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.
That’s just not the case!
In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of simple home-based photography projects that you can easily do in your spare time 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.
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).
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.
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 week long 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.
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 while hob-nobbing with friends, family, or other photography enthusiasts, a photo scavenger hunt is a great activity. 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, head out as a group, find each subject, and fire away! The benefit of doing so is twofold: first, you get to pursue photography with other people, share your thoughts, and learn from one another’s mistakes (and successes!). Secondly, tackling a photo project with other photographers allows you to get feedback on your own work, which is an invaluable aspect of improving your photography.
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!
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), 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.
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, pose your kid in the backyard, and instead of using a standard lens, photograph them with a wide-angle lens to create some pleasing environmental portraits. Use a telephoto lens to take portraits of the family dog. 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!
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. Why? 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.