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The Alphabet Challenge - for when you're lacking a little inspiration!

Recently someone asked a question on one of my beginner photography groups about 'what they should photograph' - clearly looking for inspiration. Some of the answers were helpful and some less so - including one which said 'you might as well just open the dictionary and shoot everything on that page'. The implication being that you can shoot pretty much anything and it will help you to learn.

This got me thinking about ways in which we can help new photographers to experiment with different techniques and subjects, and led me to creating 'The Alphabet Challenge' - which may have been done before, but this is my take on it anyway!

Many of the groups I'm involved in run competitions where the subject is 'anything that begins with the letter . . . ' and so on. So this is really just an extension of that, along with some hints and suggestions for each one based on the kind of thing I had in mind when I came up with the idea. This one at the top is 'R for Reflection', though also a self portrait!

I've tried to keep it at a level where you only need a kit lens to complete it, or even a mobile phone camera could do most of this - so no fancy equipment is required, and you can make it as simple or as complex as you like. I'm thinking also that they could be done in any order, as some will require more planning than others!

It would be great to see any shots you've taken if you try this out, so feel free to tag me when you post them on Twitter or Instagram - @gillprincephoto - or on Facebook @gillprincephotography, and use the hashtag #gpalphabetchallenge. I'll look out for them and be sure to comment, if you'd like me to!


Still life - an easy one to start with, think about interesting lighting to show the curve of the apple, natural window light is fine! And make sure you think about the background as well, or maybe add a reflection by placing it on a reflective surface.


Nature - any kind of bird, think about depth of field, get down low on the ground or level with them if higher and throw the background out of focus by using a wide aperture. If you can't find a real one, a sculpture, an ornament or even a stuffed toy will do . . .


Architecture - I know not everyone has a castle nearby, so churches, forts, and unusual old buildings will do the trick. Think about getting up close and accentuating the texture of the stone, or stepping back and making the sky a feature.


Pet photography - if you don't have one, I'm sure you can find one to take photos of, even if just in the street! If it's moving, shutter speed will be vital - maybe try a fast one to 'freeze the action' - or a portrait with a nice blurry background.


Street or architecture - with or without people, think about lines and angles, and how you can use the strong shapes to draw the viewer's eye into the shot, what they call 'leading lines'. Mono could work well here also.


Flower/nature photography - think about depth of field, a blurry background will make the flower stand out so get down level with it and use a wide aperture. But think about the detail in the background also, and the importance of colours that complement the subject rather than distracting from it.


Nature or macro - if you have the kit. But no worries if not. Think about capturing the texture of the grass, or get down low and shoot through it, with bright backlighting. Could be low green 'lawn type' grass or tall willowy wild grasses, they both work equally well.


Point of view - this is more of a compositional technique than a subject as such, but where you stand in relation to your subject can make a huge difference to the mood of a shot. Get low and look upwards to give the feeling of scale, or find a high spot and shoot downwards to create a story.


Nature, landscape, macro or still life - depending on your location and the time of year, you may be ale to find ice or ice crystals easily, but if not then a few ice cubes from the freezer could do the job. Think about getting up close and looking for reflections, or going for a more abstract mono approach.


Still life or fashion/portrait -could be on a person or more of a still life approach. Think about lighting and colour, and the background you're shooting on if still life. A shallow depth of field could work well here too - to focus on the main jewel within a piece, or the links of a chain getting blurrier as they recede.


Still life or documentary - this could be a simple still life of a bunch of keys, with interesting lighting. Or you could use the keys (or a single key) as part of a story and position them somewhere that causes the viewer to 'what to know more', and to question why they are where they are - maybe in an unusual location?


Indoor or urban landscape - this is a broad one, but the challenge is to make the light the main feature, and to ensure that the detail doesn't 'burn out'. It can be any kind of light source - so you need to think about under exposing to protect your highlights, or diffusing the light in some way by shooting through another object.


Still life or documentary - notes or coins, or even something totally different that says 'money'. Think about telling a story with the subject, and where the money might fit within that story. Or a still life is equally fine if you're not feeling that creative! Mono and high contrast could work well here also, especially with coins.


