Taking on a photography project is a great way to get yourself out of a photography rut and to bring some focus to your picture-taking. Placing some constraints on what you're going to take photos of or what camera gear you'll use really does force you to become more creative, too.
We've prepared 52 fantastic photo ideas - one for every week in 2017. These are split into three sections: easy home projects you can do today, ideas you can try outdoors at the weekend and a series of ongoing photo projects that you can start now but keep topping up in the coming weeks and months.
The basic idea with this project is to suspend a container of liquid and let drops fall through a small hole, then capture the resulting splash. Timing the shutter as the splash is created is everything. We achieved good results using two flashguns set to their lowest power (1/128th), an aperture of f/22 and water mixed with Xanthan gum to make a more viscous solution. We also used a SplashArt water drop kit from PhotoTrigger, which helped to regulate the size and frequency of the drops.
For this project you'll need a flashgun that you can fire remotely, a container with clear sides for your water, a coloured background and a tripod. Set up the container and backdrop, then position the flash over the container. With the camera on a tripod and set to manual focus and exposure - f/8, ISO200 and the fastest shutter speed that will work with your flash - drop the object into the water and fire the shutter as it hits.
Smoke trails are a firm favourite among still-life photographers. But how about taking it to the next level and using the shapes in a creative Photoshop project. Once you've taken a few good smoke art photos, make a blank document in Photoshop, then copy and paste one of the smoke images into it. Set the blending mode to Screen and use Warp Transform to reshape it. Continue the process to combine a range of smoke shots into a new image.
This fun project exploits the effect that polarised light has on some plastics. You'll need two polarising filters - ideally one of these should be a sheet of polarising film. You can pick up an A4 sheet of Lee 239 polarising film for £50. The sheet of film should be placed on a lightbox or in front of the only light source. An iPad screen and most computer screens have a polarising filter built in, so if you don't have a sheet of polarising film you can always experiment by creating a white document to fill the screen. Simply attach the circular polariser to the camera lens and rotate it to make the colours appear in clear plastic items
Spice up your food photography! All you need is a set of model figures - Hornby 00 gauge figures are perfect, as they're available in a wide range of poses. Preiser has a great range too. The most important aspect is to establish a sense of narrative. Here you can see that there's a conversation between the characters, with the mountaineer on the 'mash face' being helped by his colleagues on the ground.
Try turning your dinner ingredients into photo art using just a lightbox and a very sharp knife. Slice fruit and vegetables as thinly and evenly as possible, then place them on the lightbox. With the camera positioned directly above, use Live View to focus manually on the details. Set an aperture of f/8 to give adequate depth of field, and dial in some exposure compensation of +1 to +3 stops as the bright light can fool the camera's meter into underexposure.
A relatively inexpensive way of taking 'kitchen sink' close-ups that look great blown up as wall art. Freeze flowers in plastic containers of distilled or de-ionised water (available through your local auto or hardware store). The flowers will float, so try to weigh them down or fasten them in place so that they freeze under the water. Place the block of ice on top of a clear bowl or glass in a white sink or plate, so that the light can bounce through from below. Position a flashgun off to one side, angled down towards it, and shoot from the opposite side.
Oil floating on the surface of water is a great way to make striking abstracts. This table-top photo project exploits the refractive quality of oil and bubbles to accentuate and distort colours. All you need to do is place a few drops of cooking oil on the surface of water in a glass dish. Make sure the dish is supported about 25cm about the table top, then place coloured paper under it and use an anglepoise lamp or flashgun to light the paper.
This project follows a similar theme to the previous one, but here the patterns are created by a cover over the light rather than a coloured background. First, make a cover for an anglepoise lamp using acetate, card and tape. Use masking tape to attach it, but make sure it isn't touching the bulb, and keep the light off when you're not shooting. Place a full bucket of water in front of the lamp, add a few drops of cooking oil. Stir up the oil, get in close and shoot.
This is a wonderful project that makes for vibrant desktop wallpaper or abstract wall art. You'll need liquid soap mixed with glycerine for long-lasting soap film, plus a wire loop, a black cloth background and a macro lens of at least 100mm. The colours created by soap film only appear when hit by light from a certain angle, so set up near a north-facing window and shoot from around 45 degrees.
