What to do When there's Nothing to Shoot - Digital Photography School

What to do When there’s Nothing to Shoot

A Guest Contribution by Draycat

There are always days when you want to take photographs but you feel that there is nothing to shoot. Here are a few ideas for days like that.

1. Go to the Zoo

a shot from my local zoo

a shot from my local zoo

The key here is to get out of your house and go somewhere where there will be something to shoot. This could be a zoo, a park, or even a local market. What you need to do is to decide a place and give yourself an assignment to help you to focus. In a park it could be that you focus on shooting abstract images of swings and slides or try some outdoor macro shots of insects and flowers.

In a local market you could shoot images of the produce as if you were shooting for a local newspaper food section. I recently took a trip to a zoo and set myself the task of photographing the animals so they didn’t look like they were in a zoo. This helped me to consider how best to shoot them. You will also often have a few restrictions to overcome, which can help you to develop your problem-solving skills. For example, when I was shooting the elephants the compound was surrounded by a fence which consisted of thick metal ropes; as a result I had to shoot between the gaps which limited what I could do. As a result I decided to use a long zoom and shoot the elephants a lot more close up, which resulted in some interesting images.

2. Eat a Biscuit

Don't be afraid to experiment

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Food photography can often be a lot of fun and is very easy to do in your house. It’s not even necessary to photograph a whole meal; you can photograph some ingredients, or even something as simple as a biscuit or a strawberry. Don’t be afraid to experiment – play around with lighting, angles, distance and even focal lengths. Here is an example using a strawberry – I started off by shooting it in a traditional way, but then started messing around with my flash.

3. Pick up some Paperclips

be creative and shoot something different

be creative and shoot something different

We are used to seeing macro images of insects and flowers, but if you have a macro lens why not try and shoot something else; something as simple as a group of paperclips can make an interesting image, so be creative and don’t be afraid to shoot more unusual or even mundane things.

4. Hit the Streets

Street photography is not just about people

Street photography is not just about people

Street photography is a great thing to do if you like to shoot people; it will also help you to build confidence. When I first started shooting street it was a nerve-wracking experience, but after the first couple of times I began to develop more confidence. It also helps you to improve your photographer’s eye as you begin to look for stronger images. I took literally 100′s of pictures of people using their mobile phones when I started because it was easy, but eventually I realised that it doesn’t make for strong images. After that my eye really developed.

5. Go see a Friend

A portrait of a friend

A portrait of a friend

Friends can be a great source of photography practice. Either invite a friend around or go to their house with your camera and shoot their portrait. Friends will generally be supportive, and will also be happy if they can get a nice picture to use on things like social media. I always used it as a chance to catch up with them and have a beer too. Photographing my friends was basically how I got into portrait photography, and I still do it now to practice new styles or lighting when I need to.

6. Shoot Yourself

self portrait

If your friend can’t make it then you always have one model that you can rely on – yourself. Self portraits can be fun and interesting. Again don’t be afraid to experiment, it’s good to try something new. Play around with lighting, focal lengths, angles, even locations. Remember as well that a self portrait doesn’t have to be your face; you can focus in on a part of your body, such as your eyes, hands or feet.

7. Grab a Beer

As much fun after the shoot as during it!

As much fun after the shoot as during it!

Product photography is a good way to develop creativity. Just look around your house and you’ll see lots of products. Choose one and shoot it. Play around especially with different angles and lighting if you can. You could even imagine that you have a brief from a company to shoot for a particular magazine, so that you have to shoot in a style that will appeal to the readers. Shooting beer was always one of my favourites…for obvious reasons!

8. Practice your technical skills

The best photographers know their equipment back to front so that they can react quickly. It also means that they can spend more time thinking about the image itself, rather than considering what exposure they should be shooting at, because the technical side of things has become instinctive. It’s good to practice so that it can work the same way for you. Examples of things that you could do are:

Exposure guessing – try to guess the exposure of a scene without using the camera’s light meter. Put the settings into the camera and take a shot, and then see how close you were. Practice in many different lighting situations.