Night photography (obviously!) - so using a tripod if you have one, or balancing your camera on a firm surface if not, and using a longer exposure - unless you want to intentionally move the camera for artistic effect, which is also a great technique. Street lights, headlight trails, astro if you're feeling brave. Even the moon!


Still life or abstract - loads of options here. A rainbow effect in a puddle of oil in a car park, or an abstract created by dripping oil into water. An arty shot of motor oil cans on a shelf in a shop, with shallow depth of field - or a still life of a nice bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Or even an oil rig if you're somewhere that has them nearby!


Street photography or portraits - the choice is yours! And candid or posed. Any shot with people or a person in it works. Try your hand at natural light portraits, or get out into the street and take some candid shots, up close or from a distance. Even part of a person is fine - hands, feet, backs and so on - or even shadows or silhouettes of people.


Still life or abstract - all we need here is a quarter of something, so a pineapple maybe, or a cake, or anything really, as long as you can see that it's a quarter of a whole. A good one to get creative with. Or it could be something that exists already that is 'quartered', but you can see all four pieces.


Landscape or urban - reflections are everywhere, in water, in shop windows, in wine glasses, even wet sand as the tide goes out. Or as for the one at the top, in my local gallery! Head out to capture an early morning reflections at the beach or a lake, or if you're not close to anything like that, try an urban scene and look for reflections in glass offices or shopfronts.

Stuffed toy

Still life or documentary - this should be fun! A simple still life in a cute pose, with props maybe, to show a character - or tell a story by putting it in a situation that makes the viewer want to know more. Why is it there? What's it doing? What happened? Just don't do anything too sad or I might cry!


Landscape or nature - trees are amazing, graphic and architectural in winter, green and vibrant in spring and summer, bright and dynamic in autumn. Shoot them as a group, or as a single 'lone tree' which can be extremely effective. Think about capturing sunlight through the branches, and use a narrow aperture to create a starburst effect.


Street photography, portraits or still life - any shot involving one or more umbrellas. Rainy days are great for this, look for colours and reflections, masses of umbrellas in a street scene, or a single person with a beautiful umbrella - candid or posed. Or maybe just an umbrella on its own, with a lovely reflection. Brollies used as sunshades count too . . .


Still life or nature - this could be a bought item shot in an interesting and arty way, or a group of colourful vegetables, or even one still growing on the plant, with more of a natural feel to it. Reflections can work well here too - just place the item on a mirror or glass surface near a window, and play around with under exposing for a more dramatic effect.


Landscape or nature - this is a really broad one, as it could be sea, lakes or ponds, waterfalls, even a running tap. Your choice if you 'freeze the action' with a fast shutter speed or try to get a moving water effect with a longer shutter speed - which can be done, even without filters. It just needs to be moving fast enough!


Abstract - as I thought you may not be able to find a xylophone easily, I went for a simple 'X'! You can make whole words out of letter shapes found in the real world, so this challenge is to photograph something that looks like an X. Make it look beautiful and think about how you crop, so it really does look like an X. No actual letters please!


Landscape, still life, nature etc. - pretty much any genre in fact. But yellow must be the main feature. Not necessarily a totally yellow image, but one where the main subject is yellow. Think flowers, taxis (in some countries!), canaries, post-it notes, eggs, even the sun. Lots to choose from.

Zebra or zebra print

Wildlife, still life or abstract - a bit of creative license here. So if you can photograph a real zebra, in the wild or a zoo, that's amazing. But relatively hard to do, so anything 'zebra print' counts. Might need a trip to the shops, or stalking someone in a zebra print coat on the high street. I had to end this with a bit of a challenge!

So there you are. As I said, can be shot in any order, but hopefully this will give you some ideas if you're just starting out and/or need some inspiration. Any of them can be shot with a simple kit lens, and will hopefully help you to learn (or practise) a few techniques along the way!

If you'd like to know more about me, please visit my About page - or to find out about my 1-2-1 and online/remote photography tuition, please click here.


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