Light bends when it passes through water, causing the objects behind to change appearance. This is called refraction, and you'll make use of this phenomenon in this arty photo project. All you need is a few glasses, a flashgun, a tripod and a black-and-white pattern print. Simply place the pattern in the background with the glasses in front. Fill them with different levels of water and move the pattern backwards or forwards to fine-tune the effect.
Your kitchen is an ideal location for shooting a macro project. Its reflective surfaces can be used to create interesting backgrounds for your shots, and a shallow depth of field can transform the most mundane of objects you'll find there. Creating a triptych of images can result in a piece of fantastic wall art for your kitchen too, although it's important to think about how they're going to work together before you start shooting. Here, 3 objects - a fork, a bowl of cereal and coffee granules - were all shot from a similar angle, with the impression of height linking the sequence.
Something as simple as a crumpled piece of foil can be the basis for a creative photo project. Position a still-life subject on a sheet of glass with a piece of dark material underneath it. Scrunch up the kitchen foil then smooth it back out and place it in the background. Shine a table lamp or torch on the foil and, with a tripod mounted camera, dial in the lens's widest aperture. During the exposure, shine a flashlight onto the subject.
Small highlights often create nice bokeh, so fairy lights are perfect for this project. Position them far enough away so that they will be out of focus at a wide aperture. Position your subject, in this case a glass, close to the camera and focus on it. Tweak the position of the fairy lights until it looks like cool coloured bubbles are floating out of the glass. This technique can also be used to create bokeh 'steam' from mugs of hot drinks.
Light trails can be used in all kinds of photography, but they're perfect for a creative still life project. You can use a regular Maglite torch, but try removing the end to reveal the bulb and make the light more direct. Use some electrical tape to attach a coloured sweet wrapper, which you can use as a makeshift 'gel'. Set the canera's shutter speed to around 30 secs with an aperture of around f/8, then start moving the torch within the frame before pressing the shutter. Continue the movement throughout the exposure. Here, we suspended the torch from a piece of string and made a gentle circular movement to create a spiral around the bottle.
You'll need to attach a torch, suspended by string, to an open area of ceiling. Fit the widest lens you have on your camera, and mount it on a tripod pointing straight up. With the light turned on, autofocus on the tip of the torch and set the lens to manual focus to lock the setting in. With an aperture of f/11 or f/16 dialled in, use Bulb mode and a remote release to keep the shutter open for a minute or so as you send the torch spinning in the dark…
The Brenizer method, also known as portrait panorama or bokeh-rama, provides a great basis for a portrait photography project. Invented by New York wedding photographer Ryan Brenizer, the technique helps you create photos that appear to have been shot on a lens with a much wider maximum aperture. The idea is that you shoot lots of telephoto photos of different parts of a scene at the lens's widest aperture, and then join this mosaic together using Photoshop's Photomerge option or in specialist stitching software.
Make sure you shoot each frame using manual settings - from White Balance through to focusing - so that you can batch process all the shots. Try shooting anywhere from 30-80 frames, and make sure each tile and row overlaps the last by around a third.
Choose the opposite lens to the one you'd normally use to photograph a subject. For example, take a wide-angle lens to the zoo or restrict yourself to your longest telephoto focal length when you next shoot landscapes.
Try a new way to explore a landscape by creating a composite of multiple fragments of it that you've taken during a short walk. A 20-minute stroll is all you need. Keep your kit and settings simple, and don't get bogged down with tripods, filters or complicated techniques. Shoot anything that catches your eye in Aperture Priority mode. When you're back home, create a grid in Photoshop and assemble your selection of picture using Layers.
Instead of cramming an entire view into a single frame, shoot a series of minimalist long exposure landscapes instead. A symmetrical composition can help to reinforce the simplicity of the framing, as can a square crop. You'll also need a strong Neutral Density (ND) filter to give you the flexibility to create long exposures at any time of the day. Use a tripod to keep the camera still throughout the exposure and fire the shutter with a remote release.
