Improve your Images with Photography Projects

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Photography project

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.

Photography project

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.

Photography project

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.

Photography project

Project ideas

Here are some ideas for projects to get you started:

365 project

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.

Photography project

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.

Photography project

Your turn

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.


Mastering Photography

Composition and lineMy 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.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Click here to enroll in his new Lightroom course for free.

  • Phil Hibberd

    I agree with this, but some constructive criticism is very helpful – 20 years experience, rather than 1 years experience 20 times. It’s hard to move on if you don’t know why your pics aren’t coming out right.

  • jeyeball

    Flickr has a number of groups that assign projects weekly, monthly and on other schedules as well. Photography Critique Assignments, Active Assignment Weekly, and FlickrFriday are some that come to mind.

  • Day Tooley

    a few years ago a photography course required a project. I chose the subject HOLES. I still see holes everywhere, the spades on an electrical plug, in trees, a colander, end of a flute, just everywhere.

  • Keith Starkey

    I’ve been studying photography now for a solid, hard-hitting year, and I’ve come to a few decisions about lens use, among all the pundits who pundit one way or the other but not both: they’re wrong! That is, you use what suits your needs, plain and simple. I can’t just walk on to someone’s property without asking (hard to do when no one’s home) with my f/1.8 prime because I need to be closer; I’ll need my zoom. I mean, it’s pretty clear cut. And as this article demonstrates, the zoom fits the photographer’s needs. Plain and simple, the way I like it.

  • Keith Starkey

    Sorry, wrong article…darned news feed I use bunches them together to the point I can’t tell which is prime and which is zoom!

  • Read Some. Learn Some

    Thanks for the wonderful share, i got some tutorials on my blog too, visit now – http://thebestphotoshoptutorials.com/22-best-photoshop-tutorials-photo-manipulation/

  • Totally agree. I’m doing a project making portraits based on Game of Thrones. I already learned a lot about portraits because of this project.

    For those wanna know:
    https://www.facebook.com/capuski/media_set?set=a.10204059262268586.1073741834.1435226517&type=3

  • Very good idea =)

  • Michael Owens

    How about sharing a few images here?

  • Jon Lepper

    Projects are a great idea! I’ve been working on one with a friend for a year. We wanted to improve our environmental portrait skills so we have been photographing creative people in our city and posting them to a web site. We get to meet the most interesting people in the community, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, and fine craftsmen! Each shoot is a learning experience. You can see the images at http://www.creativelifespokane.com

  • Yeh, why not?

  • I’m having trouble to posting images here =(

  • I feel like everything I do is organized into projects since most of my shooting happens while I’m on trips. I like to shoot in spurts of a few days to a week, then go to the “lightroom” to process for a few more weeks. Being a hobby for me I have the opportunity to take it slow and deliberately. Maybe not the most restrictive way to create a project, but all my images tend to get organized around a central theme and into albums this way. I view myself as a landscape/travel photographer and approach each trip like a new assignment.

  • Michael Owens

    Cool. Great outcome.

  • Thanks Michael

  • Leanna Sutton

    Here is one that I’ve wanted to do. Similar to a 365 but on a weekly basis. Put a bunch or random things in a bowl like a colors, shapes, letters, objects, people, whatever you want making it random. Then mix it up and each week take a paper out and that can be a weekly subject. I really need to start that starting 2015 lol..thanks for the article.

  • Alexander Yirenkyi

    inspiring

  • Of course…but that’s a different article:

    http://davidduchemin.com/2014/11/about-critique/

  • Good tip, thanks for that. You can even start your own group if the right one for you doesn’t exist.

  • Reminds me of this:

    http://www.mypotholes.com/

  • Thanks for sharing. These portraits are really good!

  • This is a great idea. You learn on every shoot, plus you get to meet interesting people. You never know when the connections you make during the project will come in useful.

  • That’s an interesting way to come up with a subject to shoot. Great idea.

  • That’s a good way to approach each trip. I guess if you’re treating your trips like assignments it encourages you to take a variety of photos, rather than concentrating on one aspect of the place you’re in?

