This article provides you with 10 photography self-assignments that you can use to get your own creative juices flowing. They’re designed to help you grow in skill as a well-rounded photographer while helping you build your portfolio at the same time. Many of these projects are best executed over a period of time, rather than in a single session.
1. The Park Bench
Take your camera and a tripod to a park, and find a busy park bench. Set yourself up some distance away with a long lens aimed at the bench and pre-focused. Settle in, and for the next few hours take images at fixed time intervals, say every ten minutes. This is really an exercise in timelapse photography. I think the resulting images would make a fun photo essay. The setting stays the same, but the subjects change at random.
2. Evolution of Construction
Find a nearby construction site, and take a picture every day. If you choose the same vantage point each time, you’ll end up with a series of images that show the building in progressive stages of completion.
3. Through the Seasons
This exercise is similar to number two, but it’s best done in a less urban environment and over a longer period of time. Find a landscape that you can shoot in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. This works especially well if you live in a place that receives snow in winter and where the leaves on the trees turn color in the autumn.
4. Self Portrait
The concept of this is simple: take a picture of yourself every day. It helps to use a tripod and shutter release, rather than limiting yourself by trying to shoot with the camera at arm’s length. You are the most patient subject you could ever work with, so use this to your advantage. Get creative, overact, dress up, and use props. You decide how you want to show yourself to the world! If you do an internet search on this topic, you’ll find related Flickr and Twitter groups, where you can share your images.
5. A Day in the Life of…
This is a great project to document a particular occupation. For example, you could take photographs of a nurse at work to show all the various aspects of his or her job. It may take you more than one day of shooting to capture a representative set of images.
6. Get to Know Your Neighborhood
So often, we don’t take a good look at our own neighborhood. Make it a point to walk around, and shoot ten images of the area where you live. Do this once a month, or even once a week if you really get inspired.
7. Color Challenge
This is a fun challenge for an urban environment. Take you camera downtown, and give yourself a few hours to take pictures. Choose a color (or for added challenge, have a friend pick the color for you), and shoot only objects of that color. By the end of the session, you’ll be surprised how that color jumps out at you! When you’re finished, take your best images and assemble them into a collage or mosaic in Photoshop.
8. A Collection of “Somethings”
Whenever you’re out, carry your camera, and be on the lookout for whatever “something” you choose. It could be feet, garbage cans, vegetables that look like faces, bicycles—you name it! Get creative, and pick a theme that you don’t usually see in pictures.
9. Pet’s Eye View
Pretend that you are your pet. How would you see the world if you were a dog? A hamster? Shoot a series of images from the perspective of your pet’s eye level.
10. After Dark
We don’t always think to take our cameras out at night. Try shooting after dark. If you’re in the country, you can shoot moonlight or star trails. In the city, you can shoot vehicles’ tail-light trails or downtown buildings. Wherever you are, you can try light-painting by using a long exposure and moving a flashlight over parts of the scene.
Hope these ideas inspire you to get out there and start shooting!
About the Author
Julie Waterhouse writes for Ultimate Photo Tips, which provides friendly education and encouragement for photo enthusiasts around the world. It’s presented in a way that’s clear, organized, and easy to understand (ultimate-photo-tips.com), whether you’re looking for the answer to a specific question or just want to explore and learn.
Variety, not only the spice of life, is also one of the most beautiful things about the art form of photography; the number of possible subjects for a photo is almost limitless. There are formats, within forms and within disciplines, and all we need to create a work of art is an idea, which can come to us at any time and in many ways.
Unfortunately, like with any creative medium, photographers can experience a block, or lack of ideas for a subject. It’s no different than a writer drawing a blank on words to add to his book or an artist having a difficult time putting that first stroke of paint to a blank canvas.
With photography, however, we have the advantage of instantaneous results, and we therefore have more options to quickly develop ideas for our photographic subjects. One of the most popular ways to do this is to create a themed project.
A photo theme simply means creating a set of photographs that are related in some way, whether it be through subject, color or other reoccurring pattern. The beauty of doing this is that you are not required to constantly come up with a new subject or idea for each consecutive photo; once a theme’s subject has been established, you only need to find new instances of that subject. This forces you to think along one idea path and allows you to forget about the subject altogether and concentrate on what’s really important…taking an interesting and thought-provoking photo.
