photo assignments

Photo Assignments #1: Arm's Length

This is an ongoing series on photo assignments from The Photographer's Playbook. Which I highly recommend getting if you're looking for new ways to shoot and think about photography. 

This was Susan Meiselas's, the renowned documentary photographer, assingment. It's inspired from the often used Robert Capa quote. 

If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.

Meiselas's assignment was to use a lens that could focus at arms length and tape the lens at that focal distance and shoot a roll of film. I ended up using my Nikon FM and pancake 50mm lens which luckily focused at a meter, my arms length. I waited till sunset and left the house. 

This assignment was incredibly fun. Shooting at a short focal length I had to use my legs to focus on the image, I also had to get uncomfortably close to things I would typically shoot from 3-4 extra feet away. Both of these differences made me think a differently about how I approached the shots and how I took the shots. I took more steps toward things and moved in and out of images much slower. After a few shots I got more comfortable and  quickly finished my roll of Fuji Superia 400. 

I'll post the entire roll for these assignments and mark the images I like. Shooting at a short focal length adds a little separation to the image and increases the focus on the subject. There was also the increased amount of detail I found in the images too. Leaves, woodgrain and paint chips aren't my normal subjects but rendered well here. Overall these images have a naturalness I'm always leaning toward but was surprised to find in these closeup conditions.

I need to do this assignment more and found it an overall success. It's a nice way to break out of my normal routine and I was surprised with how many shots I liked. This assignment also doesn't require any extra gear or conditions. You can use the camera you have, tape the lens down to arm's length and go have fun.

A Simple Way to Describe Your Photography and Find New Ideas Too

It's hard to talk about your own work. It used to feel self serving and too introspective but recently I made up a fun exercise that helps. I used a simple sentence to describe some classic photographers and found you could use it to describe your own work and best of all create new projects and ideas as well. 

It's a simple formula: 

- NAME is known for shooting SUBJECT in a NAME OF STYLE. The images are most commonly described as THREE ADJECTIVES

This sounds simple and it is. Here are some examples of photographers I love. 


- Diane Arbus is known for shooting people on the edge of society in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as humanizing, evocative and disturbing. 

- Chikako is known for shooting flowers in a dreamlike style. The images are most commonly described as painterly, organic and hypnotic. 


- Susan Meiselas is known for shooting Latin American conflict in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as raw, emotional and close to the action. 

Using the same formula and describing my tattoo project in this way is pretty easy too. 

- Dan Dao is known for shooting tattoo artists in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as natural, personal and straightforward. 

Secondly using this same formula you can remix parts to find new styles and approaches to things. Take the Diane Arbus description and change "people on the edge of society" to "softball players" or "pet snakes". You can take that style and description and use it as a framework for approaching a new subject. Maybe the images would be duds but it can get you thinking in new ways. How would Arbus shoot a softball catcher?

Photographers and artists can't reinvent the wheel on every project but they can remix ideas and subjects in new styles. This simple word play exercise really helped me define my work and gives me endless options for projects in the future. I hope you're ready for...

Dan Dao is known for shooting taco trucks in a macro photography style. The images are most commonly described as bright, colorful and yummy.