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Taking on a photography project is a great way to get yourself out of a photography rut and to bring some focus to your picture-taking. Placing some constraints on what you’re going to take photos of or what camera gear you’ll use really does force you to become more creative, too.
Photography projects are also great if you’ve just got your first proper camera – rather than shooting everyone and everything, taking on a photography project is a great way to learn as you shoot, while you’ll end up with a coherent set of images at the end of it.
We’ve prepared 52 fantastic photo ideas – one for every week in 2019. These are split into three sections: easy home projects you can do today, ideas you can try outdoors at the weekend and a series of ongoing photo projects that you can start now but keep topping up in the coming weeks and months.
The basic idea with this project is to suspend a container of liquid and let drops fall through a small hole, then capture the resulting splash. Timing the shutter as the splash is created is everything. We achieved good results using two flashguns set to their lowest power (1/128th), an aperture of f/22 and water mixed with Xanthan gum to make a more viscous solution. We also used a SplashArt water drop kit from PhotoTrigger, which helped to regulate the size and frequency of the drops.
For this project you’ll need a flashgun that you can fire remotely, a container with clear sides for your water, a coloured background and a tripod. Set up the container and backdrop, then position the flash over the container. With the camera on a tripod and set to manual focus and exposure – f/8, ISO200 and the fastest shutter speed that will work with your flash – drop the object into the water and fire the shutter as it hits.
Smoke trails are a firm favourite among still-life photographers. But how about taking it to the next level and using the shapes in a creative Photoshop project. Once you’ve taken a few good smoke art photos, make a blank document in Photoshop, then copy and paste one of the smoke images into it. Set the blending mode to Screen and use Warp Transform to reshape it. Continue the process to combine a range of smoke shots into a new image.
This fun project exploits the effect that polarised light has on some plastics. You’ll need two polarising filters – ideally one of these should be a sheet of polarising film. You can pick up an A4 sheet of Lee 239 polarising film for £50 The sheet of film should be placed on a lightbox or in front of the only light source. An iPad screen and most computer screens have a polarising filter built in, so if you don’t have a sheet of polarising film you can always experiment by creating a white document to fill the screen. Simply attach the circular polariser to the camera lens and rotate it to make the colours appear in clear plastic items
Spice up your food photography! All you need is a set of model figures – Hornby 00 gauge figures are perfect, as they’re available in a wide range of poses. Preiser has a great range too. The most important aspect is to establish a sense of narrative. Here you can see that there’s a conversation between the characters, with the mountaineer on the ‘mash face’ being helped by his colleagues on the ground.
Try turning your dinner ingredients into photo art using just a lightbox and a very sharp knife. Slice fruit and vegetables as thinly and evenly as possible, then place them on the lightbox. With the camera positioned directly above, use Live View to focus manually on the details. Set an aperture of f/8 to give adequate depth of field, and dial in some exposure compensation of +1 to +3 stops as the bright light can fool the camera’s meter into underexposure.
A relatively inexpensive way of taking ‘kitchen sink’ close-ups that look great blown up as wall art. Freeze flowers in plastic containers of distilled or de-ionised water (available through your local auto or hardware store). The flowers will float, so try to weigh them down or fasten them in place so that they freeze under the water. Place the block of ice on top of a clear bowl or glass in a white sink or plate, so that the light can bounce through from below. Position a flashgun off to one side, angled down towards it, and shoot from the opposite side.
Oil floating on the surface of water is a great way to make striking abstracts. This table-top photo project exploits the refractive quality of oil and bubbles to accentuate and distort colours. All you need to do is place a few drops of cooking oil on the surface of water in a glass dish. Make sure the dish is supported about 25cm about the table top, then place coloured paper under it and use an anglepoise lamp or flashgun to light the paper.
This project follows a similar theme to the previous one, but here the patterns are created by a cover over the light rather than a coloured background. First, make a cover for an anglepoise lamp using acetate, card and tape. Use masking tape to attach it, but make sure it isn’t touching the bulb, and keep the light off when you’re not shooting. Place a full bucket of water in front of the lamp, add a few drops of cooking oil. Stir up the oil, get in close and shoot.
This is a wonderful project that makes for vibrant desktop wallpaper or abstract wall art. You’ll need liquid soap mixed with glycerine for long-lasting soap film, plus a wire loop, a black cloth background and a macro lens of at least 100mm. The colours created by soap film only appear when hit by light from a certain angle, so set up near a north-facing window and shoot from around 45 degrees.
Light bends when it passes through water, causing the objects behind to change appearance. This is called refraction, and you’ll make use of this phenomenon in this arty photo project. All you need is a few glasses, a flashgun, a tripod and a black-and-white pattern print. Simply place the pattern in the background with the glasses in front. Fill them with different levels of water and move the pattern backwards or forwards to fine-tune the effect.
Your kitchen is an ideal location for shooting a macro project. Its reflective surfaces can be used to create interesting backgrounds for your shots, and a shallow depth of field can transform the most mundane of objects you’ll find there. Creating a triptych of images can result in a piece of fantastic wall art for your kitchen too, although it’s important to think about how they’re going to work together before you start shooting. Here, 3 objects – a fork, a bowl of cereal and coffee granules – were all shot from a similar angle, with the impression of height linking the sequence.
Something as simple as a crumpled piece of foil can be the basis for a creative photo project. Position a still-life subject on a sheet of glass with a piece of dark material underneath it. Scrunch up the kitchen foil then smooth it back out and place it in the background. Shine a table lamp or torch on the foil and, with a tripod mounted camera, dial in the lens’s widest aperture to create some beautiful ‘bokeh’. During the exposure, shine a flashlight onto the subject.
