Personal photography projects large and small keep photographers enthused and motivated and are a great way to focus your photography efforts.
A personal photography project is simply selecting a subject to shoot multiple times. It can be shooting a historic building in different light, a series of portraits of your children, a big tree in a nearby park or a creek at different times of year. It could just be improving a technique or getting to know your camera better.
I have at least one project in the works at all times, usually two or three. When I get a moment of free time to shoot, I don’t have to wonder what it is I should shoot, I jump right into one of my projects. Here are some things to think about when coming up with a project.
Have an objective, a goal in mind. Be clear on your outcome. I find it best to write it down, that makes it real and easy for my old mind to remember! The goal can be to master a new skill, to create a series of prints, or to make a calendar as a gift.
Make your project something you are passionate about. You are much more likely to keep the project going if you are loving what you are doing rather than something you “should” be doing. I really enjoy photographing older men with classic faces, if they have a big old beard, even better. So whenever I see a great face, I tell the guy he has a great face and ask if I can photograph him. I always give anyone I photograph my business card and tell them I’ll send them a photo if they email me.
Be sure you can return multiple times. One of the main reasons to do a personal project is to make the best images you can of your subject. That rarely happens the first time you photograph something. Pro photographers return to the same subject many times so they get the right light in the best conditions possible. I’ve photographed this covered bridge in Vermont at least 30 times and have many really good shots but there is a better one there. If I keep working it, I’ll get it. I had a long discussion with a pro friend about how cool it would be if we could just walk up to a scene and make a great photo right away. The more we talked the more we realized how boring that would be, the creative process would be removed and we’d be photo robots. Working a scene is a challenge and is rewarding when that great shot is made.
Have a project that happens on a regular basis at a scheduled time or a place you can just show up and shoot anytime. It could be a flower garden, karate class, a monument you photograph at night or downtown at sunrise. I’m working on a project photographing five trees atop a hill 20 minutes from my house. Since they are to the west from the road I can shoot from, I decided to shoot them at sunset and the beautiful light that happens until the sky is pitch black. I’ve gone over 20 times since December and it amazing how different the sky looks each time. It is making a great series of photos and I’m bummed when I can’t go because of other commitments or bad weather conditions.
Try a subject with a learning goal, or end product in mind. You might want to learn more about light, or shooting in manual mode, or photographing people. Before digital I did some light painting using strobes, but it was very hard to do and I didn’t get too good at it. Now lighting painting is something I love to do because a made a personal project out of perfecting my technique. I have several size flashlights I use to add light to the scene. My big one is 18 million candle power down to using my iPhone as a light. This was just a little penlight during a 30 second exposure and a car streaking through
Choose a subject with a variety of visual possibilities. If your project is a rock in your front yard, so there only so many pictures you can make before you aren’t too excited to shoot it again. I have a large project going photographing trees and a couple of sub-projects that are tree based at the same time. I love the look of birch trees and found a grove 10 miles from my Vermont home. I go there whenever I can and it looks different each time. My five trees on a hilltop project sounds like there isn’t much variety but I’m really using the trees as a foreground object to see how different the sky looks.
Planning your project. I’m not naturally organized so I have to work hard to keep my life is some sort of order. I use Evernote to plan my projects in several ways. It lets me create notebooks that are subject based and I can put notes, photos or web pages in the folders and add searchable keywords. When I come across a location that will make a good photo, I take a picture of it with my cellphone through Evernote and add keywords like sunrise, winter, trees, or whatever. Evernote captures the GPS coordinates and address so I’m able to easily find it again. I have Evernote notebooks for nearly every place I’ve been or hope to go in the future. Costa Rica is on my list of places to go and whenever I run across an online article that is interesting I add it to the Costa Rica notebook. I mentioned I’m working on a big project about trees. My trees notebook is packed with info from all over the world.
