One of my photography mentors, Freeman Patterson, says, “If you do not see what is around you every day, what will you see when you go to Tangiers?”
This one line has transformed my photography. As a matter of fact, I enjoy photographing from my home base as much as or more than my travels.
The mark of a great photographer is not what equipment they have, but how well they see. Patterson teaches visual design for photography, and the first step is to really pay attention and see the underlying form of what is actually there.
You can start in your own backyard (or anywhere around you if you don’t have a backyard) to develop this capacity for seeing.
Your travel photographs will never be the same again.
Here are 8 ideas for photography projects that can be done in your own backyard.
1. What Strikes You?
Sit or stand in a favorite spot in your house or yard and just notice what is around you.
What catches your eye?
It could be the way the sun reflects on your deck, or squirrels playing in the trees. It could be the color or shape of a piece of fruit on your table.
Spend 15 minutes photographing what strikes you from different angles and perspectives.
To add to this exercise, think about why it struck you. What do you like about it? What does that say about you? Yes, the photograph always reflects the photographer. But, that’s a whole other story.
For me, I loved the color and curving lines in this image. I was struck by the way the new hosta leaf was cradling the crinkled, dead leaf. I moved in closer so that the color would fill the screen.
2. Photograph the light
Pay attention to the light. Light is the main tool for photography. It can make or break your image. So, a good photographer will always be noticing the light. Dusk and dawn are great times for checking out the light.
- What is its quality (soft and hazy or sharp and direct)?
- What direction is it going?
- What type of shadows is it creating?
- What is it highlighting?
Photograph these highlights and shadows rather than objects.
I am fascinated by reflections and there was so much going on in the water in this vase. The monochromatic tone of the whole image caught my eye too, with the little touch of green leaves added.
3. Shoot from a different perspective
Do you have a dog or cat? Try photographing from their perspective. Get at their level and try to figure out what they see.
If you don’t have an animal, pick an ant or a squirrel or a plant or a tree or a bird. This will get you trying new angles and heights.
In this case, I got down low, and used a shallow depth of field to get the soft background of sky and trees, and photographed the sunflower from the side.
4. What’s growing?
What is growing right now in your yard? Trees are a wonderful subject any time of the year. If it’s too cold to go outside, photograph your indoor plants or buy flowers and spend time indoors photographing them.
A long-term project is to photograph a tree every day for a year. Put all of the photographs together in a slideshow, speed it up and watch the changes before your eyes.
In this collage, I photographed my favorite tree in the neighborhood in all four seasons and then stitched together this grouping. I’m so glad I did this project, as this tree was recently cut down to make way for a new house.
5. Where’s your favorite place at home?
Everyone has one. Photograph your favorite place and show what makes it special. Spend ten or fifteen minutes capturing what you love about it.
Here I photographed the books on my bedside table. I have a few favorite reading places in my house, and each one has a pile of books, either in process or waiting to be read. I get nervous if the pile gets too small.
6. Find lines and shapes.
Inside or outside your house, photograph lines (or specific shapes) anywhere you find them.
This is a really fun exercise because lines and circles are everywhere. They are the building blocks of visual design, so this project is good training for seeing the underlying form of what you’re photographing.
It also helps you take the labels off of things and see them in new ways. Here, we know this is a computer keyboard, but what attracted me were all of the lines I could see, as well as the squares around each key.
7. What do you eat?
Photograph your meals: the ingredients, the preparation process, the final plate or a particular food. Fruits and vegetables are especially good subjects.
Food is sensual. Try to capture that in your photography.
My bi-monthly organic produce delivery always provides great photographic subjects, like this red cabbage. Here, I was drawn to the color and shape, rather than the object as a whole. It gave me new appreciation for this vegetable that doesn’t get a lot of love.
8. What’s up?
This is an easy project. Just look up, wherever you are. What do you see?
Photograph the sky from your front or back door. Try this for a week or more and notice the different views you are presented with every single day. You’ll find that it is vastly different every single day.
Looking up doesn’t have to mean just the sky. It could a light fixture, a roofline, or a ceiling fan. It could be the tops of the trees as you lie flat on your back. Use your imagination.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get shooting!