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Photography Project Ideas – Get Out of Your Box

As photographers, we all need to get out of our comfort zone and experiment with new subject matter, in order to freshen our approach, hone our skills, and enhance the creativity in our everyday photography.

Each of us has a favourite “something” that we love to photograph. For me, it’s flowers. With macro lens in hand, I can lose myself for hours deep in the heart of any flower. I enjoy exploring the rich colours, textures, and abstract shapes found among the petals. My other passion is to explore the farmland near my home. My favourite time to shoot is early morning, and at the right time of year, this comes with the added bonus of mist.

Since I love to shoot these two subjects so much, it’s tempting to shoot them over and over again, to the exclusion of all others. I think that’s a mistake. It’s imperative that, as photographers, we push our boundaries all the time. We must take on photography project ideas that push us outside our own boxes. For each of us, the subject that stretches us will be different. For me, it’s people. For you, it might be landscapes.

What happens when we explore outside our comfort zone is a kind of magic. Because we are experimenting with new material, we are open to seeing in new ways. The new techniques that we develop and learn during our creative photography sessions transfer to our everyday photography. We benefit from a cross-pollination of ideas and techniques that improves our photography, and we develop as artists.

I’d like to offer you a few photography project ideas that might get you thinking creatively. The best project to choose, ironically, is the one that sounds the least appealing. That’s an indication that it’s the furthest from your comfort zone, and the one from which you will likely derive the most benefit.

If you usually shoot still objects, as I do, then try something that moves. A couple of summers ago, a friend invited me to shoot at a rodeo. That’s as far from “still” as you can get! Do you know what? I had a fantastic time, and got some great shots. It also opened my mind to whole new style of shooting, where I had to react quickly to my surroundings. Other ideas for shooting motion include photographing sports events like a marathon, or a bicycle, car or horse race, a hockey game, or a ballet recital.

If you usually shoot people, then try some still life or landscapes. You will find this a very different exercise. When your subject is stationary, you have more time to frame your subject carefully. Slowing down this thought process can help you train your eye so that you can make a better composition when you are under pressure.

If you usually photograph landscapes, try going to the opposite extreme and shooting close up. You will find that the principles of composition are the same; you are still working with the same building blocks of colour, texture, line and shape, only on a much smaller scale. This can really improve your composition, since it removes your ability to “label” objects, and forces you to see only the basic design elements in the image. Your miniature landscapes are more abstract.

I invite you to choose a photography project for yourself that gets you out of your box. Experiment, have fun, and get shooting!

Creative Photography Activities: Macro Photography (Tiny Things)

This is more properly called Macro Photography, where you are imaging small items. You’ll need:
– A source of bright light (open window, bright sun behind a person outdoors, etc.)
– Some tiny things – paper clips, coins, paper currency, stamps, beans, you name it.

Camera Setup:
Mode: Aperture Priority (Often shown as Av on the mode wheel)
ISO: 400 or so (your f-stop and available light levels will determine this)
White Balance: Custom
Aperture: Mid-range, from f/5.6 to f/16.

Watch out for: Focus. Depending on your lens, you can only get so close to the objects before the camera can’t focus on it. You may be able to back up a bit and zoom in, but without a special Macro lens or close-up attachments, your focusing distance will be limited. Check the minimum focus distance on your lens, and stay farther than that distance. If you put close-up attachments on your lens, you can get very close.

White Balance Setup: Take a shot of your reference paper right where you will photograph your items. Make sure it’s bright gray, and set custom WB.

The Pose: Compose your items any way you would like. I suggest to start with a random arrangement, with your focal items clearly set to be positioned for good focus and imaging.

Framing the Image: Consider a plain backdrop such as white, black or a single other color with a small “nap” (eg not a towel). Determine if you will want the entire image in focus, or just some of it. For an entire image to be in focus, you’ll either need the subjects to be exactly parallel with the image sensor (meaning you shoot from directly overhead for flat items laying on a table), or a very tiny f-stop (meaning focus zone is wide). Try both – a smaller f-stop for very small and tight focus areas, and larger f-stops for wider focus zones.

Take the Image: Your shutter speed may be limited by the light levels. Brace the camera or better, use a tripod if you have one. You may want to switch to manual focus to set the specific focus point.

Analyzing and Improving: Vary your camera angle and lighting if you can. If you camera has a live view feature, use the image magnifier to check your focus. Vary the f-stop and camera distance/zoom to change the amount of the field that’s in focus.

Advanced Tricks: In post production, use the unsharp mask to sharpen up details of the small items. This is best used after the rest of your editing, and right before you save an image at a particular size.