10 Personal Photography Project Ideas

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By Steve Russell

If you take photography classes or attend photography school like the New York Institute of Photography or the New York Film Academy, you will be assigned photography projects. An example of one from the syllabus of the New York Film Academy is:

Conceptualize, shoot, edit, and print a cohesive, conceptually unified fine art exhibition.

The first word, conceptualize, is a very important and powerful part of a photography project. It means you know what you’re going to do before you ever touch the camera. It means that every shot you take for the project has meaning and thought behind it. It means that you’re being a photographer and not just shooting with your camera.

In the case of photography classes or school, there’s a reason and purpose behind the project that’s been assigned to you. Outside these venues there may be other reasons for a project. In commercial photography it’s usually because a client has hired you for a specific project that they want completed for their own use. In wedding photography, like commercial photography, a client has hired you to photographically document their wedding and associated activities and events.

Where do you start with a project of this nature? The following steps should be a good beginning:

1. What’s the intent of the project? – Is it artistic, journalistic or documentary?

2. What’s the subject matter? – It could be a person or persons, a place or a photography discipline like landscape, macro, etc.

3. What makes it cohesive? – If it’s a project it has an intent and subject matter. I say this to distinguish it from a collection of photos. Still, it all has to hang together. If it’s a wedding the cohesive part, at least on the front end, is easy. But, let’s envision a project that you’ve decided is documentary and the subject matter is landscape. Landscape alone won’t make it cohesive; you have to be more precise. It could be Landscapes of Yellowstone or Sunrise in Monument Valley, or Autumn in Vermont.

4. What’s the end result and format? – The digital world is wonderful. I love the digital world. It’s so easy to put together a collection of photos, save them to a DVD or other storage medium, maybe put music to them and display them on a wide screen TV or on a computer. I do it all the time including on my iPad which is a wonderful tool for showing “proofs” to a client. Still, I don’t think that any digital format carries the impact of a set of professionally produced prints presented in a book or album.

The above comments are all related to what I would call a “formal project” and I highly recommend you give it a try.

You can also undertake a photography project for your own purposes and enjoyment. Whether you aspire to a level of photography that monetarily compensates you for photography projects or not, completing a project of your own will increase your knowledge and help you to become a better photographer. You can apply much of the discipline of formal projects to any photography project for any purpose. I call these “informal projects” or “fun projects” not that formal projects can’t be fun as well. A few of these are:

1. Project 365 (or 366 this year) where you take a photo every day of the year. This type of project has become so ubiquitous that it’s almost pedestrian. Nevertheless, if you’ve never attempted it before it can be a wonderful project experience. After about the fifth or sixth day you really have to start thinking about what you want to photograph. Don’t forget that you can also have fun with the photos like in the image above.

2. Take a photo of a favorite prop in different locations, especially locations where the presence of the prop provides a degree of incongruity. I’ve seen many different props used and placed in really interesting locations – a red wooden chair in the middle of a plowed field, red high-heeled shoes on the dinner table, etc. In this project you can let your imagination go wild.

3. Self-portraits in many different locations and situations – For this project I would really recommend the use of a tripod and timer or remote shutter release. Looking at photographs in a mirror with the camera showing and a large washed-out area where the flash is reflected gets old very quickly. The photo above is an example although the photographer in this case captured the photo this way on purpose.

4. One of my favorites that I’ve even written an article about is a lifetime project – For example, if you have a young child or plan to have one in the future, photograph the child, with the parents, each year on the child’s birthday. You can find the article here.

5. Find a subject or object you really like and photograph it once a month or once a week. This can be especially fun outdoors but you have to stick to the schedule regardless of the weather. Depending on the main subject rain and snow may make for an even better photo.

6. Get up close and personal with macro. You can have “tons of fun” with this in your backyard. Macro photography introduces a completely different world than we normally “see” in our day to day environment.

7. With spring just around the corner in the northern hemisphere, now would be a great time to photograph flowers, especially wild flowers as they come into bloom.

8. Night photography can be fun and result in some very interesting photos. Earlier this month I attended a presentation about night photography by David Wille, a Dallas, TX area photographer. He made two comments I thought were a very interesting way to explain night photography. First, in daylight photography the camera can’t see all your eye can see. In night photography the camera sees more than your eye can see. Second, in daylight photography the camera is capturing a point in time. In night photography, because of the longer exposures, the camera is converging time. Because of this, night photography can be very rewarding.

9. When I was a child, my siblings and I would play games in the car when we were taking a long trip. One that I remember was finding words that begin with each letter of the alphabet on billboards. The words had to be in order and only one word from a billboard. Try the same approach with your camera. Each day take a photo of a subject that starts with a different letter of the alphabet, in order. One photo a day. Plan ahead so you know what day to go to the zoo to catch a zebra.

10. Take 50 posed photos of complete strangers. Posed means they know you’re photographing them so you have to ask first. Street Fairs, Sidewalk Art Shows, Chili Cookoffs and other public festive events are great places for this project. Carry model release forms with you and get them to sign it. If you can get through this one, you’ll be much more comfortable asking for a model release when it really matters and, who knows, it may really matter during this project.

These are only a few of the possible photography projects you can embark upon and enhance your enjoyment of photography. You can even combine some of the projects above into a single project. For example, put numbers 1 and 2 together and photograph the prop in a different location every day of the year. If you decide to work on a project, share your progress with us on our Facebook page.

Photo Credits:
Day #121 My mother, wasp and wine by mygothlaundry on Flickr Creative Commons
Red Shoes in Birdcage by sunfrog1 on Flickr Creative Commons
Self Portrait by Warmsunnydays on Flickr Commons
Wildflower – Teazel by Mick E. Talbot on Flickr Creative Commons
Wroclaw by night by Fergal of Claddagh on Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Anonymous

    Great article Steve!  I especially like David Wille’s comments on night photography.

  • http://www.printrunner.com/sticker-printing.html Print Stickers

    These project ideas are brilliant. I got inspired to do one myself. I just hope I can do them all. 

  • Pingback: It’s All In The Eyes « Paul Coffin Photography

  • http://www.idealcanvas.co.uk/ Canvas Prints From Photos

    Great article for ideas and inspiration. I have only recently started to take a serious interest in photography, having worked for many in my profession as a printer. I hadn’t even heard of the project 365 so I think I will start there! Thank you.

  • Claudetteepatry

    One photo a day. Plan ahead so you know what day to go to the zoo to catch a zebra.