’s Taco Shop just down the street from his office. He is happy.

Justin Hackworth Photography
1 East Center Street #214
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 916-6993

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