Get feedback. One of the most important ways to improve anything is getting qualified feedback. I don’t mean posting a picture on a forum where someone says “great capture.” That doesn’t help at all. You need to know who is providing the feedback whether they are a friend, co-worker or member of a photo club or Meetup group. My New Jersey photography Meetup group (https://www.meetup.com/somerset_photography) has monthly critique nights and they are a great way to get feedback. I’ve seen people grow immensely since I started it several years ago. Having a mentor is also a great way to get guidance and coaching. I love working with other photographers through my photographer mentoring program.
How do you know when the project is over? It can be when you’re bored with the subject but it would be better to have the final output in mind when you start. I did a personal project where I decided for 90 days I was going to photograph what is good is my life and post a photo each day to Facebook. It was lots of fun and on the three days I missed people were asking where that day’s photo was. Here are some things you might do:
- Post photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
- Create a photo book – either through a publisher or a one off
- Do a slide show presentation for senior centers, libraries
- Create an exhibit at gallery or places like senior centers or libraries
- Create a website
- Sell prints
- Make a calendar
I’d love to hear what projects you come up with and how you plan on displaying your photos. Please leave a comment below.
Today was the last day for this year’s Vermont Winter Photography Workshop. The weather was good, there is lots of snow on the ground and we had a great group of eight people. They came from all over, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. We were prepared for the cold, so it didn’t feel like 15 degrees during the day.
We hit many locations during the three days, farms, covered bridges, towns, rural scenes and a couple of real Vermont country stores. Several of the group hadn’t walked on a lake before, so going out on Silver Lake to see people ice fishing was a bit of an adventure.
I always know it was a good shoot when my SUV is a filthy mess. After our breakfast stop this morning, I was surprised to see a lovely note scratched on my back window. Thanks gang.
I like macro photography, getting up close and taking a different look at things. Today was my second macro photography workshop this month and it was a lot of fun, as usual.
I start off with a presentation and then set up five studio situations that anyone can do it at home. It is a great way to keep the skills sharp and have fun when you don’t feel like going out and fighting the weather.
I like putting a lemon in a glass and adding seltzer or mixing oil and water and seeing how it looks up close.
One of my favorite shots is putting glycerin on plexiglass and putting objects underneath and shooting the refraction. Peanut M&Ms are my favorite candy to eat and photograph, the colors are very cool.
At Chittenden Reservoir in Vermont there is a pretty little island about 300 yards off shore. It is a favorite place for photographers and I’ve photographed it on many occasions at different times of day and different seasons. I decided to try it at night and use a large flashlight to illuminate the island using a technique called light painting, where you pass the light over the subject many times during a long exposure, I usually do 30 seconds. So tonight I started about 30 minutes after the sun went down and shot for the next hour. There was only a slight breeze which gave me the nice reflection on the water. Then I was lucky to have a shooting star which gave me a beautiful final touch. This is one exposure with only minor adjustments in Lightroom. As the sky got darker I needed to bump my ISO up to 400 and I was shooting at f/5.6.
It is always sad to come to the last day of a workshop when I have met so many fun, nice and interesting people, but the 2016 edition of my Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop came to an end today. Eight participants came from all over the country to enjoy Vermont’s beauty and hopefully improve their photography skills. My friend Nat Clymer joined us on Tuesday to share his photographic knowledge, it was great having him here.
We headed north today during my Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop, to check out the area around Groton and Peacham, which has some of the best scenery in Vermont. There are a couple of ponds in Groton State Park that are amazingly scenic and they didn’t let us down. I’ve been there when the color was better but we still made some nice photos.
One thing that always strikes me about Vermont is how welcoming the people are. While in Peacham we were photographing around a church and a neighbor came out to show us some wild turkeys walking through his field toward us. Peacham gets tons out of town photographers and I’m sure many walk through this guy’s fields without thinking that they may be stomping on a fence, but he invited us come into yard to photograph his cows and the approaching turkeys.
While in Peacham, workshopper Steve Minden took a fun picture of me in the town’s information booth.
As the week goes on the color gets better at my Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop. We hit several of the local hotspots and found some nice color and cool scenes.
We have a great group with two people from California, two from Florida, one from PA, Ohio, NY and CT. It is always fun to watch a group of people who don’t know each other quickly meld together with their common interest of photography.