To capture the best starscapes you'll need a completely clear sky. It's best if the moon isn't visible: it can make it difficult to keep detail in the whole sky in a single exposure. To keep the exposures short enough to prevent the moving stars blurring, use Manual mode and set a high ISO such as 1,600 or 3,200 and a shutter speed of two seconds. Even then, you'll need a wide aperture: f/4 or even f/2.8. This means it's almost impossible to keep both the stars and any foreground subject in focus in a single shot. Shoot two exposures, one focused on the stars and one on the foreground, then combine them in Photoshop.
Write down a list of locations or items that you find dull, depressing, ugly, boring or annoying. Now push yourself to make beautiful and interesting photographs of these unphotogenic subjects.
You don't have to travel far or commit a lot of time to an outdoor photography project. There are photo opportunities just about everywhere - even in a car park. A DSLR with a standard zoom is all you need for this project. Keep your technique simple and look for patterns, textures, colours and shapes.
Rather than shoot in black and white and using pop colour techniques to make an object stand out, this selective colour challenge requires you to nominate a colour and find examples of it in the wider world. You don't have to fill the frame: use clever composition techniques to draw attention to it within the photo.
Shoot outdoors at night without using flash, a long exposure or a tripod. For this project, challenge yourself to only use available light and a high ISO setting.
This project uses forced perspective to play tricks on a viewer's perception of the relationship between differently sized objects in a photo. The best way to approach this is to shoot a recognisable subject and get them to pretend that they are interacting with a much larger object or subject, which is actually in the background. Choose a small aperture to provide a large depth of field that will enhance the effect.
Photographing miniature toys and models in real-world environments is a popular photo project and one that you can easily fit around your day job. Try taking a small prop with you and photographing it in a range of situations - everywhere from the daily commute to a weekend stroll. To blend the model in with the rest of the scene you'll need to get close to the subject and balance the light. If your subject is cast in shadow, use your flash to add fill-in lighting.
The 'toytown' effect that you can get from using an expensive tilt-shift lens 'incorrectly' is addictive. But you can achieve a very similar look in Photoshop by blurring all but a small area of an image. For the most convincing effect, shoot the scene from a high viewpoint on a sunny day to heighten the 'model village' look.
Rather than simply shoot a photo alphabet made up of letters on road signs and shop fronts, find objects and shapes that resemble letters. For example, the frame of swings in a play-park forming the letter A, or the curve of a rivers forming an S-shape.
Similar to creating a photographic alphabet, this project requires you to shoot objects that illustrate the numbers 1 to 100. You can take pictures of subjects that add up to each number, or shoot objects that resemble the numbers.
An easy and fun photo idea: train your eyes to spot 'faces' unintentionally formed by everyday objects. Everything from a pair of bath taps to a manhole cover is fair game. See the Faces in Places blog for inspiration.
Light painting offers plenty of opportunity for creative photo projects, but how about trying your hand at a series of light orb shots. You don't need much in the way of kit - a string of battery-powered LED lights wrapped around a hula hoop is perfect. Simply spin it in front of a tripod-mounted camera. If you're shooting by yourself, use the camera's self-timer function so that you can position yourself in the frame before the exposure starts.
A night photography project you'll need to do in an open area away from flammable objects… Put fine wire wool in a metal whisk, attach this to a chain, then set the wool alight and spin it. You need a brave volunteer, a tripod, and an exposure of about 15 secs at f/11 at ISO100.
For traffic trail photographs with a difference, shoot from a moving car at night as a friend drives slowly along a well-lit road. You will need an exposure of around 30 seconds. Use a tripod set up in the passenger seat and trigger the shutter with a remote release.
Write a list of typical photography mistakes, then go out and see if you can take successful images that illustrate each of the ideas. Severely overexpose or underexpose pictures. Crop a subject awkwardly. Focus on the backdrop instead of the subject or intentionally include flare in the frame.
Make a series of animated GIFs which feature subtle motion. This technique requires a bit of Photoshop work, and you'll need to shoot video rather than stills, but the results can be stunning. You'll need to use a tripod so that the background remains still throughout the sequence and choose a scene where the moving elements are continuous or looping, so that the start and stop points will be less obvious in your finished cinemagraph. Subtle movement - such as a breeze blowing the leaves on a tree - often works best too.
