1. Create a Cinemagraph (Animated GIFs)
All of us have seen Harry Potter and those mystical photos where people are moving in the frames. Have you ever wondered how you could do that yourself with your own photos? With the right idea, you could easily put this together and have a very creative animated GIF. Because these are animations, they can only be shared digitally.
TIP: For cinemagraphs to look creative and professional, only show subtle movement that’s easily detected. If you allow too much movement, it ruins the looped effect.
For a guide to making your own cinemagraphs, follow this tutorial.
Time to Complete Project: ~2.5 hours
< 30 min: Select the location and make plans for any models if needed.
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Takes only a few seconds of video for this, but try different angles and actions.
~ 1 hour: Select the best video sequence. Edit. Save as a GIF file. Share online.
2. Photograph a Family Heirloom
We can all think of a few things from our childhood with priceless value. Think of that special family heirloom and all the memories that go with it. Think about the stories it would tell, if it could, and photograph that. The moment might be gone, but you can still make a photo that shares the often-retold story about this item. Your story might include a classic car that has traveled through the generations, a family bible that has brought peace, a rocking chair that supported a mother’s embrace, or a piano that endured countless hours of practice. No matter the story, it’s a part of who you are.
Time to Complete Project: ~2 hours
< 1 hour: Select the object. Set up the scene. Do the photo shoot.
1 hour: Pick your favorite photo (or top 3) of the heirloom. Edit. Share with family members and include your memory of this item.
3. Floor Portraits
Now that my boys are 2 and 4 years old, I wish I had better portraits of them as newborns. One awesome way to capture newborn photos that would make for a fun photo project on a rainy day is floor portraits.
Yup! That’s right – stage a scene on the floor with your sleeping child and have a blast while they are too young to care. Newborn portraits can be very traditional and very much alike. By creating the scene, you instantly have something that is unique and interesting. Of course, you can have those traditional photos of your child… but let’s be honest: either we keep it interesting, or we die of boredom.
Be sure to check out Adele Enersen’s blog to see some fantastic examples of floor portraits. And don’t think you have to have a newborn to make floor portraits. It might be even more fun with the older kids.
Time to Complete Project: ~2.5 hours
< 30 min: Set up the scene on the floor with various objects.
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Take as many as possible in the hour. Be creative with angles and different objects.
~ 1 hour: Select top 5 photos. Edit. Share online.
4. Make a REAL Portrait of a Loved One
We all have someone we love and care about. Take the time to make a professional photo of this person and give it to them. However, this photo needs to showcase something about who they are, where they work, or what they are passionate about. This photo needs to tell a story and ultimately introduce your loved one to any stranger who is looking at the photo. You might already have an idea in mind (it could be your fondest memory of this person), but make plans now so that you can make this photo a reality. This will be a photo worth a thousand words, and something they will cherish for years to come.
Time to Complete Project: ~2.5 hours
< 30 min: Arrange schedules (if needed) and discuss idea.
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Take as many as possible in the hour (unless you’re having a great time and can’t stop).
~ 1 hour: Going through photos, editing, and sharing.
5. Create a “Small World” Photo
This is an effect I really like and I’ve been wanting to make one of these “small world” photos for a long time. The way it’s made is by standing in one spot and taking photos of everything you can see–the ground in front of you, the sky behind you, everywhere! Then you stitch all the photos together and it makes an awesome “small world” photo. For a more in-depth tutorial on how to do this, check out this tutorial.
Time to Complete: ~1 hour
~ 2 hours: Read the tutorial, take your shots, post-process.
6. Do Good with Your Photography
Not everyone has the opportunity to have a professional photo taken of themselves. They don’t know what it is like to see themselves in the best light or thought of as beautiful. Donate your time and talent to capture a precious moment for a family or to make someone feel more beautiful than they ever have before.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
This is a program dedicated to connecting professional photographers with medical professionals and families who have suffered the death of their newborn child. Photographers are responsible for photographing a moment in time that captures the beautiful love between a mother and her child and the tender feelings of a father for his family.
Details for this program can be found by clicking here.
Created by professional photographer Jeremy Cowart, this charity event happens every December around the world. It’s an event dedicated to finding people in need and taking their portrait. It’s not about the money or our portfolios, but making a difference by giving a photo.
To learn more how you can be involved, or to start your own location of Help-Portrait in your city, click here.
Time to Complete: ~1 hour
~ 1 hour: Sign up. Read photographer requirements. Add to calendar.
