Because photography usually (not always) requires a camera to produce pictures, it has become a very technological pursuit. Let's face it, even a $100 digital camera is a cornucopia of miniature electronic miracles--so it's hard not to think of taking pictures in a very high-tech light. But taking pictures should also be fun and sometimes you need to remember that your camera is, in many ways, just another toy used for having fun. And if it's a toy, then it's also meant for playing.
There are lots of ways to play with a camera. For one, you could set your shutter speed to a ridiculously-slow shutter speed and take intentionally blurry photos--streaks of light from holiday displays, kids running, or even the path of stars through the nighttime sky (but use a tripod for that one). Or you can put a piece of colored plastic--not an expensive filter, but a piece of colored Mylar or a sheet of plastic food wrap--in front of your lens. What happens? What happens if you spin around during a long exposure? Kids are usually much better at this kind of thing than adults because they haven't learned that you're not "supposed" to do a lot of these things.
Last night I was sitting at my desk, bored, and I noticed that a chambered nautilus I keep around as a prop and a plastic plate I was eating from had a similar spiral pattern. I had my Nikon D90 next to me (I almost always have a camera within arm's reach) and I happened to have my Lensbaby out--a fun lens-substitute that is designed for letting you play with things like soft focus and focus-shifting. So, rather than haul out a tripod and put on a "good" lens, I just started playing with the Lensbaby and the shell/plate idea. I was only using a gooseneck desk lamp for light and the shutter speed (in manual mode) was around 1/4 second. The Lensbaby has to be used in manual, so you kind of have to try one exposure and then check the LCD to see how close you are--then adjust it until you get something you like. I shot the photo above in RAW (I shoot everything in RAW) and played a little with exposure and color balance in editing. The quickie self-portrait below, also taken with a Lensbaby (five minutes after the nautilus shot) is completely uncorrected--it is exactly as it came out of the camera. Trust me, if I had been doing this seriously, I would have corrected my blood-shot eye!
Both of these photos are horrid technically, but they were fun to take and I was surprised by both results. And in the end, getting surprised is sometimes a lot more fun than knowing precisely how your images will come out.
Take time to play with your camera--often it will take you to places you could never have imagined while you were trying to get everything to be as perfect as your camera would like to make it.