Being creative, photographers can experience the same mental block as writers, filmmakers and artists. This creative block can take months to overcome, so sometimes it helps to have a planned project on the cards as a backup.
To be successful, it’s important to plan. A good project is a well-planned and executed project. Give yourself enough time to complete the project – even if you only work on it in your spare time or on the weekends. Plan when you will create photos and when you will edit before starting the project.
Allow some extra time for unexpected interruptions. Even if you want to embark on a project with no deadline, planning will make it a smoother process with fewer life interruptions. Sometimes sickness, work and family requirements can get in the way of your projects.
Here are some ideas for creative projects that will improve your photography skills and give you something to create when your mind has gone blank. Even amateur photographers can use these ideas to help them grow their portfolios and step up their photography game.
The 52-week project
There are a lot of 30-day or 365-day challenges out there. However, these timeframes are either too short (one month isn’t that long if you’re looking to improve your skill) or way too long (a whole year of daily photography can get tedious and you’re likely to either burn out or lose focus very quickly).
Ideally, 52-weeks is the perfect balance between the time needed to improve your skill but not overdoing it. One photo a week for a year is easy to create and will give you plenty of time to plan your next shoot. The project will give you a nice, well-rounded batch of photos at the end.
You can decide whether to choose a monthly theme (so four photos per theme) or you could stick to one theme and create a more in-depth story. Think about portraits, seasons, landscapes etc. and how these change over the course of a year. You can run with your own imagination, but one pic a week should be the goal.
Limit yourself to 24 photos
This is a fun way to emulate the good ol’ days of film photography where you only had 24 photos per roll of film. Try to tell a story or capture the essence of something by using only 24 photos – and no deleting is allowed.
This will force you to think carefully about all your settings, the lighting, the angle and composition before pressing the shutter. It will make you slow down, think and plan properly. This is important to improve your skill as it makes you appreciate every decision you make and gives purpose to each composition and photo created.
Use one lens only
All photographers have a go-to lens that they absolutely love. The problem is that it’s very easy to get stuck in the habit of photographing with that lens alone. Soon, all your images look and feel the same.
Break this habit by changing things up. Use a wide angle lens, fisheye, macro or telephoto only. This will force you to see the subject of the image from a new perspective. It will allow you to see new details, try new compositions and play with apertures in order to get creative.
If you only have one lens, but it has a range of focal lengths (e.g. 18 – 55mm) then stick with one focal length only. Consider buying a fixed 50mm lens as they are relatively cheap, have great aperture capabilities (they let lots of light in) and it forces you to move around and use interesting angles.
Tell a story
No matter where you live, there are always stories unfolding around you. Even mundane daily occurrences can be told through photography. Go out and open your mind to the possibilities: is there climate change affecting your town, are there any famous landmarks nearby, does your city have a unique type of food, are there any events or festivals happening, do you know any locals with fascinating lives?
Stories are all around us, all the time – you just need to know where to look. Once you’ve decided on a story to document, remember to use a combination of techniques, lenses, compositions and orientations in your images. Think of it as if you were documenting the story for a magazine.
The more variety you include in your photos, the more interesting the story becomes. Think about how you can make each image slightly more unique and interesting before pressing the shutter. Good photo stories not only capture the essence of the person, town or event – they also utilise various techniques and compositions.
Try your hand at a new technique
Why stick to stills? Try your hand at a number of techniques such as time-lapse, light painting, motion blur and off-camera flash. Mastering these techniques will make you a far better photographer and will inject some creative flair back into your work.
There are thousands of YouTube videos and tutorials online that can teach you everything you need to know about these techniques, regardless of your ability and expertise. Even a seemingly still and boring cityscape can come to life in a time-lapse sequence.
Step out of your comfort zone and try your hand at something fresh and exciting. Shoot through a glass, use silhouettes and sunlight, use reflections from puddles – all of these techniques will make your images more eye-catching and you’ll have fun playing around with them.
Self-portraits can be challenging
A photographer will know that there’s a big difference between a self-portrait and a selfie. Self-portraits should tell the viewer of the image something about you based on the composition and background of the image.
An image of you in a dark room with only half your face lit can portray a feeling of mystery or sadness. A photo of you walking down an empty street in the distance can say many things about you.
Essentially, you want to describe yourself and your personality through photographs. Use props, involve your hobbies, get a friend to help you out. Just don’t take selfies. Don’t hold the camera at arm’s length and snap pics in front of a nice background.
You can learn more about yourself and your photography style by being the subject of your own images. It will also improve your portrait photography skills because if you can capture your own essence for the viewers, then you can capture someone else’s too.
The great thing about self-portraits is that you’re always present and being the subject of your own images, you can shoot at any time. It still requires some planning though. Think about locations, times of day, props and clothing. All of these affect the meaning of an image.
Photograph when you normally wouldn’t
Most photographers shoot during the day, especially at sunset when the light is golden and smooth. However, some of the best pictures are created during the rain or at night. Clouds can add drama and depth to landscapes so head out when storms are building and try to capture some raw shots of mother nature in action.
Lightning photographs always wow and audience. Set your camera on a tripod with a long exposure and point it in the direction of lightning. This is the easiest way to capture one of nature’s quickest phenomena.
Rain makes for dramatic street scenes and moods. Use puddles, droplets on windows, reflections and clouds to increase the emotion of an image. You can also wrap your camera in a clear sandwich bag to protect it from the rain.
Try some night photography too. If you live in a remote area, shoot the stars and the Milky Way. If you reside in a city, try some long exposures of street corners. Architectural photography also takes on a new personality at night when the buildings are lit up and the streets are quiet.
If you prefer creating images with subjects (rather than landscapes), but don’t have anyone to photograph, then use your beloved pets. This project will actually improve your portrait skills when working with human subjects as you’ll learn a lot about patience and direction.
You can easily tell a person how to pose, where to stand, when to move etc. – but you can’t do this with pets. You need to be quick to get the perfect shot. You need to be patient and inventive in your ways of commanding attention from your pet.
Some pet photographers use toys to get the animals to look in the right direction. Try to capture your pet’s personality and facial expressions. This is the difference between pet portraits and happy snaps of animals.
Unlike wildlife photography, you are able to get up close with your pets and capture details of their eyes and fur without having to use a telephoto lens. If you don’t have pets, sit in a park and try to capture some street portraits of dogs on leads. Or, photograph the birds in your garden while they feed or bath.
All of these projects mentioned above will give you something to work on while you brainstorm bigger and better ideas. Whether you’re an amateur looking to explore new techniques or a professional looking for something slightly different, these projects will inspire you and improve your skill.
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