There can be times when you want to lock your camera gear in the loft and move on to something else. Well, this happens to the best of us. It just becomes a case of getting inspired again and finding some new project that you realise that you love, and rediscovering your passion for photography all over again. A forced leave of absence from taking photographs can be a creativity killer.
You can’t necessarily expect that taking no photos for six months, and then trying to dive back in, is going to be a riot of creative excitement. A better approach is to find a project, the germ of an idea, that means you can keep exploring new ideas and try thinking out of the box. Feed your mind and learn something new – take a step outside your comfort zone.
We’ve listed some of the current, and classic, personal projects that photographers undertake. Hopefully, there’s something in there that you feel you could really sink your teeth into. We hope there are some interesting ideas here to get your photographic creativity kick-started again. The main thing is to enjoy your photography. It’s a good feeling when you suddenly find yourself reinvested in the craft once more. We wish you the best of luck with all your future projects.
1. The 365 project
As the name implies, this project spans a complete year. It requires you to take one shot each day and display it. There are various 365 Project websites, where you can create an account and upload a shot once each day. It is a great motivator, plus you have the benefit of seeing what other people are doing and you have the chance to give and receive feedback. Sites such as 365Project, Blipfoto, Flickr, 500px and FaceBook give you the choice to share with the world. If the idea of taking a shot each day seems a bit much, there is also the 52 week challenge, where you can take, upload and share one shot each week.
2. The Alphabet project
This comes in a couple of different forms, but the most common is to take a shot of everyday items and naturally-occurring objects that mimic a letter of the alphabet. So, for example, a tree trunk with two branches coming off it forms the shape of the letter ‘Y’. There are some who have decided to grit their teeth over this project, and shoot only in alphabetical order! A derivative of this project is to shoot items that begin with each letter of the alphabet. It is a surprisingly simple idea that can really get your brain ticking over, looking for shapes, materials and viewpoints that give you the desired results.
3. A day in the life
This will require you to shadow a very tolerant friend or colleague for a day and record their life. It gives you a chance to explore portrait work, social commentary, angles, composition and more. Of course, it does mean that you need the time to do it, and permission from friends and colleagues, and their bosses, if the situation is going to be work-based. It makes for a brilliant documentary style way of shooting. You could even consider shooting only in black and white to give the shots an edgy feel. If this kind of approach is out of bounds, why not document a day in the life of your dog or cat?
4. Focal length challenge
If you have a prime lens, it can be quite a challenge to use that, and only that, for one week. Say you have a 50mm prime lens. You are limited to that focal length only. Now, if you only have a zoom lens, pick the opposite end of the zoom range you normally use most, and stick with that. Being forced to use one focal length only means that you, the photographer, must physically move around to frame your shots to get the result you want. Suddenly, you might find that you start to consider the use of aperture more, and see more opportunities for different points of view as you move around.
5. Shoot something boring
You might be thinking that would the ultimate photographic turn-off, right? Sometimes, putting yourself in a position where you are outside your comfort zone pushes you to explore new options in how to photograph what you would normally call ‘unphotographable’. Imagine a dirty old shed or bin-store. It’s not overflowing with creative possibility, or is it? Think about lens choices, colour or black and white, shallow depth of field, macro. Bring your creative armoury to bear on a boring subject and turn it around to make it interesting and alive. The limit is imposed not by the subject, but by the photographer.
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6. Single themes
Could you go one day only shooting one type of object? Give yourself the chance to try it. Pick an object, or perhaps a single colour, and spend one day walking around a location or two, shooting only that thing. If you choose yellow as your colour, you must only shoot an image that has something yellow in it, and it must dominate the shot. If it’s an object, say anything that is square, the the same rule applies. Only a square object, and it must fill a large portion of the frame. This is great way to train your eye to search out colours and patterns.
7. Deconstructed landscape
Try a different slant on the landscape image. Commit yourself to go out to a favourite scenic spot, your favourite beach or woodland walk. This time, rather than shooting a traditional landscape, keep all your shot choices quite loose. Make sure you cover all aspects of the environment that interest you. Record the scene from the ground in front of you, the path you are walking on, a puddle of mud off to the side, the bushes next to you, all the way up to the canopy of trees above or the sky itself. Unburden yourself with lots of gear. Keep it simple, and then you can create a montage of your favourite shots in your favourite editing program later.
8. Back to black and white
Discover the stunning creative world of black and white photography. If you’ve never thought of shooting for black and white conversion, then now is a good time to start. It doesn’t mean you have to shoot black and white ‘in camera’, rather, it is good practice to shoot in colour Raw format, but be able to ‘see’ a possible great black and white shot lurking in there. Colour in an image can distract you from the focus of the shot. Black and white also means you can take advantage of dreary days, as black and white can really make a moody grey day look awesome.
9. Shoot over time
Like the 365 project, this could possibly demand a great commitment to working over a longer period of time. It is actually a form of time-lapse photography, where the interval between each shot can be minutes, days, or weeks. There have been some classic time-lapse selfies taken where the subject was photographed once a day for many years, creating a an ongoing record of the person’s ageing process and how it changed them. Naturally, there are opportunities that don’t need such vast amounts of time. You could photograph a flower over the course of a day and night as it opens and closes when the sun sets. You could also pick a landscape, perhaps out your window, and shoot it once every day to record the change of the seasons.
10. Textures only
Start building a library that consists solely of textures. Each time you go out, make it a point to photograph something that has a great texture. The shot should not contain a sense of what the object is, just make it about its texture. Choose items that are rough, smooth, speckled, bumpy, rotting, broken and rusted. Get in close and just fill the frame with some gorgeous sheet of rusty corrugated metal, or a brick wall, with crumbling masonry and graffiti. The is no limit to what you can find out there, and you never know when a project might demand the use of a tarmac road texture, or peeling paint on a wooden door.