8 Photo Projects in Your Own Backyard

8 Photo Projects in Your Own Backyard

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!


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Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and facilitator of online and in-person workshops in visual design, seeing, and visual journaling. In 2016, she published the book Adventures in Seeing: How the Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus, and Connect with Life. Connect with her on Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • Janell June 6, 2013 08:19 am

    Great article! Now I just need to get out and try some stuff. Hard to do with very young children.

  • Rakesh May 15, 2013 03:33 am

    Excellent information. Following you on facebook also. Thank you.

  • Lina May 15, 2013 01:04 am

    Thank you for sharing. I really needed read it.

  • Uris McKay May 13, 2013 02:28 pm

    This article really made me think. I am going to open my eyes and start taking photos in the backyard and neighborhood. I thought of doing this a few months ago, but this article awoke me from slumber. Thank you.

  • Mitch Russo May 13, 2013 01:34 am

    I never find anything near or around my home. I don't know if it's my mindset or if it's just that I can't seem to get into the groove when I am living my regular life. I seem to need to travel to really see photographically. I have even made local trips and those are hit or miss. I live in a beautiful part of the world, New England, and it's spring and still I don't really see much that excites me around here. I gotta fix that and that's why I am looking for Meetups and others who are looking for inspiration locally too.

  • Guigphotography May 11, 2013 05:44 am

    I found one of my favourites behind where I live, returning from a failed trip to shoot something else. Just goes to show...

  • Jenny R May 10, 2013 07:38 pm

    I often look up and see clouds that look just like water behaving like water. Waves, spray, ripples.
    The colours and textures of the vegetables I prepare at dinnertime can be inspiring!
    I have found that photography has taught me to look AND see.
    Feel like rushing out to buy a red cabbage just so I can photograph those meandering curves of the leaves!

  • Tami May 10, 2013 12:18 pm

    Not sure if I can embed a photo or not, but here is a link to one I took this weekend. The sky was so perfect!
    The daffodil pictures are the ones I'm talking about. I can't get it to link to just one picture for some reason.

  • Tami May 10, 2013 12:17 pm

    Not sure if I can embed a photo or not, but here is a link to one I took this weekend. The sky was so perfect!

  • Ali May 10, 2013 05:04 am

    These are good suggestions but without supervision/self-awareness one can easily "lose control" over his impulse to photograph. It's so easy become addicted to aimless shooting; to fall in the trap where you point your camera at anything and everything without even knowing why.
    I have been there and it is sooooo unbelievably hard to get out from.
    I think in the age of digital cameras you should promote more restrain and reflection.
    Thank you

  • John May 10, 2013 02:44 am

    Thank you for writing what many people do. Many reasons for this situation, health, age, weather may be a few of these reasons.

  • Zain Abdullah May 9, 2013 01:19 pm

    Thanks for the interesting and enlightening article. I have been practising this (taking photos in my backyard) for quite some time because my travel is limited due to family, work and financial constraints. Nevertheless I would always try to come up with pictures especially from ordinary things in life that we frequently stumble on. Here are a few examples of my shots on ordinary things around us and in our backyard:

    Travellers palm

    Pink window

    My kids' playground :)

    Stacks of colours (stacks of fish containers I stumbled on at a fishing jetty)

  • Shakira May 9, 2013 07:23 am

    Nice tips. I'm going to try some of them. I usually photograph the stars from my backyard.
    You can see some of my work at www.shakiraduarte.com
    Hope you like it.

  • Shiva May 7, 2013 04:06 pm

    nice pics ....!!!!

  • Mridula May 7, 2013 02:23 pm

    Great tips. Will try to see more!


  • Steve May 7, 2013 06:12 am

    Love skies with billowy clouds


  • Roger Maxwell March 31, 2012 06:31 am

    I've haven't been able to go too many places to take shots either. I've taken many photos inside the house, in the backyard...I even started a picture a day project, where I would take several photos on a since subject each day for a year, get the best of each day, each week, month... So after about 2 months I felt I ran out of subjects.

    But this article (as well as some of the photos here) has renewed my "vision" on different ways of working with light more effectively, and how to see what has become mundane, into something which may be a great shot.
    I thank you for your article. I'm taking my camera and heading for the backyard!

  • Michele Morgan January 14, 2012 01:46 am

    In fact, I do this in my backyard...just look around, watch the light mixed in with the shadows...I don't have to go far to see beautiful things.

  • Noelene Sapiro July 3, 2011 09:06 pm

    Ref - Peter 27 June - what's wrong with it? I photograph at home all the time as I hardly ever have a chance to go out somewhere specifically for photography. There's nothing wrong with the photographs we do at home, in fact lots of mine are admired by family and friends and used as wall art. Have a go, maybe you'll see things in a different light and become addicted to photographing everyday things in a new way.

  • Joe Driver July 3, 2011 05:23 am

    Sorry for the double post, folks. I thought my first one got deleted somehow.

