Photo challenges are a kick in the pants
The reason for this is because we do not exercise our photographic eye enough. We don't flex our creative side often enough to the point where consistently good photographs are routinely created. Unfortunately it is because 'life' interferes. Work, family, bills, kids, lawns, cars, and so on...
One of the hardest things to do for many is to become disciplined enough to shoot consistently. This may mean simply taking a few minutes each day to grab the camera, step outside and grab a few frames of what's happening around you. Or it can be to try a new technique down in your cellar studio. Whatever the case, often enough we need a little push. That's where photo challenges come in.
Photo challenges are exactly what the name implies; a task to challenge you artistically, technically, physically or spiritually. These challenges can come form a variety of sources. Homework from an online photography course. A new technique you read about in a blog. A contest promoted by your local camera club (hint, hint). But the trick is to acknowledge the challenge.
What I mean by "acknowledging the challenge" is that you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone in completing the challenge. If the challenge is trying out a new technique your read about, do so until you achieve satisfactory results. Don't just play with it a few minutes then give up. Really get your hands in there. Here is an example;
I post a monthly photo contest on the Meetup site with a simple topic very open to interpretation. For many, it's a simple task to just sift through the hundreds of shots stored on a hard drive. Once it's found it gets a little dusting off and posted to the contest page. Not really a challenge there. In order to exercise the gray matter the contest should be seen as an opportunity to create a photograph that meets the criteria.
Noticed I said create and not take. A good image can be taken but a great image is created. Therein lies the challenge. Anyone can take a picture but we're not involved with photo groups and shell out money for photography classes and stay up late reading photography blogs just to take a picture.
While the above scenario of dusting off an old image is typical, have you really learned anything? To answer that question you have to answer a few others. Have I learned anything new? Has it forced me out of my comfort zone? Have I attained a new level of discipline? I'm sure there are other questions just as pertinent but you get the idea. Each task we present ourselves to overcome should benefit us in such a way that we mature as an artist. Otherwise we run the danger of becoming complacently static.
There are many types of challenges out there and they don't all have to be external. There are different levels too and you need to understand at what level you are so you don't over extend yourself to the point of becoming discouraged. Challenges should be realistic. I would love to do a 365 challenge. This is the challenge where you create one picture a day for a full year. I just don't have the time. I should challenge myself with a photo a week challenge. That's more realistic for me. Only you can judge what level to pursue but the trick is to pursue it.
The root of any challenge is discipline. The discipline to undertake a given challenge that pushes us. The discipline to push through the challenge no matter how difficult it is. The discipline to 'up the ante' if the challenge fails to prove challenging and then the discipline to finish it.