Fire Up Your Creativity – Project Workshop

The third article by Rowland Jones in an ongoing series of photography project ideas that are sure to fire up your creativity!

Professional, online portfolio reviews starting at $39!
Professional, online portfolio reviews starting at $39!

Portfolio Review

Before launching into Rowland's awesome suggestions on photography projects that can really fire up your creativity, here is another idea you could consider to help get your photography moving – a professional portfolio review.  Done right, a portfolio review can be a little bit hard to get through, but it will also help you understand what you could and should be working on to improve your photography.  If you are really stuck with “photographer's block,” or just don't know what to do in order to take your photography to the next level, a portfolio review could be the answer.

A good portfolio review really needs to come from someone who can truly be objective – meaning someone not related to you, or within your close circle of friends.  Try as they might, and having the best of intentions, someone you know is too likely to sugar coat the review of the photos.  Reach out to the photography community and see if anyone is willing to help you with a review.  Many professional photographers offer this as a paid service to other photographers, so drop your favorite mentor a note and see if they offer such a thing.  You can also do such a review, online, right here through improvephotography.com by clicking here.

Be sure to check out Rowland's other “Project Workshop” articles for even more ideas on you to get past any creative block you may have on your photography by reading Project Workshop – Kick-Start a New Year Of Photography and In a Photography Rut? Project Workshop!.  Now on to this month's Project Workshop ideas that are sure to fire up your creativity!

fire up your creativity pinterestBring  Back the Fun

Last month I gave you a few suggestions for projects which would help you to get to know your equipment better and to refine some of your technical skills. In this article, we're going to be looking at some potential subject areas – or maybe more precisely some directions – that you might like to follow. At first you may think that this is a pointless exercise — you're quite happy to just ‘do your own thing' and work with what appeals to you when you are out with your gear. That might seem fine, when you are happy with your photography but every now and then we all hit the ‘creative block'.  That flat patch where nothing seems to work like you think it should and nothing, absolutely nothing, is satisfying! It will happen, trust me. The reason that these sort of exercises can help you is that they ‘force' you to photograph things that you might not otherwise consider as worthwhile subjects.  In doing that, it is helping you to see the world around you differently.  Hopefully it will make you more aware of new and exciting possibilities and bring the fun and the creativity back into your photography.

The Approach

Before we look at different subject matter, here's a few ideas as to how you approach your project.

  1. Set yourself some sort of schedule for each of these projects – a certain number of shots of your subject (that you are really happy with) to be taken in a specific period – your final selection so to speak. Make it realistic and feasible. I once committed myself to one photograph a day for the entire month of January, and I have to admit it became incredibly difficult.  I realised that I had set myself an unrealistic goal. So go easy on yourself – or at least go ‘reasonable'!
  2. Restrict the number of shots you allow yourself to take of one ‘image'. Imagine (or maybe, you can just, remember) what it was like when the number of shots you could take was limited by the number of frames on film, each frame costing money. Be more discerning.  Limit the number of shots you take to, say, three versions of each image. So when you see the ‘thing/object' that inspires you to take the shot, don't immediately put your camera to your eye. Look at ‘it.' Think about ‘it.' What do you like about ‘it?' It's shape? It's color? The texture on it's surface? The contrast between one side of ‘it' and the other? Move around ‘it.' Move closer to ‘it.' Move further away from ‘it.' Look at ‘it' from a lower viewpoint. Experiment, but take your time.
  3. In addition to restricting the number of pictures you take, be ruthless with editing out which ones you will reject and trash. Imagine that you are working on an assignment for a magazine or a n exhibition. Don't allow yourself to let an ‘OK' shot through your ‘editing net.'
  4. Try to compose, construct and record the image in the camera itself, without relying on the possibility of using software to crop and modify the image. Use the camera to its maximum!

I'm trying to emphasize the benefit of taking your time when taking photographs. See the ‘basis of the shot.'  Think about what you want to record.  Move around the object.  Consider different viewpoints. I had one student who borrowed a wheelchair and photographed a day in their life from that viewpoint.  It created a poignant exhibition. Another student photographed a day in the life of dog from a very low viewpoint!

Fun Project Ideas

OK so what about some subjects to photograph?


This is a very easy and interesting basis for a project. Choose an object – cars, dogs, shoes, whatever – and start to ‘collect' images of them. The point is that you are not intending to collect any old images or different examples of the objects, but to make a set of images that are pleasing. Choose your subject (or get somebody to suggest one for you…) and take your time.  Start looking, your approach may not develop immediately.

Shoes? A row of shoes in a shop window; elegant heels, worn trainers, muddy work boots, maybe just a selection from your family's collection! In my case, my wife's . . .

Dogs? a newly shampooed Yorkshire terrier? A dog on the street?

There are an infinite number of possible objects. But don't stop there.  You also have to decide how and where are you going to shoot them.  Should they all be shot in the setting where you find them? Maybe in a studio? These decisions have a practical impact on your project too. If you decide to shoot the shoes on location then this is clearly a lot easier than persuading people to come into a studio or to lend you their footwear! The point is that you consider the subject and decide how to create your images. This is your project, your ideas.

