Improve your photography by undertaking self assignments. In this video I’ll describe how to undertake a self assignment, some topics for it, and how to assess your progress.


Hello, I’m Helen Bradley. Welcome to this video tutorial. Today I’m going to talk about photographic self-assignments. What is a self-assignment. Self-assignments are short self-assigned photo projects that you shoot just for the sake of shooting. And typically they shouldn’t require you to go out and buy anything special or to go anywhere special to do them. They are the sort of thing you could go and do immediately after you’ve finished watching this video — grab your camera and you’re ready to start.

It’s a good idea to do self-assignments regularly and when you are not under pressure to capture anything at all worthwhile so you’d never undertake one when you are the main photographer at a wedding for example. Self-assignments are generally quite short so you can spend as little as a few minutes at a time on them — but of course they can consume a lot more time if you have it available.

Self-assignments technically have a topic — you’re not just out to shoot, you’re out to shoot a something or to practice something — you’re not aiming to shoot ‘keepers’ so much as you are aiming to learn something. Self-assignment should take you out of your comfort zone and help you see things or experiment with techniques and your kit.

Preparing for a self-assignment

When you’re preparing for a self- assignment, firstly you need to allocate the time to work on your self-assignment. Often you can find it by repurposing time you already spend doing something such as walking to the bus station — make this the time that you work on your self-assignment. Or you could park a few blocks from your office and walk there, walk at lunchtime or walk when you get home at night and, as you walk, you can photograph for your self-assignment. If you don’t get out a lot then photograph inside your house or your backyard or spend the time waiting at an airport or train station catching shots for your current self-assignment.

You will also need to take a camera with you — everywhere. It doesn’t have to be your good camera but it’s good if it is. It might seem strange to carry your camera with you all the time but the more you do so, the less uncomfortable you will feel and you’ll really notice it when you don’t have your camera handy.

Topics and subject matter

Plan your self-assignment — You’ll need a topic or a focus for your shooting. It should be something that challenges you and forces you to learn something new or to look at the world a little differently. Some topics which you might want to pursue are: saturated colors, circles, paint marks, streetlights, the color blue, doors, shadows, repetition, food, street art, reflections, or alphabet which is a great one for the airport. Don’t expect to always nail the project on day 1 — so if you’re shooting something like circles — it’s worth going over the same territory a couple of days in a row — notice how many more circles you see on day 2 than you did on day 1. Your assignment might also be related to a piece of your kit — perhaps you have an unused or little used lens in your case — unused because you really don’t know how to use it — and because you can’t trust yourself to use it for important situations the cycle becomes self-repeating so you never use it.

Set yourself a self-assignment to shoot with the lens for a couple of weeks. By the end of the two weeks you’ll know a lot more about the lens and how to use it. If you’re someone who always uses the Auto mode on your camera now is a good time to start using Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode and start learning what creative possibilities they might offer. Determine the topic or focus of your self-assignment and a timeframe to work in. Once you’re done with the first assignment you’ll ready to start on the next but don’t be surprised if you continue to shoot these self-assignment themes in other situations.

Assess the results

When you are working on a self- assignment, download the images as often as you can and view the results. Assess how you’ve gone in your project. How easy was it for you to ‘see’ things that matched your topic. Assess the technical aspect of your shots — are they in focus, is the depth of field used appropriate for the subject matter — how would you improve the shot next time and what will you do differently tomorrow? If you’re working on a self-assignment to learn how to use a piece of kit, ask yourself what have you learned about it. What worked and what did not work. Analyse the results in front of you to determine what you’ll try that will be different tomorrow or the next day. What you’ll gain Self-assignments are creative learning projects so approach them with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm for your topic — reward yourself when you see something you wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t been doing your self-assignment.

Self-assignments can help you see the world different and they’re guaranteed to make you a better photographer. If you are a creative person who wishes they could photograph more but have to juggle photography with other commitments then self-assignments provide a creative outlet that can be fit into even a few minutes of your spare time.

I’m Helen Bradley. Thank you for joining me for this video tutorial. I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and visit for more photography tips and tricks.

Helen Bradley