7. Create a Photo Illusion
Creating a successful photo illusion will take some inspiration and effort. However, these can be a lot of fun to create when you have a supporting team who can see the vision as well. There are a lot of in-camera illusions you can create, but there is nothing stopping you from taking a series of photos and creating the illusion in Photoshop.
Time to Complete Project: ~2.5 hours
< 30 min: Arrange schedules with your supporting team. Give them an example of what you want to do.
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Take your ideas with you on paper so you can remember them on the shoot.
~ 1 hour: Select the best photos that clearly convey the illusion from the shoot. Edit. Share online.
8. A-Z Photos
Doing this project will open your eyes to the world around you. You will look at things differently and contemplate whether or not you could make a photograph out of everything you see. Looking for objects that form the shape of a letter is no easy task, but can be done if your eyes are open. There are two parts to this; you can do both or just choose one to complete the project.
Letters: Go out and find objects that form the shape of each letter of the alphabet. That’s only 26 letters. Sounds easy enough, but you are not allowed to use actual lettering found on signs or buildings (that would be cheating).
Actions: The goal for this one is to photograph an action that starts with each letter of the alphabet. But here’s the catch: the photograph has to clearly show the action so there is no question about what word is being depicted.
Both: If you’re looking for a big project, photograph the action and the letter to go with it. Arrange the photos together any way you want to create a collage of the alphabet. This could be helpful for school teachers or creating a display for children. Let your imagination take you away on this one.
Time to Complete Project: ~4 hours
< 30 min: Find a location. The best places to consider are those with a lot of architecture and landscaping.
~ 1.5 hours: Photo shoot. To get all the shots you need, you could be there a while. Make a list of what you have photographed so you don’t have to mentally keep track of 26 (or 52 if you’re doing both) images.
~ 2 hour: Rename the photos to match the letter. Edit. Compile. Share online.
9. Shoot a Single Theme
Sometimes it helps to have a theme to keep our mind and interest engaged with our photos. It gives us purpose and a reason to look differently at things that we might have already photographed. Be specific in your theme so that it is obvious that the photo series was taken with particular intent.
A theme might include: color, the same type of flower, classic cars, your hometown, the life of a kid, homeless people, travel photography in a certain location… The list can go on and on. The idea is that your theme is specific but still gives you enough latitude to take interesting photographs.
TIP: Your photos need to obviously display the theme. For example: You’re doing a theme on the color yellow and you photograph a street sign against a lot of blue sky. Or a yellow dandelion found in the green grass at the park. What color did you intend to photograph? Make sure the focal point is clear to the viewer so your photo is a success.
Time to Complete Project: ~2 hours 10 minutes
< 10 min: Pick your theme and a time you plan on going out with your camera.
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Depending on your theme, this might take a little longer or you might have hit the jackpot. Be creative with your photos. Give us a new perspective of something we have probably seen a thousand times.
~ 1 hour: Compile your photos. Try to have at least 10 good photos for your series. Edit. Share.
Share Your Photos
10. Print Out Your Photos
The digital age has really made it easy for us to skip printing our photos when we are ready to share them. You simply put them on your website, Facebook page, or email them — all at the click of a button. But the digital age has also made it easier to order prints online and have them sent directly to you.
When people come to your home, give them something to look at by hanging your prints on the walls. It’s a subtle way to show your talents, as there are very few of us who have a TV on our wall dedicated to showing a slideshow of our photos. Nobody says, “Before you leave, I want you to look at the photos on my phone because I have some new ones.” Having prints is an awesome way to share your talent, love, and passion for the things in your life without intruding on the time or good will of your friends and acquaintances.
TIP: You will probably need a frame for your photos. If you are looking for affordable frames that still look great, take a look at CraigFrames.com.
Time to Complete: ~2 hours
< 1 hour: Go through your photos and pick out the ones you love and would like to have on your wall.
~ 45 minutes: Now that you have gathered the photos you want printed, you need to create an account with the photo lab and start the upload process. Depending on your internet speed and the number of images, this process could take a while longer. Once your photos are uploaded, go through the ordering process and place the order for your prints.
11. Put Your Photos in the Most Visible Location in Your Home
This might seem like a random suggestion, but it’s one that works. If you have a device that supports it, set it up to show your photos through a screensaver. I like to use iCloud and the AppleTV to show my photos. When I am entertaining people in my home, I will have music playing in the background through AppleTV, and it is simply amazing the way that screensaver captivates so many people. They are looking for new photos that have been put up and even photos of themselves if they have been around long enough to merit that.