Get to know the buttons on your camera – close or cover your eyes and try to set particular exposures and change settings. This will help you to be able to make changes quickly in the future when you need to.

Play with focal lengths – shoot the same object at different focal lengths and compare the images. This will help you to know how different lenses capture things differently so that you have a better idea of what focal length to use for each situation.

These are just a few ideas to start you off, but the key thing is to be creative and not just limit yourself to things you’ve done before. Happy shooting!

Draycat is British photographer, teacher and writer currently based in Tokyo, Japan. See more from him at his Website on Twitter on Facebook and on Youtube.

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  • af

    Some good ideas, thanks.

  • http://lightperfectionphotography.com Eileen

    I love going to the zoo. the weather had been crappy and I was struggling for stuff to shoot and made a day trip to the zoo. I have also been know to just find inanimate objects around the house and play with light. Light painting is another fun way to play with your camera..

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/69714842@N06/ Barry E. Warren

    There is some good tips. I never have a dull moment with my photography. Some times I can’t quite get the shot that I want, It might take 50 or so shots or so but its fun when I get it.
    http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6112/6997166727_c584aa3f1e_c.jpg

  • http://milleme.blogspot.com Camilla

    Lovely post! Great ideas, especially because I often want to take pictures, but there’s just something blocking my imagination.
    I would love a part two of this post!:-D

  • Michal France

    Great article!
    I was often had the same problem. Nothing to shoot. I don’t like to make pictures at home but I love to be on fresh air. So I decided to take on with street photography. At first I had few ideas and was more blocked on observing people to see if they are observing me. Then I decide to make a one year project to shoot the streets of Strasbourg. Every day. I forgot about other people and I gave more thought to interesting things around me and how it can fit into my project. It helped me a lot.

    So my advice is create a project and than follow it every day!

    Here is a link to my Strasbourg photo-journal and you can see how the city changed during last three month. And my perspective as well.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8435097381/in/set-72157632662312329

  • Scottc

    All are great ideas, I’d add trying a lightbox. A lightbox can make for some photography on the dreariest of days.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8213947041/

  • Darrell

    Those are some good ideas. And I’m not just saying that because you look like a total badass in your self portrait! Thanks.

  • Jim Donahue

    When you run out of good stuff to shoot..Shoot the bad stuff.

  • http://paper.li/Koregano/1352353250http://www.dvidshub.net/portfolio/1141355/jerry-griffis#.UTx2_2U08_Ihttp://www.viewbug.com/member/JLGriffis Jerry Griffis

    These are some great tips. As a photojournalist currently in Afghanistan, I constantly wonder what to photograph in between missions. Wish the grab a beer one was available! ;)

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I need these tips I need these tips!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • http://Www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve
  • Peter

    Haha! This is the only hobby where “Shoot yourself” is a good advice :)

  • boloto

    Excellent article! Thank you!

  • Trev

    I’m always struggling for objects as I live in a country where Cameras are frowned upon and carrying one can lead to all kinds of problems for a foreigner (me)…….

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjeed/ Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    Thanks for the tips. I do exactly the same as suggested here.

  • http://www.ericbryan.net Eric

    When there’s nothing to shoot I pack my camera away and enjoy the “real world” :)

    Great tips though, I think it is good to diversify and shoot subjects that are out of your comfort zone.

  • Alex

    Really helpful! Thanks!

  • Geoff Naylor

    Your self portrait reminds me of photo’s of coal miners, Draycat.
    Some really nice pictures here. Many thanks.

