Have you ever been in a situation where you are stuck for ideas about what to take photos of? I certainly have, and a lot of it comes from being so familiar with my surroundings that it’s hard to see the photographic potential in anything. A newcomer to my local area would probably see it completely differently, and find lots of inspiration.
Given that most of us spend the majority of the year at home, is there an easy way to find inspiration? There is – the secret is to get in the habit of setting yourself photography projects.
Projects are a way of giving yourself something to aim for, and developing a thematically linked body of work. Professionals set themselves projects to learn new skills, make new contacts and give themselves something creative and positive to do in quiet times. But you don’t have to be a pro to benefit. Projects can help you become a better photographer, no matter what your level.
Benefits of projects
Here are some of the practical benefits of projects.
Projects help you develop new skills.
For example, the photos illustrating this article were taken as part of a personal project photographing circus performers. The aim of the project, apart from creating an interesting set of portraits, was to improve my portrait taking skills. Setting myself a project with a specific theme allowed me to hone in on a group of interesting people. Circus is a tight-knit social group, so once I’d got started it was easy to meet more performers by asking the ones that I’d photographed if they knew anybody else who would be interested.
Best of all I got to meet and get to know a new group of people. It has been great fun and opened my eyes to a way of life and outlook different to my own. The project has fuelled personal growth as well as helping me become a better photographer.
Projects give you something to aim for.
Once you’ve committed to a project, and the idea of taking a series of photos over a period of time, you get to compare your newest work with previous photos. You will see how your skills and ideas progress over time.
Projects can last for years.
That’s right, there’s no need to work on one project at a time, or to work on a project with a finite time span. There’s no reason why you can’t have several ongoing projects, each with an indefinite time span, that only come to an end when you feel that your time with the project is done.
Projects let you explore a subject in-depth.
One way of taking photos is to visit somewhere for a day or two, taking photos of the scenery and anything else that catches your eye. That might help you take photos of landmarks and other well-known scenes, but it’s not an in-depth exploration of a subject. I’m aware of this because I’ve just returned from a trip exploring New Zealand’s South Island. I spent no more than two days in any location, photographing the most obvious (and sometimes not so obvious) landmarks and scenery. But that’s only a shallow coverage.
Imagine how much more depth you can get if you have time to explore a place on a deeper level. If you live somewhere with beautiful landscapes, you can go beyond the more obvious scenic spots and find photogenic but little known places. Or you could photograph the lives of the people who live and work there.
This isn’t easy to do when you’re visiting a place for a short period, but it’s something that’s much easier when your subject is closer to home. That’s why projects are such a good way of getting more out of your home town, or places nearby within a convenient travel distance.
Here are some ideas for projects to get you started:
This has become a classic – take a photo a day for a year, publishing the best photo from the day or your blog or Flickr photostream. The idea is that the discipline of taking a new photo every day pushes you to explore new subjects and encourages you to take your camera out with you to find things to take photos of. Your photography skills should improve immensely over the year.
100 strangers project
I love this concept (written about on Digital Photography School a few months ago by Matt John Robinson). The idea is to take photos of 100 strangers. Not candid photos taken without their knowledge, but by approaching your potential subject and asking if you can take their photo. Not only will you become a better portrait photographer by doing so, but you will meet some new and interesting people along the way.
Night skies project
I’ve been very impressed by the work of Wellington based photographer Mark Gee. He has built a reputation taking photos of the night sky, principally in the southern part of New Zealand’s North Island. This is a great example of a long-term project that anyone who lives outside a heavily built-up urban area can undertake. Not only will you learn a new skill (taking photos at night) but it will encourage you to go out and explore your area and appreciate its natural beauty during the night hours.
Garden flowers project
Mandy Disher is another photographer whose work I admire greatly. She takes photos of flowers and insects, the majority created within her own garden. This is a long term project that anybody with a garden can undertake, and it’s a great example of something you can do close to home.
Have you ever undertaken a photography project, and do you have ideas for projects other than the ones I’ve mentioned here? Please let us know in the comments. I’m looking forward to reading about what ideas you come up with.
My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take photos like the ones in this article.