5 cool photography projects to try this year

Camera in hand at the beach at sunset
Photo by welcomia/Shutterstock

Thanks to digital photography, photo editing software, and a ton of helpful gear, there are virtually no limits to what you can do with your camera. Which is mostly a good thing—except that now, instead of having problems with insufficient gear, photographers may experience the problem of being overwhelmed with choice. With so many options, it can be hard to focus in on specific goals and make decisions, and all the freedom leaves some feeling a bit adrift.

If you’re in a rut, sometimes the best thing to do is to set yourself a challenge. Having a specific goal or a restriction is a great way to force yourself to think outside of the box. As Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

So we’ve put together a list to limit you—in the best way possible. Taking on these projects will energize you, make you think, and probably inspire some ideas for your regular photography practice as well. By setting yourself goals, you build new skills, hone the ones you already have, and generally get the most out of your DSLR.

To get the juices flowing and the shutters snapping, here are five projects we challenge you to try this year.

Take a photo every day

If you’re a user of apps like Instagram or Snapchat, you know that pictures of the daily details of life can be strangely captivating. By taking one photo every day, you create a visual diary—a record you can look back on, and a visual reminder of where you’ve been. Some people take this challenge to the extreme, like photographer JK Keller, who took a self-portrait every day for 16 years. The series captures the changes in his face in minute detail, so while you can’t see any significant changes from one photo to the next, the man in the last photograph is radically different from the one in the first. You may not choose to take the selfie route (or to keep the project up for 16 years), but you’ll probably still find that taking one photo per day helps you to look at the fabric of your life more closely, finding the power that lives in the details.

Try to get a great capture of water

Water is an endless source of inspiration. Some photographers spend their entire careers chasing the perfect shot of glassy waves, while others devote themselves to visualizing the peace and calm of still water. There are entire tutorials online devoted to helping you capture the perfect photo of a water droplet and others to photographing reflections or close-ups. Whether you want to portray the movement of the river or ocean, or simply the gentle ripples in a glass, this challenge will force you to hone your technical skills—and it’s one you may find yourself spending months or years at, honing your skills and paying attention to depth and focus, light, and, of course, composition. A great water shot is truly a demonstration of your photographic prowess.

Photograph just one thing in every way imaginable

Here’s the ultimate limitation: one. One object, one person, one place. We challenge you to choose just one subject, and photograph it in every way that you can. Close up, far away, in black and white, in the most vivid colour you can imagine. Whatever you choose, you must find ways to make it mysterious, to highlight its angles or curves, to de-familiarize the familiar. In doing so, you’ll discover just how many ways there are to approach a subject, and how many ways there are to look at every single object that surrounds us every day.

Take a long-exposure photo

Long-exposure photographs can show hundreds of people moving through space in just a single shot, or they can track the progress of stars in the sky. Taking photos with slow shutter speeds can create ghostly images, mesmerizing patterns, and completely unique representations of motion. We challenge you to try this technique yourself, and beyond that, to be creative—try to come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before, or put a new twist on a standard approach. Some people use long exposures to create “paintings” out of light, moving a bright object to create patterns with the light trails. Others go to places like carnivals or laser shows to get vibrant, colourful shots. Whatever you do, remember that exposure length is relative. To capture stars moving can take hours, but if you’re tracking a firework, all it takes is a few seconds.

Do a photo scavenger hunt

Photography scavenger hunts are a fun way to challenge yourself to engage with a variety of scenes and objects. Just like a regular scavenger hunt, a photography scavenger hunt requires you (and sometimes teammates) to find, or in this case photograph, certain objects and scenarios. The challenges can get pretty specific, and you may find yourself spending a lot of time setting fantastic scenes. Sometimes the requests are silly (“Do your best 1950’s June Cleaver impression and vacuum the lawn”), and sometimes they’re open to interpretation (“something red”), but whatever they are, they’re sure to get your creative wheels spinning. There are lots of scavenger hunt lists online, or if you’re feeling inspired, you can create one of your own. Happy hunting!

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