  • http://www.starhouse.nl/star4/ Mariane

    Think of it. If you were not able to go outside as you are sitting in a wheelchair and you live on 3rd floor without an elevator. What to shoot then?
    I can give you a little clue. I would make macro, I would make something of what is hanging on the wall, and what is hiding in the drawings or all places?
    You can see what I mean by looking here:
    http://www.starhouse.nl/star10/?p=132

  • David Green

    Great suggestions, great examples!

    btw, your first screen on your website has a bit of bad grammar “…solo in a public places”. (probably want to loose the “a” or change “places” to “place”)

  • https://eddieoliverfilmphotographer.jux.com/ Eddie Oliver

    Exposure guessing? what kind of rubbish is that? learn the sunny 16 rule and then you’ll never have to guess again.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/39915579@N07/ himadri

    Great ideas! I have explored the “paperclips” a lot :)) I have shot my tooth brush, an earring, my fingernail, fabric, pencils, tiny perfume bottles, bottle caps and even magnets when I had “nothing to shoot” :))

  • Rob

    So, what do you think I said to my wife when she asked me if I got any good shots when I was out yesterday … ” … there’s nothing left to shoot around here!”, so I literally laughed out loud when this popped up in my inbox this morning. Sometimes I find myself falling into familiar patterns and returning to my usual haunts, to shoot the same things over and over again, which may be good practice, but can be boring. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • David Whitman

    Great article,I’ve worked on a few of these myself when I couldnt get myself going.Nice pics too, I appreciate seeing the photographers own work rather than someone else. Looking forward to more!

  • richard wakefield

    Don’t you just love it when you are trying to help someone and they tell you that you have a word spelled wrong! Get a life.

  • http://cdeschampsphotography.com Cathy

    Don’t forget to practice some night photography!

  • Karl Boddenberg

    How about choosing a colour for the day, shoot anything in blue, or mostly blue,….get the drift lol, can be fun.

  • Clive Rowland

    ask complete strangers for portraits. If you can’t do it, be brave and attempt it, if you find it easy its still an almost un-exhaustible source of photographs.

  • Christine Knight Bailey

    I love the idea of changing the camera settings with closed eyes! Reminds me of how frustrating it was to first learn typing but when I got it down, I built great speed. Great idea! Thank you for sharing!

  • Dawn Thornton Lauridsen

    Love the ideas. Thanks for sharing. A word of advice, though. Always research the public places that you might like to visit to capture images, especially if you are a for profit or professional photographer. Many places such as zoos, wild life exhibits, aquariums, and such have strict policies regarding this. Even by unknowingly breaking their policies, you can be subject to legal action and lead to a larger financial set-back than you would have if you had reviewed their policies and complied before hand. Through research, I have found many gems that allow professional photographers to shoot without restrictions; but even more that do either limit what you can capture or have a contract and financial agreement that is required prior to just showing up. Happy shooting!

  • Dawn Thornton Lauridsen

    By the way, I have done as Clive Rowland below suggests. I especially love going to a busy public park and capturing the Mom’s there playing with their kids or any where else where people will be actively doing something. I always give them a business card so that they contact me for their images.

  • Warria

    I like this idea. Helps in club or concert enviornment.

Some older comments

  • Cathy

    March 19, 2013 03:25 am

    Don't forget to practice some night photography!

  • richard wakefield

    March 16, 2013 08:20 am

    Don't you just love it when you are trying to help someone and they tell you that you have a word spelled wrong! Get a life.

  • David Whitman

    March 15, 2013 11:43 pm

    Great article,I've worked on a few of these myself when I couldnt get myself going.Nice pics too, I appreciate seeing the photographers own work rather than someone else. Looking forward to more!

  • Rob

    March 15, 2013 10:54 pm

    So, what do you think I said to my wife when she asked me if I got any good shots when I was out yesterday ... " ... there's nothing left to shoot around here!", so I literally laughed out loud when this popped up in my inbox this morning. Sometimes I find myself falling into familiar patterns and returning to my usual haunts, to shoot the same things over and over again, which may be good practice, but can be boring. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • himadri

    March 15, 2013 01:11 pm

    Great ideas! I have explored the "paperclips" a lot :)) I have shot my tooth brush, an earring, my fingernail, fabric, pencils, tiny perfume bottles, bottle caps and even magnets when I had "nothing to shoot" :))

  • Eddie Oliver

    March 15, 2013 08:57 am

    Exposure guessing? what kind of rubbish is that? learn the sunny 16 rule and then you'll never have to guess again.

