As a photographer, I have found that I can get into a rut. For me, this means that the creative juices are not flowing, and my work seems lackluster. After finding myself shooting the same way, with the same results, and feeling a bit stuck, picking up a personal photography project is my way of breaking out of the everyday ho-hum and jump-starting my creativity.
What is a Personal Photography Project?
My definition of a personal photography project is a focused effort to learn something new, improve your photography skills, and spark creativity, all while having some fun doing it. According to Wikipedia,personal photography projects are usually documentary in nature. Wikipedia goes on to say that “documentary photography is a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments.” That definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation, doesn't it? And that's the point, really—it's a project uniquely interesting to you.
My personal photography project was born out of the quickly changing Texas landscape. While traveling by car in Texas, I started noticing how the population growth was having an effect on the landscape, particularly on old buildings and farms. I started photographing them whenever I could. Over the last few years, many of those old farmsteads are gone—replaced by new development—but those old buildings live on in my photos.
Where to Start
If you aren’t feeling creative to begin with, how do you come up with a personal photography project? Here are some ideas:
- Shoot Your Hobby with a Twist. Focus on an interest or hobby that you or someone you know is passionate about. Love to quilt? Would you like to show what the quilt patterns mean, or highlight the fellowship of the quilting circle? Is there a quilting organization in your area that includes old-timers who can show, and tell, you a story about local history through quilting?
- Start a “Picture A Day” project. Pick a specified period of time, then choose a subject. Topics could include chronicling the changes in your garden, a series of photographs as your puppy grows, scenes around the neighborhood every day, or a set of self-portraits. A great example of a photo project by an extremely creative colleague of mine, Kirk Marsh, was a “self-portrait a day for a year” project he posted on Facebook. He has a studio, obviously, but the range of ideas he used are fantastic to look at.
- The “Power-up Your Usual” Shoot. Mike Kelley, a famous Los Angeles, California, real estate photographer created a project based on his trip to Iceland to photograph Icelandic architecture. You can read about his project here.
- The “Support a Cause” Shoot. Is there a cause that you are passionate about, like community gardens or education? Do you volunteer for a local charity? Or are you interested in a specific issue in your city, like homelessness or transportation? Try documenting everything about that topic in photographs.
- The “I've Got a Feeling” Shoot. Try to express an idea or a feeling like peace, happiness, enthusiasm, or sorrow. For example, a still lake at sunrise could depict peace. Happiness could be children playing or your dog with a favorite toy.
- The “One Lens” Shoot. Polish up your photography by choosing a sub-genre like macro photography or nighttime photography. Focus on that one genre for the project, and see your skill improve.
- The “Neighborhood Stroll” Shoot. Improve your health and do a photography project at the same time. Take your camera on a neighborhood walk every day and take photos of whatever interests you: a vine on a fence, cracks in the road, afternoon shadows, traffic cones, or the neighbor’s water sprinkler running in the yard. Document the details that everyone usually walks right past.
Tips for Improvement
Using a new technique or two can also help your imagination and creativity.
- Try different shooting positions. Shoot from down low, waist level, and up high (hold the camera over your head).
- Try different lenses (wide angle, 50 mm, zoom) and shoot the same subject.
- Use different shutter speeds to blur motion like traffic, a bicycle rider, or the neighbor walking the dog. Same with changing the aperture—you can change the focal point and blur unnecessary details
- Look behind you! Turn a full 360 degrees and see what else is right there to photograph.
- Always look for great light. Look for sweet light around sunrise and sunset, and make use of the blue hour at twilight.
But most of all, have fun! Share your personal project ideas in the Comments.
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