As we draw closer to the end of 2011, the standard practice of coming up with a new year’s resolution looms ever closer and, for all of us, there’s always room to improve our photography.
This year, I attempted a couple of 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 to do so 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 before I stopped.
The idea is that you take a photo every day and 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. You also get a record of 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 lots of photos?
For some of us, it’s 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 myself dedicating time towards finding something new to take a photo of every day and trying to make it interesting.
When I had a great idea, or found something really interesting, the results were great but I found that I was so busy with other things that a lot of my photos weren’t that interesting. If you have the stamina to keep it up for the whole year, 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 each week.
The main difference is that you can add a theme to each week, whether you want to take photos of a particular object, in a certain place, or on a different photowalk.
Photowalks are great for finding inspiration with photography because you explore new places, actively thinking about how you can take photos of certain objects. This leads to some really interesting photos which you wouldn’t otherwise have taken.
A photowalk doesn’t have to be a specific walk with the sole purpose of taking photos, it can just be a time 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, 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. It involves taking 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. This will open your eyes to the world around you and encourage you to see it in a more photographic way.
- Object: Instead of seeing a physical letter on a sign, 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 will have more positive effects as you’re forced to look a little deeper into what you see around you.
- Action: Rather than looking for a physical letter, look for an action that represents one. This sounds easier than the other two – all you have to do is think of 26 actions – but it’s really not. Not only do you have to find these naturally occurring actions but 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 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 vein to 365.
Take photos 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 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. 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 journal that you don’t have to share with anyone 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 the 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. By the end of it, you will have 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 take a certain type of photo and it usually comes down to the gear they’re using. When you eliminate this excuse and just focus on taking great photos, you’ll find that the photos 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. If there was anything that you weren’t sure about, you’ll soon know all about it with this project.
This is an exercise in both your skill and 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; it’s incredibly inaccurate.
I always think that I know what I’m going to capture when I take a photo from the hip but only on very rare occasions do I actually capture what I thought I would.
This gives a new, fresh perspective on your composition as well as creating shots by accident that you may not otherwise have thought to take. By taking away the viewfinder, you have to use your instincts to capture a photo, which can be very refreshing.
The trouble with learning even very basic composition techniques is that you start to think of these as rules rather than guidelines.
When you take your eyes out of the equation, you start to see different results that can work just as easily and, without even realising it, you will be implementing compositional techniques that you haven’t 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 you’re looking for.
Carrying your camera everywhere can become a bit of a drag and, often, the quality of the photo isn’t necessarily related to the quality of the camera you’re using – it can rely on the image itself.
If there’s something we all carry with us everyday, it’s our phones. 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, allowing you to focus more on composition instead.
The reason I recommend this project is because understanding composition is the most important factor in taking great photos. 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 not doing is using photography apps that mainly just add effects and filters to photos. This is not improving your photography – you’re merely lulling yourself into a false sense of pride over a photo which you didn’t do by yourself.
Light painting involves opening your camera’s shutter long enough to draw in the darkness with a light source, such as a torch or a lantern and effectively painting inside a photo.
This is very similar to light graffiti, the main difference being that, with graffiti, you’re using the light source as the subject, to create cool shapes in the air, rather than using it to paint light onto a dark scene. It’s actually a lot of fun to try and you could even combine this project with others, such as the A-Z.
I got into light painting because I found that I was so busy that the only time I had left available to take photos was at night. This meant that I did a lot of night photography, naturally leading 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. 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 is 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 yourself, you’ll begin to see things in a different light and, rather than just colour, your eyes will become better at recognising 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. Spend an entire day only shooting objects that suit that day’s theme.
When you do 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 as it can be so powerful, yet challenging at the same time.