It is another subtle way to share your photos with those who come into your home. You’re not forcing them to look at your photos – it’s just a screensaver. But they will notice and admire your work until you turn the TV off.
TIP: Depending on your technology preference, the process to do this will vary.
Time to Complete: ~1.5 hours
1 hour: If this is the first time you have done this, create an album on your iDevice Photo Stream and start adding the photos you want to have show up on your AppleTV.
~ 15 mins: Go into your AppleTV settings and change the screensaver settings to show the photos found your Photo Stream Album. This will automatically update whenever you add new photos to it.
12. Shoot a Film Camera Again
If for no other reason, you should try a film camera just for the experience. Many of today’s photographers started in the digital age and don’t know what it is like to achieve a properly exposed photo with a fully manual camera. Film cameras are very affordable these days because they aren’t very popular, but you might also have access to one that you could borrow for a few hours or days.
There isn’t much point in practicing with a film camera if you don’t have film or a way to develop it. You can use photo labs that still develop film for you and have them printed, or you can sign up to use a darkroom and develop your own photos. Developing your own photos is truly half the experience of using a film camera. It’s very much like Photoshop where you are in control of how the image turns out. College courses will often provide the resources you need for film photography.
TIP: Be patient. Working with and developing film is very time consuming and calculated. You’ll want to scream obscenities because it is not digital. But take the time to learn. Go for the experience of learning and understanding more about photography. If nothing else, the experience will teach you to appreciate the camera you have even more.
Time to Complete: ~6 hours
~ 1 hour: Photo shoot. Some film cameras have a light meter built in for your convenience that will make the shoot go pretty well. If not, you will need a light meter to help properly expose your photo.
~ 5 hours: Develop your photos. Assuming you do it yourself, you will need to develop the film in the camera and let it dry. Then you will enlarge your photo using an enlarger (go figure). That process will take a while, and the enlarged photo will need to dry when it’s done.
13. Go Back to Monochrome
Stunning black and white photos have become something of a lost art. There are a lot of photos we take in color that would look absolutely amazing in black and white. Round up some of your recent photos and turn them black and white to see what you think. Do a black and white photo series where you really focus on going back to the silver lining of photography.
Black and white photography can be extremely helpful in creating a really strong focal point in the image. There is no color to distract you from what was being photographed.
TIP: Do not change your camera settings to shoot in black and white. Instead, convert it after the fact. If you don’t, I guarantee there will come a day when you forget to change that setting back and you find that several of your photos will forever be grayscale. Furthermore, there is editing software that will turn your photos black and white better than your camera could.
Time to Complete: ~1 hour
< 1 hour: Pick out your favorite photos and turn them black and white. Use a Lightroom preset, Photoshop action, or whatever you are most comfortable with.
14. Shoot a Self-Portrait
You have heard this a few times around Improve Photography and on other sites, and now it’s time to give it a try. Take some self portraits and have fun with yourself by experimenting with different expressions and poses. Or try to achieve a certain lighting style with your flash gear so that you are not caught off guard the next time you’re on a shoot. The experience you gain through this self-practice will prove to be much more valuable than some silly alone time with yourself.
TIP: Mark the place you need to stand and use an object to focus your lens before you get in front of the camera. You will need to stand in the same place so you don’t loose the focus for your photo.
Time to Complete: ~2 hours
< 2 hours: Photo shoot. Have fun with this and really go after it. This will take you a bit longer to do because you’re a one man team. Find a place where you won’t feel self-conscious.
15. Light Graffiti/Light Painting.
If you have even the slightest artistic bone in your body, you will fall in love with light painting. Plan at least 2 hours one night to go out and do some night photography with a good flashlight. You will need to use manual mode for this, but you will have complete control over the light and how it shows up in the photo. Because you are experimenting, plan to retake several shots until the light appears exactly as you would like it to. Don’t settle for anything – you’re in control.
If you are looking for something new to do that will jump-start your interest in photography, this is a really good technique for you to try at least twice.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to step in front of the camera. As long as you keep moving and don’t shine the light at the camera or have light on you, then you’re golden. You won’t even appear in the photo.
Time to Complete: ~3.5 hours
< 30 min: Think of a location that doesn’t have a lot of light but would be a good subject. Have a good spotlight with you.
