Here's a challenge suggestion that everyone can follow and it should only take a few hours to complete. Creating a simple object with studio lighting in Maya, Daveido posted a tutorial on it in his challenge thread which you could follow along with I liked it because it starts off with what it is and how it works in photography, there's other similar tutorials on this as well.
And you could either restrict it to certain objects (for example follow Jay's free glass jug tutorial
and then do a render of that with studio lighting), pick some simple models like the screwdriver from the resources section and work on a nice composition, or make your own comp with two glasses and a jug or anything you want. The materials could be glass, porcelain, metals and if you wanted you could make a short sim of dropping rings or spheres into a bowl or onto the floor (Dave's free tutorial on object placement
would cover it).
But the theme could be simple object studio lighting in Maya which is a good way to get started with lighting and I remember you just got a book on the topic so any takers for that?
Studio Lighting in Maya 2011 with Mental Ray - YouTube