You may be used to doing everything possible to take a sharp photo, but it can be liberating to do the opposite and move the camera during a comparatively long exposure. Try working in Shutter Priority mode, dialling in a shutter speed of 1/15sec or slower. See the work of British art photographer Chris Friel for inspiration.
Although it's fairly easy to add Photoshop or Lightroom retro effects to your photos, you'll get a more authentic appearance if you think about the style of image you want as you shoot. Lo-fi effects work well with simple, graphic subjects that are easily recognisable once the effect has been applied.
How many of us have the time to fit time-lapse photography into the daily routine? Force yourself to try this addictive technique by making it one of your photo projects for 2015.
A classic photo project - shoot a photo a day for a year. There are two paths to follow with this one. Either restrict yourself to a single frame (tip: shoot in RAW so you can make adjustments later) or choose one photo from a series you manage to squeeze out each day. Can't face a photo-a-day project? Try a '52' project, and shoot one picture worth shooting each week.
Another classic project, although this one demands some guts. The idea here is to 'simply' talk to and then photograph 50 strangers in the street. There is a variation on the theme: the 100 strangers project, but this comes with an obvious increase in pressure. Having said that, drumming up the courage to approach your first portrait sitter is the biggest challenge.
Take 50 pictures in 50 days using nothing more than a 50mm lens. A simple project idea that really helps to develop your photographic eye.
Obviously you can tackle a series of self-portraits indoors, but why not challenge yourself to shoot outdoors instead? See the work of celebrated street photographer Vivian Maier for ways in which you can include yourself as part of a wider scene using your reflection or shadow. Choosing a theme can help to give focus to your self-portrait project - something that Alex Bamford has done brilliantly with his 'Sleepwalking' project.
At the same time every day, take a picture of what you see at your feet. Choose a time during the lunch hour, as this gives you a great excuse to head out and find a new location. Use a wide-angle lens and include your legs and feet in the frame.
Take a portrait of a different person every week without including their face in the frame. How can you reveal aspects of their personality without the aid of eye contact and expression? Use the environment, the lighting, colours, props other parts of their body - particularly their hands - to reveal character instead.
Ask someone to write down a list of 30 things on a set of cards - there should be a different, easily accessible subject on each one, while you write down 30 photographic treatments on another set (such as 'black and white', 'long exposure', '50mm' and 'zoom burst'). Pick a card at random from each pile and 'fulfil the brief'.
The title of this project says it all. Challenge yourself to shoot nothing but black and white photographs. Learning to see in black and white and spot subjects and scenes with the most potential is half the battle when it comes to shooting in mono, and committing a month to it can help to develop your eye. Shoot in RAW, but change the Picture Style setting on your camera to Monochrome. This will give you a black and white preview on the rear screen, while still recording a full-colour RAW file that you can convert later to mono later in software.
Rather than being a photography project where you shoot something every day, this one sees you photographing one subject every three months in order to reveal the changing seasons. Naturally you'll need to spend some time finding the right subject: lone trees work well, although you'll need to anticipate how the scene will look when the foliage is in full growth or when there's none at all.
Load a geocaching app onto your smartphone and then head out with a view to taking artistic pictures of every geocache location you end up in. Don't shoot the geocache hiding place itself - you don't want to ruin it for other people - but just the general area.
Adding a texture is a great way to give your photos a distressed look for painterly results. While it's possible to add the effect in-camera using a compatible DSLR's multiple exposure mode, it's easier to use Layers and Photoshop blend modes to add a texture shot to another photograph. While you can easily find free textures online, there's nothing more satisfying than using your own. Wood, old paper and peeling paint all make great textures to add to shots.
Use some basic DIY skills to turn a DSLR body cap into a pinhole camera lens, then explore the world of low-fi photography with your expensive digital camera!
Take one of the other photo projects you've been working on over the year and use the results to make a photography book. Consider ways in which you can link your pictures, such as through an obvious narrative, colour themes, juxtaposition or more abstract and unexpected ways.