As we draw closer to the end of 2011, the standard practice of coming up with a new year’s resolution comes into play, and for all of us, there’s always room to improve our photography. This year, I attempted a couple photography projects, and as I took more and more photos, I found that they were getting better and better. The best way to learn, is to practice, and what better way than with a fun, creative, photography project.
This is a fairly common project idea, and one that I’ve attempted myself in the past, but I must say, it’s much harder than it seems. I actually only made it about three months in before I stopped. The idea is that you take a photo every day, and you submit it to a website, or even just your personal archive, so that by the end of the year, you have something to look back on, and see how much you’ve improved, as well as a record for your year.
Think about the last time you used your camera, when was that? The last time you lugged around a big, heavy camera, and took loks of photos? For some of us, that may be yesterday, but there will be plenty of people for whom it was weeks ago. Think how much your photography would improve if you took photos every day. That’s the basic premise of this project, and I must say, it really does work. I would find that I would dedicate time every day to finding something new to take a photo of, and try to make it interesting. When I had a great idea, or found something really interesting, then the results were great, but I found that I was so busy with other things going on, that a lot of the photos I was taking weren’t that interesting. If you have the stamina to go the whole year, then this is definitely the project for you.
As you can probably guess, this project borrows a lot of ideas from the 365 project, only instead of coming up with something every day, you come up with something every week. The main difference is that you can add a theme to each week, whether you want to just take photos of a particular object, or photos taken in a certain place, or on a different photowalk each week. Photowalks are great for finding inspiration with photography, because you explore new places, actively thinking about how you can take photos of certain objects, and this leads to some really interesting photos, which you wouldn’t have seen before.
Photowalks don’t have to be specific walks that you’re going on for the purpose of taking photos, they can just be times when you’re out of the house, with your camera. I take my camera most places when I’m out walking these days, because you never know when you’re going to see something worth capturing. If you don’t want the pressure of taking a photo every day, or you simply don’t have the time, then this is a great way to explore your photography skills, and track your progress.
This is a project that I’m planning for next year, and it’s where you take photos of images that represent the letters of the alphabet, which can be done in three different ways.
Letter: Firstly, you can simply capture images of letters that you see about, which will open your eyes up the world around you, and encourage you see in a more photographic way.
Object: Instead of seeing a physical letter on a sign, you can look for objects that represent the same shape as the letter that you’re trying to capture, such as an s-shape in a river. This is slightly more difficult, but it will have more positive effects as you you’re forced to look a little bit deeper into what you see around you.
Action: Rather than looking for a physical letter, look for an action, which represents a letter. This sounds easier than the other two, because all you have to do is think of 26 actions, but it’s really not. You have to not only find these naturally occurring actions, but you they need to be easily recognised by anyone looking at the image too.
If you’re looking to start an A-Z project, I would suggest the object one first, perhaps once a week for the first half of the year, and then the action one second. That way, by the end of the year, you have a images to match up to each other, and a point of comparison for each. The same project can also be done with numbers.
This is in a similar vain to 365, where you take photo everyday, only with this project, the subject is already decided upon; yourself. Self portraits sound really easy, but they’re not at all, because once you’ve taken a more than about 10, it becomes a lot harder to come up with original ideas. You could simply use your computer to document yourself everyday for the next year, but it’s much more interesting when you try to break free from your computer, and come up with something different.
Not only will this project document your photography, but yourself as a person too, and the beauty of having yourself as a subject, is that you never have to look for a model. The photos will start to depict your mood, along with the various events that are happening in the world at the time. It’s like a personal journal, that you don’t have to share with people if you don’t want to, but it will continue to help your photography evolve as you’re forced to think of new ideas for the same subject.
Not actually me!
The Nifty 50 Challenge
As anyone who’s spent any real time on this website will know, I love to recommend that 50mm f/1.8 to people, because it’s a great upgrade for the price. The nifty 50 challenge takes this lens, and really helps you to get the most out of it. The basic idea is that you take a photo with a 50mm lens every day, for 50 days. Then by the end of it, you will have created some beautiful shots that focus around you making the most out of what you’ve got. People are always making excuses for why they can’t get a certain type of photo, and it usually comes down to the gear they’re using, but when you get rid of this excuse, and just focus on taking great photos, you’ll find that the photos will come out a lot better than you expected.
Your knowledge of depth of field and aperture will also greatly improve because the results are much more extreme at the widest apertures, so if there was anything that you weren’t so sure about, you’ll soon know all about with this project. This is an exercise in your skills and your imagination as a photographer.
Shoot from the Hip
Shooting from the hip with your camera is similar to shooting from the hip with a gun; its incredibly inaccurate. I always think that I know what I’m going to capture when I take a photo from the hip, but it’s only on a very rare occasion that I actually capture what I think I will. This gives a new, fresh perspective on your composition, and creates shots by accident, that you may not have thought to take on purpose. By taking away the viewfinder, you have to use your instincts to capture a photo, and this can be very refreshing.
The trouble with learning even very basic composition techniques is that you start to think of these techniques as rules, and not just guidelines. When you take your eyes out the equation, you can start to see how different results can work just as easily, and without even realising it, you will be implementing composition techniques that you’ve not even learned about yet. The new, lower angle can work really well, even if you want to see what you’re doing; try using live view to compose the shot if you’re struggling to end up with the result that you’re looking for.
Carrying your camera everywhere can become a bit of a drag, and often the quality of the photo doesn’t have to mean the quality of the camera you’re using, it can rely on the actual image. If there’s something we all carry with us everyday, it’s our phones, and with the cameras in them improving every year, what better way to start capturing photos. Using your phone allows you to put exposure on the back burner, and lets you focus more on composition instead.
The reason I recommend this project is because understanding composition is the most important factors to taking great photos, and by just using your camera phone everyday, and thinking about what you have to do to take a great photo, is going to dramatically improve your photography. One thing I would recommend that you don’t do is start to use photography apps that mostly just add effects and filters to photos. This is not improving your photography, it’s merely lulling yourself into a false sense of pride over a photo, which you didn’t do by yourself.
Light painting is opening your camera’s shutter up for a long enough time so that you can draw in the darkness with a light source such as a torch or a lantern and effectively paint inside a photo. This is very similar to light graffiti, which is much the same, the difference being that you’re using the light source as the subject to create some cool shapes in the air, rather then using it to paint light onto a dark scene. It’s actually a lot of fun to try, and you could even involve this project with other projects, such as the A-Z.
The reason I got into light painting was because I found that I was so busy all the time, the only time that I was available to take photos, was at night. This meant that I did a lot of night photography, which naturally led on to light painting. This is a great idea for a project because it takes such a long time to master, you can document your improvements as time passes.
Black & White
Black and white is nothing new when it comes to art, it’s been going on since the beginning of time and art photography is similar in that it started out as black and white due to technical limitations, way before the dawn of colour film. Even though the majority of photography in done automatically on digital cameras, black and white still lives on today.
The beauty of black and white photography is that it focuses on visual elements such as tone, texture and shape. By starting this project for yourself, you’ll start to see things in a different light, and rather than just colour, your eyes will be better trained to recognise different shapes and forms.
A Single Theme
Shooting with a single theme is a great way to start to broaden the objects that you shoot. You simply take a certain theme, such as a colour, an object, or even an idea such as contrast, and then you spend the whole day only shooting objects that suit your theme for the day. When you get involved in doing this a lot, you start to really understand what certain objects, or colours do for various photos and how you can use them to your advantage. It also helps you to find something interesting in something boring, as you have to try and make everyday objects worth looking at.
I personally recommend starting with colour, because it can be so powerful and challenging at the same time.
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