~ 2 hours: This will take a while to photograph. Hopefully excitement makes it hard to stop, but remember that night photography just takes longer.
~ 1 hour: A little editing is usually required for these photos. Export. Share with friends.
The race for the best cell phone camera is on… and it’s been going for the last several years! Whether you are an avid iPhone user or support the other guys, there is nothing to stop you from treating your cell phone as a professional camera.
There are a few things you will need to help get the most out of your cell phone:
Look into “Camera FV-5“- This will give you professional camera controls that you’re used to and allow you to get those shots you see on your DSLR.
If you are using the apps to take long exposures, you will need to steady your phone on a tripod or something. It’s not any different on a phone than it would be on your DSLR.
Click here for some photos taken with the iPhone that I think are quite impressive.
Time to Complete: ~1.5 hours
< 15 min: Go and download the suggested apps onto your phone, or use others that you find if you like them better.
~ 1 hour: Since using your phone is so easy, all you need to do is find something to photograph.
~ 15 min: Instagram or Facebook your favorite shot from the shoot. Don’t forget to mention that it came from your phone!
Do It Yourself (DIY)
17. Try Something New
As I’m sure you can tell from this article, trying something new is pretty much the idea. But only you can be the one to get out there and try it. It really doesn’t matter whether you pick something from this list or not. What matters is that you set out to try something new, whether it’s a new style of photography or a different way to do the same thing you have always done. Either way, it’s gotta be different and interesting enough so that you will actually do it.
In our online classes, we have lessons that introduce you to different styles of photography. We teach you how to do it so that you can have the confidence when you try it yourself. Check out PhotoClasses.com and pick a class that’s right for you.
Time to Complete: ~1 hour 15 mins
< 15 min: Decide on one of the ideas that you’ve found here and make a plan to go out and try it.
~ 1 hours: Most photography ideas won’t take much more than a hour depending on what you do and how engaging it is for you.
18. Create a Photography Bucket List
Write it down. Whatever it is. Think of everything you want to accomplish as a photographer. Try to reach a list of 50 different things you’d like to do. You could start with, “Meet Jim Harmer in person.” Or better yet, “Run into Dustin Olsen on a photo shoot.” No matter how grand our small the goal is, it’s still a goal and a dream worth achieving.
This is a project that will take some thought. Maybe even a little stretching the first time you sit down to write this list. But start today so you can have a more clear direction of where you’re going and what you can do next with your photos. Never settle into another rut again.
To help with writer’s block, check out these Photography Bucket Lists on Pinterest.
Time to Complete: ~ 2 hours 15 mins
< 2 hours: Hang in there. Sit down and just do a brain dump on the computer. Type out as fast as you can the different ideas that come to your mind. Don’t worry about the details of the goal and how it will be accomplished – that’s not the point. Right now you’re just brainstorming.
< 15 min: Now that you have your list, pick the first one you’re going to cross off. Make plans and start to think about the details.
19. Set Up a Home Studio
A home studio just might be the answer to completing the first 3 suggestions on this list. It could also be a great space to have during the colder months of the year and want to bring your clients indoors. Creating a home studio doesn’t have to be complicated or overly expensive, the biggest challenge will be having the space to make it happen. Check out these articles to help you get started:
TIP: Don’t feel obligated to buy everything all at once to create a home studio. Put it together piece by piece so that you can understand how things work for you in your space.
Time to Complete Project: ~ 1.5 hours
< 1 hours: Evaluate the space you can use and the gear you already have. Make a list of anything else you might need to make this become a reality for you.
< 30 min: Now that you have your list, go shopping! Use our Recommended Gear page to see what we use in our own studio.
20. Gather Photography Props
Props can make a night and day difference in a photo. Often times when we photograph anything or anyone, we need to tell a story. Props can help tell that story and better express the personality and interests of the person in the photo. Props don’t have to be vintage or wonky to merit having. They could be simple things like footballs, chairs, flowers, different types of clothes, etc.
TIP: The best place to start looking for props is your grandma’s closet. After that, head on over to a local donation center (such as Goodwill or Salvation Army) and see what you can find. Don’t spend a fortune on props!
Time to Complete Project: ~ 3 hours
< 3 hours: This might take a while. See what you can round up in your closets and garages. Then go shopping for different things that you think might work well in a photo. Don’t look for a specific shopping list of items; instead, be open to what you do find and think of ways it could be used.
