Frontiers of Your Comfort Zone

12.02.2018 |

Episode #7 of the course Easy exercises to upgrade your photography by Tom Ang


Hello, Photographer!

Today, as promised, we have a change of pace. No need to look for things to photograph—just look at your own photographs. Well, for a start anyway.

This exercise is about mapping out your comfort zone, then stretching it a tiny bit at a time. We all tend to stick to certain subjects, just like we tend to stick to certain routes to get to work and to comfortable ways of thinking.

Neuroscientists know now that when we do something again and again, the actions get “burned” into our brain circuits. This makes it easier and easier to repeat the actions. But there’s a side effect: We get uncomfortable if we try to do things in new ways.

That’s not great news for developing your creativity.


Map of Comfort Zone

For today’s exercise, try to do the following:

• Grab a spare piece of paper to write down your five favorite photographic subjects. I’ve left this open ended so you can be as specific as you like—e.g., grasshoppers, Pacific Ocean sharks, etc.—or as general as you like—plants, landforms, etc.

• Rank these 1-5, with higher scores for your favorites.

• Write down your five favorite ways to photograph. Rank these 1-5, with the high score for your most favorite.

• Next, on a new piece of paper, write down your least favorite subjects and least liked ways to photograph. Be specific as you wish—black treacle, middle-aged businessmen—or be as general as you like—portraits or mechanical things, without tripod or with flash, and so on.

• Rank these by dislike, so it’s from 5-1 with 5 most disliked or least liked; 1 means you’re not keen or just don’t mind.

• Now throw the first page in the trash. You already know what you like, and you already know how to photograph them, right?

• To make it easy, pick the subject you marked 1 on the second list: You don’t care much for it, but it’s not the subject you least like.

You can leave it at that. The list will give you insight into yourself and show you the easiest way to stretch yourself. But you can take it further.



Let’s just imagine that a hugely wealthy businesswoman has heard one of your friends praise your photography. She decides to commission you to shoot her favorite subject (which happens to be the least of your dislikes) and offers an unbelievable fee to shoot for her. To test you out, she wants just one gorgeous image for her. Just one.

She wants to see the picture in one week. Do you refuse? Do you say, “Sorry, Ma’am, I hate shooting that subject.” No, you jolly well do not. You say, “Sure thing, Ma’am. I love shooting that.”

So, for the next week, you will do your best. Work at it. Do it beautifully. Do it thoroughly. After all, what you’re really doing is investing in yourself by stretching yourself.

The images below are from when I had to shoot studio portraits with elaborate lighting—one of my least-liked approaches. I tried to approach it as if I loved shooting this way. It’s not work to remember me by, but I think I made a fair crack at it.

Tomorrow, I share a transformative strategy that can be useful for all aspects of life: predicting the future!

See you!


Recommended book

The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman


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