But alas, we’ve returned to our initial problem of photographer’s block! Not to worry since we’ve provided you with 30 solid ideas to get you started. Take one and go crazy: Create an online photo book from your set, or post a blog entry describing the journey you took to capture all of these pictures. Truly, the sky is the limit!
Black and White
All photos should be taken in black and white or converted to black and white in post-processing. Focus on the tone of the image.
Pick a color, and take photos where that color is dominant in the image.
Explore an out-of-the-way or dilapidated building (safely, of course).
A great way to come out of your shell, so to speak; ask strangers to participate in quick, impromptu portraits.
You can pick a type of food or shoot a variety. Get up close and personal.
Letters or Numbers
These can be found on signs, buildings and various other places. Try to assemble the entire alphabet! For an even bigger challenge, you can also take photos of objects that begin with these letters instead.
Do some research in your local area, and see how many old signs from decades past remain in your area. Then, photograph the lot! If there aren’t enough locally, try capturing unique or interesting signs of any age.
This could include situational shots, vintage recreations, pinups…the possibilities are endless.
Homelessness, abuse, alcoholism, you name it.
Abstract and Conceptual
Here’s your chance to be a little heavy in the Photoshop department: Take a photo up close, and go a little nuts with post-processing. Alternately, you can take a picture of an “idea”; try to communicate this idea through nothing but a photo.
Pick one lens and use it exclusively; a 50mm is a good starting point, as it forces you to move around and be selective. A specialty lens such as a fisheye could also make an interesting theme.
Rough, smooth, serrated, bumpy, brick, wood, metal…there are tons of textures to capture out there. Shoot close and fill the frame.
Sunsets and Sunrises
Regardless of where you live, there are always opportunities for spectacular sunsets or sunrises. Collect several of the most dramatic.
My personal favorite. Instruments, concerts or even conceptual photos that invoke thoughts of music or other sounds.
Happiness, sadness, joy, envy…how many emotions can you capture with just a photo?
Pick a season such as winter or summer, and shoot photos that encapsulate the unique qualities of that season.
This doesn’t just mean water; it could be shiny metal or mirrors, among other things.
Sky and Clouds
Skyscapes can be dramatic and stormy or light and beautiful. Capture as big a variety as you can!
A challenging theme. Try capturing nothing but the shadow of your subject. This can be against a wall or on the ground, for example.
However uncomfortable it may be for many of us, self-portraits can be very helpful in opening up and exploring parts of photography we don’t normally find ourselves involved in. Mix it up and be creative with your surroundings and emotion.
There are many shapes to be found in nature, as well as in the man-made world. Try to collect as many as you can. You’ll be amazed to find how they’ve existed right in front of you all along.
Shoot an entire set of photos from one perspective, such as low to the ground, as a child would see, or from up high. The majority of our shots happen at eye level, and this is a great way to learn how to deviate from that.
Another challenging theme. Ensure you have the proper settings in place (checking for proper ISO, and a large enough aperture to allow for the minimal light), and create a set of night images, using only artificial light around you. Better yet, what can you capture in bright moonlight?
Historic buildings, famous landmarks, bridges, city skylines and old churches are all good places to start.
Create a theme based on your favorite holiday, be it Halloween, Christmas or something altogether different.
Once only frowned upon and instantly painted over, some graffiti artist have garnered national attention for their work and in some cities are revered for their talent. There is usually no shortage of this material as long as you live close to an urban area.
Pick one part of a building and replicate it elsewhere: Doors, windows, fences and chimneys are all possibilities.
Tattoos and Piercings
Another street project if you don’t have enough friends and family sporting tattoos. People with tattoos are often more than happy to talk to you about their origin and their meaning and usually don’t mind having them photographed.
Own a film camera? If you don’t, you’re missing out on one of the truly joyous aspects of photography, which is experiencing the way it was done in the beginning. If you haven’t already (and you really should have), you can pick up a very good SLR film camera for next to nothing. Of course, these exposures can be converted to scans for posting online.
Here’s your chance to abandon your DSLR altogether…who said you have to use your primary camera to create a themed project? Use your smartphone and Instagram or other mobile photo app to fade, vignette and colorize to your heart’s content.
Of course, this is only scratching the surface. There are literally thousands of subjects available for creating a photo project; you’re only limited by your imagination, as anything can become the focus point for a memorable theme.
Do you have a theme you’ve completed that you’re especially proud of? Thought of a crazy, off-the-wall theme idea we didn’t mention? You know what to do…post it in the comments section below. We’re waiting to see those awesome projects!