21. Shoot with a buddy.
There is always a great time to be had when you’re with friends who share the same interest. Plan a time and place to go out with a fellow photographer friend. There are a lot of good things that happen when you go shooting with a friend:
1. They are there to give instant feedback on your photo.
2. They can help with your composition just as much as you can help them with theirs.
3. You inspire each other to get even more creative shots.
4. If you are light painting, then you can help each other take the photo.
5. The buddy system is never a bad thing.
6. Rekindle and strengthen friendships.
7. I think you get the idea…
Time to Complete Project: ~ 2 hours 15 mins
< 15 min: Text your buddy right now and make plans to go for a shoot! You can break the ice by saying, “Hey! We should go photograph [The Golden Gate Bridge] this weekend!”
< 2 hours: You’re with your friend – plan some extra time to be with them and take the photos. Besides, once the creative juices start flowing, it’ll take longer than a normal photo shoot because the two of you will be having a blast together.
Photography Project #1: Highlights of your life. Re-create significant moments from your life and shoot them in a series: that time Jimmy Johnso next door gave you a black eye, hiking to a lighthouse with your father, going off to college, getting baptized, etc. Even cooler if you have your kids step in as the actors.
Photography Project #2: One landscape. Find one location where you enjoy shooting landscapes, and then visit the location about 10 times over the course of a month. Photograph the same location in different weather conditions, different light, and using your new creative ideas each time you go.
Photography Project #3: Homelessness. Thomas Hawk is a photographer who does a $2 homeless photo project. Whenever a poor person asks him for money, he pays them $2 to pose for a photo. Then the person will have earned the money by working for a few minutes while the photographer shoots, and he gets great photos of interesting people. I really hate business cliches, so I’m not sure if I should call this a win-win, or synergy. Either way, it’s a fantastic project.
Photography Project #4: Fairy tales. Take classic stories such as Little Red Riding Hood or other folk tales and take photos to illustrate the story.
Photography Project #5: Geophoto. Do a project to shoot the geocaching locations around your city. I guarantee you’ll find fantastic new locations. If you’re new to this idea, check out this post where I explained how it works.
Photography Project #6: Self Portraits. Take one self-portrait each day that shows your emotions and happenings of that day. If you do this one, please keep yourself fully clothed. There are quite a few well-known female photographers on Flickr who seem to think we want to see you naked or half naked.
Photography Project #7: Your city’s architecture. Go shoot the beautiful buildings around your city at all different times of the day. I bet you’ll find some interesting buildings that you’d never noticed before.
Photography Project #8: Your meals. Take a picture of one meal a day for a month. Not only is this a convenient way to count calories, you can really learn lighting by learning food photography.
Photography Project #9: Food fight. No, I don’t mean throwing food. I mean to let your imagination run a little wild. Imagine little stories with the food in your refrigerator and shoot photos to illustrate the tales.
Photography Project #10: Downtown fashions. Do street photography of the most interestingly dressed people in the downtown area of your city. No matter where you live, you’ll find more interesting people than you might expect. Spend several nights downtown and you’re guaranteed to get some fantastic shots.
Photography Project #11: A day in the life. Find someone you find interesting and shoot their whole day. Alternatively, you could do a day in the life of a group of people. For example, you could do A Day in the Life of Brigham Young University students. If you were doing this project, you could take pictures all over campus at different hours of one day and show all the interesting things that happen there.
Photography Project #12: Photojournalism. I loved working for a short time as a photojournalist. Where will you find the news? If you live in the United States, you can download a free app for your smartphone that gives you access to the police radio channels. That will help to find interesting things! Just make sure you do it legally…
Photography Project #13: Social Issues. Find a social issue that is important to you and take photos to highlight the struggle. For example, you could do a photo project about teen obesity, the elderly, immigrant farm workers, etc.
Photography Essay Idea #14: Working hard. Think of a few interesting professions around your home and take an environmental portrait of many people while at work. You might recall my photo shoot of a cab driver last month as an example.
Photo Essay Idea # 15: The middle of the day. I see too many photographers using “I can’t shoot because it’s the middle of the day” as an excuse. You can make terrific photos during the day if you learn to do it right. Go shoot during your noon lunch hour for a month and you’ll learn how to do it. I did this last summer every day on my lunch break and I captured a some beautiful shots.
Before you run off, I want to share with you some of my very best Youtube videos. These are all on-location videos where you can see how I’m using the color in sunsets, choosing my compositions, etc. Enjoy, and don’t forget to hit subscribe so you can see my future Youtube vids!