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Pick a Theme to Inspire Your Photography

Three-TapsThe following guest post on centering your photography around a theme was submitted by Peter Bryenton.

We most improve our photography by making pictures. The more we make, the better we learn to see the world around us. But sometimes it can be hard to think of what to photograph.

Digital cameras have practically zero running costs. You can take twenty pictures of a subject, exploring different angles, then pick out exactly the one you like best and delete the rest, which costs only your time.

One easy way to motivate myself to make more pictures is to follow an ongoing theme. A theme that’s always there, in the back of my mind, encouraging me to get a camera out, at any time, in any place. It also helps that I’m never without a small point-and-shoot camera. I regard it as a kind of artist’s sketchbook. As for the theme, you can choose anything you like that’s general enough to generate an endless supply of chances to explore it. It could be your favourite colour, or parts of cars, or food, or neon signs. Whatever it is, make sure you really like it.

I started my theme of “Threes” many years ago, and it’s turned into a huge body of work I’d never have amassed otherwise. Just about anywhere in the world, day or night, I’ll see a group of three. Three what? Three of anything at all. It doesn’t really matter, as long as I have a go at making a picture out of what I find.

How does having a theme really work?

Theme-ThreeWell, have you ever changed your car, only to find that suddenly the roads seem to be full of similar models, far more than you ever saw before? Psychologists have a fancy name for the phenomenon, but basically you’ve programmed your mind to be receptive to that new “theme” in your world. So it is with the photographic theme I’m suggesting as a spur: you’ll see pictures where you saw none before. Try it for a while: you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll get into it. Then you can slowly add more themes, one by one, over time, until you have enough distinct strands to keep you going for a lifetime. When you improve, you’ll start weaving some of the strands together, like three red beer signs, for example.

A blog is a great way to build an online portfolio, especially one where you can post to separate categories. The categories are, of course, your themes. And there are now websites that will turn your themed blog into a printed book. Now that’s a project worth working at, isn’t it?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.flickr.com/people/bunch_of_photons Navneeth

    I have three things to mention/ask:

    1. Very interesting article. Thank you, Mr.Bryenton. I’m sure this will help me a lot.

    2. The article seems to repeat after the remark on the blogs.

    3. What’s the fancy word for that psychological phenomenon?

  • http://www.ashley-darby-photography.co.uk Ash

    It would have been funny if the article repeated a third time!

  • http://digital-photography-school.com/blog Darren

    hehe – thanks people – I shouldn’t upload new content after midnight :-)

  • http://hlkphoto.com Heather

    @Naveenth:
    3. = RAS(Reticulation Activation System)

  • http://hlkphoto.com Heather

    correction:
    Reticular Activating System

  • http://album.sanders-albek.nl J. Sanders

    Thanks for this article.
    I really like it. I take a lot of photographs of my child and on events. But I always think of, what should I photograph now. Good idea to just take a theme and alwayst think about it. I am going to try this one for sure!!!!!

    Thanks for the idea.

  • http://nu-creation.com Luke

    Great Idea… I have done this in the past but find it is easy to get stuck on a theme.

    Another idea would be to create areas in your home (say on your office wall or in a spare bedroom) where you could display your theme. This would give purpose to your photos and the every day improvement of one’s skill.

  • http://www.brypix.com/ Peter Bryenton

    Thank you, folks, and also to Darren Rowse for motivating me to contribute this to Digital Photography School.

    Peter Bryenton
    Worcestersire, UK

    http://www.brypix.com

  • http://sheymouse.blogspot.com SheyMouse

    A very nice article. I have a theme on my ‘word’ blog of always saying something about the pubs I visit. I think having a theme is a very good way to motivate you. I am still giving the themes a go to see if they catch on with me (none so far).

    Finally, your cell/mobile phone is as good a camera as any, even to remind you of a place to revisit with your higher resolution camera. I have taken over 400 photos in the past six months with my phone. Most aren’t great, but some are great fun! :-)

  • Christine

    I have used a theme for my photography and that is “Great Photo Adventures In My Own Back Yard” We have two acres and I can say that my experiences have given me numerous topics to photograph. Visit my Flickr site as it showcases what I have done on that theme.

    http://www.flickr.com/kitkaphotogirl/

    I ended up with a lot of possibilities, just by staying at home and looking there. Now, I am ready to branch out.

  • Ed

    Ditto on the theme idea. I’ve been shooting landscapes and cityscapes for many years and there’s an endless supply of subjects. A phone or compact camera keeps your eyes open to photos that are always around us.

  • Martinbecke@bigpond.com

    Hi,

    Hell fellow DPS members, I suggest we have a neon themed but like a neon beach theme.

    Martin.

  • http://www.ameyapandit.com Ameya

    I am from Mumbai. Last year me with some friends had a Mumbai Photo Marathon with 3 themes. Mumbai Rush, Tourist in Mumabi and the 4rd was Roadside Mumbai.
    We are again planning to organize the Mumbai Marathon. Can you please suggest some themes?
    BTW, I am regular reader of DPS and learned a lot from your blog. Thank you very much.