  • Hans Morales July 2, 2011 07:45 pm

    Very inspirational and informative.. Thanks for sharing.
    and.. Best of luck to my fave DPS {:-D

  • Joe Driver July 2, 2011 03:05 pm

    These are great tips. And Peter, I think I understand what you're asking. I'd compare the ideas above to batting practice - a team doesn't actually score runs in batting practice, but players learn better techniques through studying their hitting habits and changing them as needed. For most people, exercises like the ones above are a big help developing what's hopefully a unique way of capturing shots that stand out from routine snapshots.

  • Joe Driver July 2, 2011 12:46 pm

    These are some great ideas! I've been taking snapshots with different cameras since I was a kid, but I've just started to study and really "understand" photography in the last few years. I appreciate suggestions about how to be more creative, now that I feel that I have some understanding of the technical aspects of photography. And Peter - you raise a valid question. I'd suggest that exercises like the ones suggested above are similar to batting practice for a major league ball player. Players don't actually win any games by participating in batting practice, but they develop and improve their batting technique through repetition and receiving "feedback" about theire style, and hopefully this pays off in the games that count. Similarly, exercises like the ones above make you think about what you're doing when you look for a good shot, so when you're in a situation where you want pictures that stand out, you have a better idea of how to set up a shot.

  • Himadri Joshi July 1, 2011 09:53 pm

    Loved this article! I learned a lot photographing in my "backyard" which often was only my room! And it made me a lover of macro too.. i love detail and now look for it in everywhere and often love what comes out of the camera as a result.
    Great tips and inspiration really!

    Here's a set of ordinary stuff from my room/ balcony:

  • Dennise Cepeda July 1, 2011 07:38 pm

    These are the samples I talked about in the comment above:

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/nnise/5857426836/' title='Gl06. Rabenvögel' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5147/5857426836_398529cc05.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/nnise/5856872021/' title='Nürnberg Schloss' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2683/5856872021_58cd74abc7.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/nnise/5873381950/' title='A story of a nest' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5313/5873381950_6dcc6ec97e.jpg']

  • Michael July 1, 2011 07:28 am

    Great article and demonstrates so clearly how any photographer can use the space around them to be creative.

    Thank you

  • dirk July 1, 2011 06:08 am

    Thanks a lot for the excellent tips and ideas !
    Greetings from Belgium

  • Darren July 1, 2011 05:08 am

    Thank you Peter, your comment genuinely made me lol. & I think that, given a little thought, other commenters may realise that your questioning of the assignment is perfectly valid.

  • Dennise Cepeda July 1, 2011 01:37 am

    I'm totally agree with the exercises Kim presents here. When travelling sometimes there is not enough time, knowledge of the place or even privacy that allow us to experiment with the camera. I'm a big fan of contemplation and I want to share some samples I made from the window of my last home. At the end of the day, this is the only way I can share how I felt in that place.

  • Ernest J. Schweit July 1, 2011 01:09 am

    Fantastic post. I do some teaching at a local community college and you can be sure I'm passing this along to my students as well as doing this myself! Thanks!

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Kimberly Gauthier Photography July 1, 2011 12:48 am

    This is such a fantastic post; I love it, because I do most of my photography in my yard. Thanks for writing this and providing the great images.

  • Dewan Demmer June 28, 2011 11:40 pm

    Some days I start getting twitchy and feeling a tad stale, I go out into the yard and start taking pictures, and its really interesting how many things you can pick up. Each time I learn something new and that cannot be a bad thing.
    http://dsdphotography.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Teddy_on_a_Fig_tree_finb_sig.jpg - This teddy has lived in the fig tree for years and oddly enough until I started taking pictures in my yard I had completely forgotten about it.

    This exercise has been a great method to help me find new ways to use my environment, and I would say a nicely put together article

  • Niki Jones June 28, 2011 08:11 pm

    I nearly skipped this article as I don't have a back yard. I'm glad I didn't.

  • Stephanie June 28, 2011 01:32 pm

    Love this article. Especially since most of my photography practice is done at my home with the same subject, my son... or his friends. It has helped me be more intentional on what skills I need to work on as I try to improve my photography. I'm able to concentrate on capturing lighting, moods, moments, etc... Here are a couple pics I have on my flickr accnt almost every single photo is taken in my iti biti back yard or iti biti one bdroom cottage I was living in at the time. Nice to hear that I've been doing this all along and that it is not so silly that I have a ridiculous amount of photos of my son wearing the same thing, doing the same thing, in the same spot, with different angles, camera settings etc... because I like to go back and evaluate them and recall what I did and how it effected the photo, what I like, what I dont... etc... I've been improving but always love feedback and comments if you feel so inclined.