  • David Green

    March 15, 2013 06:38 am

    Great suggestions, great examples!

    btw, your first screen on your website has a bit of bad grammar "...solo in a public places". (probably want to loose the "a" or change "places" to "place")

  • Mariane

    March 15, 2013 03:27 am

    Think of it. If you were not able to go outside as you are sitting in a wheelchair and you live on 3rd floor without an elevator. What to shoot then?
    I can give you a little clue. I would make macro, I would make something of what is hanging on the wall, and what is hiding in the drawings or all places?
    You can see what I mean by looking here:
    http://www.starhouse.nl/star10/?p=132

  • Geoff Naylor

    March 15, 2013 03:06 am

    Your self portrait reminds me of photo's of coal miners, Draycat.
    Some really nice pictures here. Many thanks.

  • Alex

    March 15, 2013 02:54 am

    Really helpful! Thanks!

  • Eric

    March 15, 2013 02:42 am

    When there's nothing to shoot I pack my camera away and enjoy the "real world" :)

    Great tips though, I think it is good to diversify and shoot subjects that are out of your comfort zone.

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain

    March 15, 2013 02:39 am

    Thanks for the tips. I do exactly the same as suggested here.

  • Trev

    March 15, 2013 02:31 am

    I'm always struggling for objects as I live in a country where Cameras are frowned upon and carrying one can lead to all kinds of problems for a foreigner (me).......

  • boloto

    March 12, 2013 03:48 am

    Excellent article! Thank you!

  • Peter

    March 12, 2013 03:45 am

    Haha! This is the only hobby where "Shoot yourself" is a good advice :)

  • Steve

    March 11, 2013 06:36 am

    Try action shots of pets

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Pets-and-Zoo-Animals/G0000.s6j0aD3y1M/I0000EismBgbuzKo/C0000TPXfzAa3dr4

  • Mridula

    March 11, 2013 12:21 am

    I need these tips I need these tips!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Jerry Griffis

    March 10, 2013 11:06 pm

    These are some great tips. As a photojournalist currently in Afghanistan, I constantly wonder what to photograph in between missions. Wish the grab a beer one was available! ;)

  • Jim Donahue

    March 10, 2013 02:42 pm

    When you run out of good stuff to shoot..Shoot the bad stuff.

  • Darrell

    March 10, 2013 10:03 am

    Those are some good ideas. And I'm not just saying that because you look like a total badass in your self portrait! Thanks.

  • Scottc

    March 10, 2013 08:32 am

    All are great ideas, I'd add trying a lightbox. A lightbox can make for some photography on the dreariest of days.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8213947041/

  • Michal France

    March 10, 2013 08:29 am

    Great article!
    I was often had the same problem. Nothing to shoot. I don't like to make pictures at home but I love to be on fresh air. So I decided to take on with street photography. At first I had few ideas and was more blocked on observing people to see if they are observing me. Then I decide to make a one year project to shoot the streets of Strasbourg. Every day. I forgot about other people and I gave more thought to interesting things around me and how it can fit into my project. It helped me a lot.

    So my advice is create a project and than follow it every day!

    Here is a link to my Strasbourg photo-journal and you can see how the city changed during last three month. And my perspective as well.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8435097381/in/set-72157632662312329

  • Camilla

    March 10, 2013 05:37 am

    Lovely post! Great ideas, especially because I often want to take pictures, but there's just something blocking my imagination.
    I would love a part two of this post!:-D

  • Barry E. Warren

    March 10, 2013 04:41 am

    There is some good tips. I never have a dull moment with my photography. Some times I can't quite get the shot that I want, It might take 50 or so shots or so but its fun when I get it.
    http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6112/6997166727_c584aa3f1e_c.jpg

  • Eileen

    March 10, 2013 03:43 am

    I love going to the zoo. the weather had been crappy and I was struggling for stuff to shoot and made a day trip to the zoo. I have also been know to just find inanimate objects around the house and play with light. Light painting is another fun way to play with your camera..

  • af

    March 10, 2013 03:41 am

    Some good ideas, thanks.

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