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5 Creative Ideas to Improve and Inspire Your Photography

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If you are a photographer who takes pictures day in and day out, perhaps because it is your livelihood or you are a keen hobbyist, there are times when you may want to digress from the day to day, and do something new on your day off. You can do this purely for the fun of it, or to set yourself some new learning challenges. This is a good practice to implement regularly because it pushes you to think outside the box, hone your skills, enlarge your vision, and challenge your creativity.

Here are some creative ideas on what you can do to take a break or depart from the usual, even just for a day.

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1 – Vertical only please

These vertical images below were taken from a beach summer holiday when I decided to do this particular photography challenge, purely as a fun visual exercise in composition. All I had was a D700, a 35mm f/1.4 lens, and a few meters of beach.

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Photographing solely in the vertical orientation can be quite tricky. Your view and vision are more constrained. If you are photographing a landscape scene for instance, with the vertical orientation you are limited to pretty much the sky or the earth.

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Things that you are always used to seeing in a landscape (horizontal) format will look different, and therefore you will begin to see with a fresh eye. This forces you to look for more intriguing views and items to photograph, as well as to compose in such a way that the photograph is still interesting, despite the limited width.  You could be confronted with some quite unnerving compositions which make the picture more striking, or at the very least elicit an unusual or unexpected reaction.

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2 – No eyes allowed

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. This challenge is to try and capture a someone’s personality, without photographing their entire face. There are many more things to a person than just a face. For this challenge focus on anything but the eyes, and see how much of the person’s personality you can capture.  You can focus on physical aspects, clothes, or objects that the person loves.

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Some people have developed icons of themselves: things they are known and recognized for. For example, someone who always wears sunglasses on their head, or a person who only wears striped socks, or someone’s tattoo or jewellery style. Find something distinctive about the person. You can also focus on actions. Perhaps the person is adventurous or has a fun-loving, bigger-than-life personality.

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You may want to ask them to do something they love, or hold something that reflects their persona, and find a way of capturing that without photographing the face. Focus on the running motion of their feet, or waving hands, or a big smile cropped in an interesting composition. Color could be another thing. Ask the person to wear their favorite color and find a location that has the same tones.

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You can also set something up that reflects the quirkiness of the person, or choose a location that does the same. A country-loving person might be walking in muddy boots, on a long road that seemingly leads to nowhere. Give it some thought with a person in mind, and you may be surprised how many ideas you can come up with that will potentially truly capture their personality.

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3 – Through a glass, darkly…

Consider utilizing reflection to make your images more enthralling and thought-provoking. You can impose a rule that you can only photograph a reflection and never the person or the object, or you can use both subject and reflection for a refreshing take on an image, making them more captivating.

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Some reflector ideas include: mirrors and shiny reflective objects, water, reflective glass or plastics, windows – even clear windows can have reflections. Raindrops can be great reflectors although you may have to pull out your macro lens to capture the reflection. Photographing reflections can open up a whole new world, such as seeing and capturing surreal or abstract images with the blending of forms and colors, as well as igniting your imagination, and filling you with a new sense of wonder.

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4 – Black is the new hue

Silhouettes are fun to photograph, and not that difficult to execute. But the bigger challenge is to find a striking silhouette concept. The main thing to remember is to find good contrast – a very bright background, preferably bigger than the subject, and put the subject in front of the light area. Expose for the bright background so that your subject is so severely underexposed that they look very dark or black.  Here is a really good article with a simple step-by-step guide on how to take stunning silhouettes.

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5 – Layering

Layering is a really subtle, but extremely effective, photographer’s trick to convey depth, mystery, and mood in a photograph.  It is especially useful if you are a photojournalistic or documentary photographer, as it makes the viewer feel that they are looking through someone else’s lens, and are present in the moment but inconspicuous, much like a fly on the wall.

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There are three basic things to remember when composing a photograph with layering in mind: foreground, middle ground and background.  Most of the photographs we see often have two layers – the subject and the background.  Incorporating a foreground in your composition not only adds three-dimensionality to your photograph but also makes it more visually compelling.

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Choosing the right foregrounds can be used to frame your subject – as a leading line to direct attention to your subject, therefore making your image more dynamic, or as a tool for emphasis and composition amongst many others. There are times when finding an obvious foreground is next to impossible. One solution is to physically hold an object, such as a leaf or paper, in front of your lens just enough to be in the frame, but not to obscure the subject.

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You can also layer by simply using your lens and the effect of a very wide aperture such as f/1.4. By employing your lens’s ability to blur the foreground, while keeping the middle ground in sharp focus, and then blur the background again, can make an otherwise dull image enchanting. Even something as simple as a patch of stones or sand can look layered using this technique.

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I hope you will enjoy doing these creative challenges. Do you have other creative photography ideas to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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Lily Sawyer is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on "mummy" dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • Keith

    Great article and looking forward to going out and shooting some different ideas this weekend!

  • These are all awesome ideas and the photo examples are great. I particularly like the layering idea and that pic of the two kids in the darkened doorway with the door jamb in the foreground is perfect.

  • Lily Sawyer

    That’s so great to hear, Keith. Have fun shooting this weekend and share your pics on here!

  • Lily Sawyer

    I’m so happy you approve of the article, Clif. I agree, layering is such a fabulous photography trick. Do share your pics on here too!

  • Blaine

    Excellent article! And some very nice pictures, too. 🙂 Here’s a picture I chose to take vertically – and it has a foreground.

  • Lily Sawyer

    Thanks for sharing! Glad you enjoyed the article and keep shooting and sharing! Best, Lily

  • Pixelgreat

    Have never thought of using wide apetures in this way ie layering. Will try next time I’m out with my nifty fifty!

  • Lily Sawyer

    Give it a go and show us your pics!

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