  • http://www.ameyapandit.com Ameya

    Here are some photos from our theme.
    http://flickr.com/groups/mumbaiphotomarathon/

    This time we are more prepared and hopefully do better.

  • Christine

    I have picked a theme of Great Photo Adventures in My Own Back Yard. I have photographed flowers, slugs, mushrooms etc. My two cats are also one of my themes.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitkaphotogirl/sets/72157602790236019/

    This is a link to my mushroom set on flickr.

  • Christine R

    Hi
    I belong to a photography group and our theme for this month is ME,MYSELF,I, please help here. I have thought about it long and hard, and cannot come with any ideas on how to prtray this theme, besides a self-portrait, which I am not too keen on…

Some older comments

  • Christine R

    March 15, 2010 08:11 pm

    Hi
    I belong to a photography group and our theme for this month is ME,MYSELF,I, please help here. I have thought about it long and hard, and cannot come with any ideas on how to prtray this theme, besides a self-portrait, which I am not too keen on...

  • Christine

    March 13, 2008 11:35 am

    I have picked a theme of Great Photo Adventures in My Own Back Yard. I have photographed flowers, slugs, mushrooms etc. My two cats are also one of my themes.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitkaphotogirl/sets/72157602790236019/

    This is a link to my mushroom set on flickr.

  • Ameya

    January 22, 2008 06:56 pm

    Here are some photos from our theme.
    http://flickr.com/groups/mumbaiphotomarathon/

    This time we are more prepared and hopefully do better.

  • Ameya

    January 22, 2008 06:54 pm

    I am from Mumbai. Last year me with some friends had a Mumbai Photo Marathon with 3 themes. Mumbai Rush, Tourist in Mumabi and the 4rd was Roadside Mumbai.
    We are again planning to organize the Mumbai Marathon. Can you please suggest some themes?
    BTW, I am regular reader of DPS and learned a lot from your blog. Thank you very much.

  • Martinbecke@bigpond.com

    January 19, 2008 08:37 am

    Hi,

    Hell fellow DPS members, I suggest we have a neon themed but like a neon beach theme.

    Martin.

  • Ed

    December 17, 2007 12:21 am

    Ditto on the theme idea. I've been shooting landscapes and cityscapes for many years and there's an endless supply of subjects. A phone or compact camera keeps your eyes open to photos that are always around us.

  • Christine

    December 9, 2007 10:41 am

    I have used a theme for my photography and that is "Great Photo Adventures In My Own Back Yard" We have two acres and I can say that my experiences have given me numerous topics to photograph. Visit my Flickr site as it showcases what I have done on that theme.

    www.flickr.com/kitkaphotogirl/

    I ended up with a lot of possibilities, just by staying at home and looking there. Now, I am ready to branch out.

  • SheyMouse

    December 8, 2007 03:04 am

    A very nice article. I have a theme on my 'word' blog of always saying something about the pubs I visit. I think having a theme is a very good way to motivate you. I am still giving the themes a go to see if they catch on with me (none so far).

    Finally, your cell/mobile phone is as good a camera as any, even to remind you of a place to revisit with your higher resolution camera. I have taken over 400 photos in the past six months with my phone. Most aren't great, but some are great fun! :-)

  • Peter Bryenton

    December 7, 2007 05:43 am

    Thank you, folks, and also to Darren Rowse for motivating me to contribute this to Digital Photography School.

    Peter Bryenton
    Worcestersire, UK

    http://www.brypix.com

  • Luke

    December 6, 2007 08:11 am

    Great Idea... I have done this in the past but find it is easy to get stuck on a theme.

    Another idea would be to create areas in your home (say on your office wall or in a spare bedroom) where you could display your theme. This would give purpose to your photos and the every day improvement of one's skill.

  • J. Sanders

    December 5, 2007 09:30 pm

    Thanks for this article.
    I really like it. I take a lot of photographs of my child and on events. But I always think of, what should I photograph now. Good idea to just take a theme and alwayst think about it. I am going to try this one for sure!!!!!

    Thanks for the idea.

  • Heather

    December 5, 2007 08:43 am

    correction:
    Reticular Activating System

  • Heather

    December 5, 2007 08:41 am

    @Naveenth:
    3. = RAS(Reticulation Activation System)

  • Darren

    December 5, 2007 06:16 am

    hehe - thanks people - I shouldn't upload new content after midnight :-)

  • Ash

    December 5, 2007 03:26 am

    It would have been funny if the article repeated a third time!

  • Navneeth

    December 5, 2007 01:04 am

    I have three things to mention/ask:

    1. Very interesting article. Thank you, Mr.Bryenton. I'm sure this will help me a lot.

    2. The article seems to repeat after the remark on the blogs.

    3. What's the fancy word for that psychological phenomenon?

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