Small highlights often create nice bokeh, so fairy lights are perfect for this project. Position them far enough away so that they will be out of focus at a wide aperture. Position your subject, in this case a glass, close to the camera and focus on it. Tweak the position of the fairy lights until it looks like cool coloured bubbles are floating out of the glass. This technique can also be used to create bokeh ‘steam’ from mugs of hot drinks.
Light trails can be used in all kinds of photography, but they’re perfect for a creative still life project. You can use a regular Maglite torch, but try removing the end to reveal the bulb and make the light more direct. Use some electrical tape to attach a coloured sweet wrapper, which you can use as a makeshift ‘gel’. Set the canera’s shutter speed to around 30 secs with an aperture of around f/8, then start moving the torch within the frame before pressing the shutter. Continue the movement throughout the exposure. Here, we suspended the torch from a piece of string and made a gentle circular movement to create a spiral around the bottle.
You’ll need to attach a torch, suspended by string, to an open area of ceiling. Fit the widest lens you have on your camera, and mount it on a tripod pointing straight up. With the light turned on, autofocus on the tip of the torch and set the lens to manual focus to lock the setting in. With an aperture of f/11 or f/16 dialled in, use Bulb mode and a remote release to keep the shutter open for a minute or so as you send the torch spinning in the dark…
The Brenizer method, also known as portrait panorama or bokeh-rama, provides a great basis for a portrait photography project. Invented by New York wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer, the technique helps you create photos that appear to have been shot on a lens with a much wider maximum aperture. The idea is that you shoot lots of telephoto photos of different parts of a scene at the lens’s widest aperture, and then join this mosaic together using Photoshop’s Photomerge option or in specialist stitching software.
Make sure you shoot each frame using manual settings – from White Balance through to focusing – so that you can batch process all the shots. Try shooting anywhere from 30-80 frames, and make sure each tile and row overlaps the last by around a third.
Choose the opposite lens to the one you’d normally use to photograph a subject. For example, take a wide-angle lens to the zoo or restrict yourself to your longest telephoto focal length when you next shoot landscapes.
Try a new way to explore a landscape by creating a composite of multiple fragments of it that you’ve taken during a short walk. A 20-minute stroll is all you need. Keep your kit and settings simple, and don’t get bogged down with tripods, filters or complicated techniques. Shoot anything that catches your eye in Aperture Priority mode. When you’re back home, create a grid in Photoshop and assemble your selection of picture using Layers.
Instead of cramming an entire view into a single frame, shoot a series of minimalist long exposure landscapes instead. A symmetrical composition can help to reinforce the simplicity of the framing, as can a square crop. You’ll also need a strong Neutral Density (ND) filter to give you the flexibility to create long exposures at any time of the day. Use a tripod to keep the camera still throughout the exposure and fire the shutter with a remote release.
To capture the best starscapes you’ll need a completely clear sky. It’s best if the moon isn’t visible: it can make it difficult to keep detail in the whole sky in a single exposure. To keep the exposures short enough to prevent the moving stars blurring, use Manual mode and set a high ISO such as 1,600 or 3,200 and a shutter speed of two seconds. Even then, you’ll need a wide aperture: f/4 or even f/2.8. This means it’s almost impossible to keep both the stars and any foreground subject in focus in a single shot. Shoot two exposures, one focused on the stars and one on the foreground, then combine them in Photoshop.
You don’t have to travel far or commit a lot of time to an outdoor photography project. There are photo opportunities just about everywhere – even in a car park. A DSLR with a standard zoom is all you need for this project. Keep your technique simple and look for patterns, textures, colours and shapes.
Rather than shoot in black and white and using pop colour techniques to make an object stand out, this selective colour challenge requires you to nominate a colour and find examples of it in the wider world. You don’t have to fill the frame: use clever composition techniques to draw attention to it within the photo.
This project uses forced perspective to play tricks on a viewer’s perception of the relationship between differently sized objects in a photo. The best way to approach this is to shoot a recognisable subject and get them to pretend that they are interacting with a much larger object or subject, which is actually in the background. Choose a small aperture to provide a large depth of field that will enhance the effect.
Photographing miniature toys and models in real-world environments is a popular photo project and one that you can easily fit around your day job. Try taking a small prop with you and photographing it in a range of situations – everywhere from the daily commute to a weekend stroll. To blend the model in with the rest of the scene you’ll need to get close to the subject and balance the light. If your subject is cast in shadow, use your flash to add fill-in lighting.
The ‘toytown’ effect that you can get from using an expensive tilt-shift lens ‘incorrectly’ is addictive. But you can achieve a very similar look in Photoshop by blurring all but a small area of an image. For the most convincing effect, shoot the scene from a high viewpoint on a sunny day to heighten the ‘model village’ look.
Light painting offers plenty of opportunity for creative photo projects, but how about trying your hand at a series of light orb shots. You don’t need much in the way of kit – a string of battery-powered LED lights wrapped around a hula hoop is perfect. Simply spin it in front of a tripod-mounted camera. If you’re shooting by yourself, use the camera’s self-timer function so that you can position yourself in the frame before the exposure starts.
A night photography project you’ll need to do in an open area away from flammable objects… Put fine wire wool in a metal whisk, attach this to a chain, then set the wool alight and spin it. You need a brave volunteer, a tripod, and an exposure of about 15 secs at f/11 at ISO100. See our guide on how to create light orbs for more details.