I know I'm always suggesting this but do try looking at the work of other photographers. Elliott Erwitt's ‘Dogs' is a wonderful collection of photographs of dogs and their owners. Photographer Francois Brunelle has done an amazing series of portraits of pairs of people who are unrelated but look like twins. The images are all in black & white and though the poses vary, there is no doubt that this a ‘set of images' – a collection that has a ‘look' to it. To me, that is what a photography project should look like – a collection of images that has a theme not only in terms of its subject matter but also in the approach to creating the images.


You can create this collection of photos in several ways. The first option would be simply to look for subjects where there is an interesting shape – an elegant curved banister railing; the shadow cast by an ornate shadow or a massive obelisk of a modern building. Or you could start looking for specific shapes – an ellipse, circles, or an equilateral triangle. This was a ceiling of a bar in Southern Italy. Another possibility would be to search for similar shapes in different ‘circumstances' Edward Weston's work draws interesting comparisons between the curves of a capsicum and the female nude!


Pick a color, any color.  Pull one ‘out of a hat.'  Ask your partner to suggest one. Then start looking for that color wherever you are – with or without your camera. Pick an easy one – red; or if that's TOO easy, go for fuchsia or lime green! Try to take black and white pictures without using a black white setting— search out the lack of color! This was a strangely repaired old Citroen in Florence. . .


With most images we see, we can make out what they are.  ‘That is nice picture of a ……' whatever! So why not try an totally different approach? Look for interesting shapes and pleasing colors. Look for details of objects; try to isolate a part of object to take a picture which doesn't actually identify the object for what it actually is but at the same time makes an image which is satisfying and pleasing to look at. This was strong sunlight hitting the wall of my lounge

Concepts, Emotion and Ideas

ectasy-smallI already suggested a color-focused photography project, but colors can also convey an emotion. So why not try to convey an abstract idea with a specific image? ‘Blue.' ‘Happiness.' ‘Speed.' ‘Small.' ‘Freedom.'  The possibilities are endless, maybe pick one that you are feeling right now and run with it.

Consider looking at how the ‘Masters' have done it before you.  As usual, there's plenty to look at. There's Cartier Bresson's beautiful street portrait of a young French boy proudly carrying two large bottles of wine. Dorothea Lange's portrait of Florence Thompson conveys the stresses and strains of that woman's life. Emotion, of course, does not necessarily have to be conveyed by people – Elliott Erwitt's image of the small dog leaping in the air is definitely ‘happiness' and an abandoned toy could well convey sadness. And does this say ecstasy or not?


Whilst we are on the subject of abstract concepts, how about the passing of time? You could select a certain time of day and illustrate it in a number of different ways – rush hour or lunchtime or evening on Lake Lugano

You could find a location and record how elements of it change from early morning to late evening. Another possibility could be a series of images picturing what a certain day means to different people- Saturday might mean relaxation to some people, a religious day to others.  For many it is a day for shopping, but it may be a busy working day for a musician. The time frame could, of course, be a lot longer.  How about illustrating the Seven Ages of Man?

Music, Literature, and Art

Speaking of a musician, why not try to construct a series of images relating to a specific piece of music. Your favorite Bob Dylan song, a Katy Perry hit, or a moving symphony – the choice is yours.
You could even take the title of your favourite novel and try to create images that reflect your impression of that story. Poems could also be a source of inspiration. I'm a great fan of quotations and that too, could be a project- illustrating a series of memorable quotations from the same person, or a series of quotations on the same topic.


Hopefully one of the ideas I have presented has fired up your creativity and given you something to try out. The emphasis is on ‘getting out there and doing it!' It's all too easy too easy with software to spend hours – and even days – experimenting with filters, color correction, curves and whatever other options Adobe offers us.  I'm trying to encourage you to take your camera- whether it's the latest DSLR or a modest compact – and experiment with their photography.  Surely anything that explores the possibilities for creating more interesting images has got to be worth a try!

PS If you like any of these ideas but want some help finding a direction then drop me a line!

9 thoughts on “Fire Up Your Creativity – Project Workshop”

  1. thanks for suggestions. with winter and two small children at home, I have been a bit of a rut lately. fortunately the weather is starting to turn and I can’t wait to get back out there.

  2. A couple of years ago it was suggested that I be in a picture with my grand-daughter every week. I forced me to get into at least one picture a week. We then created a weekly blog. We have not missed a week since we started in January 2013!

  3. David Fitchett

    I want to give a Basic Portfolio Review to my brother. How do I pay for it and give give his contact information.

    David F

  4. David Fitchett

    I want to give to give my brother a Basic Portfolio Review. How do I pay for it and give his contact information.

    David F

    1. @David Fitchett – Not a problem at all. Just purchase the portfolio review and then give your brother the info we give you after purchase so he can send in the portfolio. Won’t be an issue at all.

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