  • Deepak kumar

    Thanks a lot , grt article ..now i can improve myself behind lens …

  • Thanks Andrew

  • Naunet

    Great ideas and projects! I’ve been looking to give myself an additional project to diversify my photography. I started a Facebook page about a year ago, with the purpose of sharing my photos from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), where I’m currently living. It forces me to come up with a new picture each day, and as a result I’ve started to develop a real interest in improving my photography. If you’re interested, you can see the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/somewhereINsaigon

  • Lisa Gambill

    I like the 100 strangers idea. Would I need a model release for each person in order to post pictures on a blog?

  • Daemare

    A project I had to do for my computer graphics class was called, ‘A Different Word.’ We had to choose a simple word and find several synonyms for it and create images based on those synonyms. I chose the word green. Photography was my medium. My synonyms for green were, conservationalist, envious, youthful, developing, and naive. See the wide range of topics I got from one word?

  • I think it does help me to take a well rounded group of subjects. I mostly focus on landscape/cityscape type images, but when I start to force some street photography or get in close on details I end up with a better overall story through my images; a through line arc that helps to illustrate my travels.

  • Hi Lisa, generally speaking the answer is no. You don’t need a model release for editorial use such as publishing on a blog, as long as the use of the photos isn’t defamatory in any way.

    However, it does depend on where you live as some countries have privacy laws that may mean you can’t publish the portraits. For example, someone commented on another post here that privacy laws in Quebec prevent you from publishing street photos online. So check out how the law stands in your country before going ahead.

  • dianneg.hayes

    What would be a good back ground for showing jewelry

  • Ali Isky

    That’s actually a great idea! I’ll have to try that. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rick Ritz

    I find this to be a fun idea as well and like to experiment with “stuff” I find around the house, inside and out. Or I might apply a purposeful blur to something to create an impressionistic look to a scene. One of my favorites is at https://picasaweb.google.com/111319643367089531129/Experimental#5456123343341943826 Another is pictured here.

  • Rob

    if you have a few friends that also take photos (of all skill levels and equipment) give yourselves a challenge every week. it’s fun, challenges you to always do better and sometimes another person’s perspective can get you to see things in a new way.

  • I just completed a two-year long project where I kept a collection of interesting words from around the world and I made photographs that embodied the meaning of the words. I then put the collection into a book called Joy is Words– a collection of photographs and stories. It was a really fun and interesting project. You can read more about the project here: http://www.jolpbyjen.com/2014/11/joy-is-words-is-finally-available/. A copy of the book will be available on line soon.

  • Michael Raab

    I started “A Day In The Life” project taking one place for one day. Two small towns I covered “A Day In The Working Life” and took photos of people at their jobs. Another I just finished is a day at a fishing pier. I make them into slide shows, add some
    royalty-free music and put them on my YouTube channel. They are not viral smashes but steady viewing pieces of one day in history.

  • The garden flowers project is a great one for shy beginners. When I first started that was how I used to practise my focus and exposure. I’m also quite shy, so the 100 Strangers project sounds terrifying for me (and yet I want to do it and know it’d be great for my shyness) but the garden one is nice and easy. Generally people don’t mind you taking pictures from a public area of their flowers and many home-gardeners are quite proud of their work and that you noticed it.

    The only time I ever had any comments was a man who thought I was from the council (local govt), I guess he had a shed without approval or something, lol. Once I told him what I was doing he gave me the lovely back-story to the particular plant I’d been photographing and welcomed me back to do more any time. I live near botanic gardens so there is no shortage of floral subjects.

    I was going to say that I will keep it on the backburner as my go-to topic and then had another idea for a similar thing. I might try and get a flower/plant colour wheel.

  • A. L. Sundt

    I started a project of time lapses featuring street lamps turning on as the sun sets. It’s an oddly specific subject, but it makes for a neat series.

  • Philip Bunker

    I’ve nearly finished photographing all the National Historic Landmarks in the state. As our state is relatively small, nothing is more than 1 1/2 hours away so it’s quite doable. I’ve gotten to places and learned things I probably never would have otherwise. Recommend it even if you’re not a history buff.

  • DelGal

    Usually when you see jewelry in photos or on tv they use a solid color background like a dark velvet material. your image background is too distracting and doesnt enhance the jewelry. You want your eyes drawn towards the items and have them pop out.

  • dianneg.hayes

    I appreciate the info. Thank you

  • Carol L. Watts

    GREAT idea for us word and book lovers! Thanks for sharing and good luck w/your book!

  • Carol L. Watts

    This is good to know – thanks!

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