- Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 March 2020 09:31
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is global and most of us are practicing social distancing to help flatten the curve, that leaves many of us with a lot of downtime.
With things like proms and graduations and weddings postponed, photographers the world over are feeling the pinch of reduced business because of the virus.
But rather than sitting around worrying about what this means for your finances - which, by the way, I've been doing a lot the last few days - it's probably a good idea to take some time to focus your mind and attention on some photo projects that can help you become a better photographer.
Part of becoming an improved photographer is understanding how to challenge yourself to put the skills you already have to the test and acquire new skills that will allow you to expand your boundaries as a photographer.
But what many photographers seem to think is that in order to find a challenge, one must travel to far-off locations to find material worthy of a photo. In this day and age, that's not a possibility, so turning inward and finding things to photograph at home is a must for photographers affected by coronavirus.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of simple home-based photography projects that you can easily do in your downtime and that will help you become the photographer you want to be.
Now, these don’t just ask you to try typical around-the-house projects like “photograph your children playing” or “create a still-life photo of a household object.” Instead, these projects try to get you to think more outside the box so you come away with more creative ideas - and better skills too.
Give one or two a try, or challenge yourself to try all 12. Either way, there’s plenty to do in your own backyard to improve your photography during COVID-19.
It’s easy enough to snap a photo of your dinner with your smartphone. For this project, however, try to turn your food - or better still - the ingredients you use to make a meal - into a fine art photo.
Whether it’s julienned carrots, slices of apple, or little piles of spices, get in close with your camera directly above the ingredients, get sharp focus using your camera’s live view function, and fire away. Just be sure you have enough lighting (and even lighting to minimize shadows).
Get more details on how to photograph food at home in the video above by Sean Tucker.
A-Z Photos: A Perfect Photo Project for Home
Nothing challenges your photographic creativity than having to hunt for a subject that corresponds to each letter of the alphabet. For a fun twist, photograph concepts that represent more difficult letters - a horse galloping in a field could represent Q for quick.
Over the course of a series of 26 photos, you’ll be challenged to find subject matter (let’s face it...X and Z are difficult!). But not only that, you’ll develop your photographer’s eye in the process.
Part of learning the craft of photography is seeing subjects worthy of photographing where other people do not. This project will help you do just that. Plus, this is one of the best home-based photography projects because it takes a lot of time off the clock.
Go Black and White
Like the A-Z photo project, shooting only in black and white will help develop your creative eye, but in a different way.
Because of their lack of color, black and white photos depend on other factors, namely, lines, patterns, textures, shapes, and, of course, light and shadows, to retain the interest of viewers. Thus, learning to see in black and white is an important skill not just for black and white photos, but for color photography too. After all, it’s often those fine details that make a good photo a great photo!
So, with that in mind, try a weeklong or two-week black and white challenge. No matter what subjects you capture, look for the elements listed above to try and elevate your photos.
Get some excellent black and white photography tips in the video above by Jamie Windsor.
Capture Oil & Water
Test your ability to create some abstract art by photographing oil and water.
Put a colorful cloth or piece of paper on a table. Place several drops of cooking oil into a clear, glass dish of water, then set the dish on top of the cloth or paper. Then, add a light source - a flash or even an incandescent lamp that can be angled - and capture the striking interaction of these elements.
The results, like the image above, can be breathtaking! Plus, you’ll acquaint yourself with creating abstract photos, and you can begin to build close-up or macro photography skills as well.
Create a Photo Scavenger Hunt
If you want to expand your photography skills, a photo scavenger hunt is a great activity. It's also one of the best things that photographers affected by coronavirus can do to occupy their time.
If you're social distancing at home with your family, have each member of the group come up with a list of things to find and photograph, put them into a hat, and pick out a dozen or so subjects. Then, find each subject and fire away!
If you're social distancing on your own, get a group text going with your photography pals, solicit ideas for items to hunt for, and each of you can search your own homes for those items. Share the photos you take and offer critiques of one another's work.
Work With Water
All you need for this project is a container of water with a small hole that allows small drops to fall through, a good lighting source (like natural light through a window), a nondescript background, and a camera setup just right to capture the drops in midair.