  • sherman June 28, 2011 01:30 pm

    this is a great idea it opens your eyes to what is around you this exact thing is what helped me shoot a wedding last week it was one of the most ordinary wedding site i have seen in a while so i had to make do with what was there. so taking the time to sit down and notice what is around me is a awsome tip thanks.for the great work.


  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com June 27, 2011 11:14 pm

    I do car photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com.

    Sometimes, when there's nothing to do, I just go around the vicinity and shoot my car! Using anything in the background. I also make it a habit to go around and look for something interesting I can use as a background depending on what type of car I can shoot it with so come the time I need to do a shoot, I'm already ready.

  • Simon June 27, 2011 01:27 pm

    I've been making a habit of that lately... go for a walk in my lunch hour at work, take the camera with me, and just take photos of anything that looks interesting. Patterns in the clouds, leaves floating in the water, gulls flying overhead, and people feeding the ducks. And in doing so, I get better at picking shots, seeing what works and doesn't.

  • toomanytribbles June 27, 2011 05:25 am

    this is probably the single most important piece of advice -- actually perceiving the world..
    i love shooting everyday stuff...
    for instance, here's some stationery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toomanytribbles/sets/72157621844994269/

  • Erin June 27, 2011 05:10 am

    I loved this article! I recently have been doing personal challenges on a weekly basis, and it has improved my photography so much! Most of my pictures are not great, but it helps me push my photographic boundaries. As photographers, we have to continue to learn and grow through practice and trial/error.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 27, 2011 04:51 am


    There are so many possibilities everywhere. I dug up a Hockey Puck and an old glove and shot this after The Bruins won the Stanley Cup. A bit of creative lighting made the glove look like a hot flame...for The Canuck Fans who where burning in frustration!


  • Kim June 27, 2011 03:17 am

    Peter, like Yeelen said, the point of the exercise is to develop your eye or your powers of seeing. It is often said of good photographers that they have a good eye. They look beyond what they see every day and find something fresh and new; things that others might not notice. It makes their photography compelling.

    Grant's exercise too is a good one. It forces you to look closer and find the beauty that is right there in front of you, even with things not normally considered beautiful. You might be surprised at the results if you give it a try.

  • ScottC June 27, 2011 03:09 am

    Agree, it's all so close.

    These are from a "10 Meters" project, all less than 30 ft from my desk:


  • Marty June 27, 2011 02:52 am

    @ Peter,

    The point of these pictures is to open your own imagination up to make you look more closely at the world around you. to help you think of new ways to photograph the same objects. Consider something like the Eiffel Tower, the most photographed structure in the world. How many photographs are there that are exactly the same? think of a new way to photograph it... these exercises will help. Maybe take a picture of the Eiffel tower in the reflection of a raindrop hanging from a leaf, without experience in close up work and reflections then you will never pull the shot off and you will end up with the same picture everyone else has of Paris in the spring.....

    what use are the photographs? well not much really, they will just show you what has worked and what has not. just add them to your stock collection, you never know when it may come in handy for another project. you could ask what use is a book once you have read it other than a gap filler on your book shelf.

    do you think we have seen every painting that the likes of Picasso or Van-Gough painted? no... there will be many early works that were experiments in getting a look and feel right to a brush stroke.

    Anyone who does not feel the need to learn is a fool.

  • paul June 27, 2011 02:46 am

    I really like this article. I've only just got into film photography (can't afford a digital slr, so I got a second hand eos 30) but the articles are just as useful. I think, if you can create a stunning photograph of something, even if it is mundane, and you get enjoyment from it, it is worthwhile. Maybe someone will find it in the future and enjoy it just as much as you!

  • Yeelen June 27, 2011 02:35 am

    Peter - The point to this article is, to me, what it says in the beginning: noticing things to take pictures from in your surroundings to be able to notice things better when you are traveling. You may not end up with the best shots in your portfolio, but it will help you learn to improve your photography.

    I especially like n° 2, with the light. I will try to find places around my house where the light falls at a different angle or shape than usual :)

  • Peter June 27, 2011 02:14 am

    I see these things almost every day, but I do not feel the need to photograph them and what exactely do you do with the photographs afterwards. Do you show your friends, look a p-icture of the sky, look a picture of a cabbage. Do your friends stay away, have you any friends, or are you just a closet photographer.
    Please help me out here I am finding it difficult to understand the point of the exercise.

  • Grant D. Taylor June 27, 2011 02:07 am

    One of the photography classes I took had an 7 week long project that was called knowing place. We had to pick a small area, about 10 foot by 10 foot, and three times a week we had to take twenty pictures of the area. At the end of the 7 weeks we had 420 images of just that little area. It took a lot of work after the first two weeks trying to come up with new and exciting shots. It was frustrating but very helpful.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 27, 2011 01:06 am


    Great suggestions and I totally agree! You dont need to stray into the wild to practice techniques, look for light and angles. For example, this is is simple blood orange slice, lit from below straight out of my Kitchen.