It’s a simple enough idea, but is a fairly complex process of getting the lighting, the timing, and the camera settings just right. But those are good things for you - the more you practice adjusting your camera’s exposure settings, for example, the quicker you’ll be able to make adjustments for all types of photos. That’s learning that has wide applicability!
First Man Photography has a great tutorial on water droplet photography. Check it out in the video above for the complete steps from start to print.
Home-Based Photography Project: Practice Shallow Depth of Field
Mastering depth of field is just one of many important photography concepts that will take your images to the next level.
Using a shallow depth of field is a common practice in portraiture because it allows you to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. That is, with a shallow depth of field, the background becomes nicely blurred, allowing the subject of the photo to take center stage.
Fortunately, you can practice this skill in the comfort of your own home. Just open the aperture to a wide value (i.e., f/2.8, or as wide as the lens will go), place your subject a good distance from the background, and take a position close to the subject, and voila - you’ll have a blurry background that totally changes the look of your portraits!
Learn more about aperture and depth of field in the video above by Chris Bray Photography.
Use the “Wrong” Lens
Something that can stall your creativity as a photographer is to get shoehorned into using a particular kind of lens in a particular kind of setting. A great way to break out of that is to purposefully use a lens that typically isn’t recommended for the type of photos you’re taking.
For example, I might pose my kid in the backyard, and instead of using a portrait lens like my Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 with my Canon EOS R, I might photograph him at the wide end of my 15-35mm f/2.8 to create some pleasing environmental portraits. Using a telephoto lens like the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 to take portraits of the family dog is another option. I might also visit a nearby landscape and forego the wide-angle lens in favor of a macro to get up-close shots of smaller details.
In doing so, you’ll be able to see everyday subjects in a whole new light and develop your photographer’s eye that much more.
When we take photographs, it’s natural to look outward at our own eye level. But if every shot you take is from this point of view, they will soon start to all look the same.
Spice things up by changing your perspective and looking at your feet for photograph-worthy subjects. This isn’t just an exercise in looking down, though. Instead, this challenge will help you to become more observant - to look for little details that can be highly impactful in an image.
It also helps you become more adept at mastering angles and points of view - you might take a shot of something on the ground from directly above or you might get on the ground yourself and provide viewers with a worm’s eye view of the scene.
Whatever the case, the more you look around and find new points of view, the more interesting your images will be.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do as a photographer is to learn to thin the herd, so to speak, and compose images that are simple.
Going minimal is hard because we don’t see minimal scenes with our own eyes - whether it’s our living room, our backyard, or the view from the front porch, we’re bombarded with stimuli, so it’s natural that we tend to create images with all that stimuli included.
But, instead of incorporating absolutely everything into a single image, try to exclude all the clutter and focus on a single, strong subject. All photos benefit from a strong subject, so this project will result in better photos whether they are minimalist or not!
Give the video above by Mango Street a quick watch and learn how to use negative space in your photos.
Work in Low Light
Taking photos in low light is a scary proposition for many photographers because with less light, you have to work a little harder to get the camera settings that will result in a pleasing photo.
But that extra level of work will benefit you in the end because mastering the manipulation of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO not only helps you photograph scenes in low light, but will also help you photograph scenes across all levels of lighting.
Again, the more you practice manipulating your camera’s settings, the more natural and intuitive those adjustments will become. Then, no matter if you’re shooting at midday or at dusk, you’ll have the confidence to dial in the appropriate settings.
Photograph the Mundane
Perhaps the ultimate home-based photography challenge is to make a gorgeous photo out of mundane, everyday objects or scenes.
Without an inspiring subject or great lighting or interesting details, the onus of creating an eye-catching photo falls even more on your skills as a photographer. Instead of relying on vibrant colors or unique subject matter, you have to trust your compositional skills to frame up a shot that will be pleasing to the viewer’s eye.
By using the skills you develop in the other 11 projects on our list, you will be even more likely to capture the beauty inherent in the humdrum events of everyday life.
Besides, appreciating the small things isn't a bad thing as we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As you tackle these projects, do so carefully and with the health of you, your friends, and family in mind.