This is the first shooting day of my annual Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop at my home in Woodstock, VT. The weather this summer in Vermont has been hot and dry with drought conditions prevalent throughout the state. Early predictions were that it would be a bad season for foliage but it looks like it is just running late, like two weeks late. During the scouting I did last week, I found several pockets of beautiful color but there is lots of green showing in most areas.
So we are focusing on the nice areas, which will mean more driving than I like to do but it gives my out of town guests a good chance to see a lot of the Vermont countryside. We ventured north on the famous Rt. 100 and stopped at a cool barn along the road. It took some work but we were able to line it up with the color in the hills. It was a great way to start off the workshop.
Later today is the start of my annual Vermont Fall Foliage Photography Workshop, which I run out of my house in Woodstock.
I’m lucky that this year I have a couple of professional photographer friends who are joining me for part of the week. This morning Ron Lake arrived from his Connecticut home. Ron and I did a workshop together this summer in Tuscany, Italy, and next summer we are leading a workshop in Provence, France.
Ron got here early so we’d have a little time to shoot before the workshop started. We went over to a lovely grove of birch trees in the next town east of Woodstock. I’ve been there many times and it always looks different. This time there were beautiful little purple flowers growing throughout the grove. Ron was mesmerized by the combination of white birch trees, green grass and purple flowers. We spent a couple of hours shooting and Ron was wanted to stay longer but we had to get back to make final preparations for the workshop. It was fun getting there and shooting with a friend.
Today was the last day of a great Tuscany photo workshop. It was a long, hot week in Italy filled with great memories, making new friends, eating wonderful food and photographing spectacular scenes.
Tuscany is known for its light and it didn’t disappoint, we were out at sunrise and stayed up late shooting the Milky Way. We covered lots of territory, saw medieval towns with amazing buildings, rolling hills in the countryside covered with wheat and rolls of straw cut after wheat was harvested, vineyards and, my favorite, the cypress trees.
I love making beautiful landscape photos and I was lucky enough to get some decent shots. I also enjoy photographing people and the Italians were gracious when I asked them if I could make a picture of them. They weren’t so polite when driving a car but they always gave me a tender smile when I pointed at my camera and aimed it at them.
Some of my favorite photos are in the slideshow, I hope you enjoy them.
The rolling hills of Tuscany are filled with wheat and it is being harvested as we tour the countryside in my Tuscany Photography Workshop. Toss in a few unique trees and great early morning light and it is a perfect recipe for beautiful photos.
We got off the main roads and got the rental cars mighty dusty as we kicked up the dirt while finding unique places to photograph. Our GPS unit didn’t always find the road we were looking for but it made for more adventure as we got off the beaten path.
We were looking for the long shadows coming across the hills, giving them shape and depth. Deep blue skies added to the scene when I could isolate a tree that was in a wheat field.
I arrived in Italy yesterday for my Tuscany Photography Workshop that starts tomorrow. I’m doing the workshop with friend Ron Lake who has been to Italy many times. We got off the plane after an overnight flight from New York, checked into our hotel near the airport and then headed into Rome to see the sights.
This is my first time to Rome and the shuttle bus from the hotel dropped us off at the Coliseum, which is quite impressive. And many people must think so because there are tons of people seeing all the sites of Rome. I thought it would be fun to go inside the Coliseum but the line was about two hours. We don’t have enough time to stand around that long, so we walked around it, taking pictures as we go and then went off to other sites.
As the sun was going down, we went back to the Coliseum and beautiful light illuminated the exterior. I was lucky to see a pigeon as it soared through one of the openings, giving my photo a little something extra.
Today we went back with a couple of the workshop participants who arrived early and saw many of the same sites. Selfie sticks are everywhere and there were plenty of people selling them if you didn’t bring one with you. I didn’t buy one. But I did enjoy seeing tourists using their iPad camera to get the perfect angle.
During my workshop today in Acadia National Park, we were on top of the world, or so it seemed. Cadillac Mountain is the highest coastal peak in the Eastern U.S. and many times during the year it is the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise. It is quite the panoramic view and during a late morning journey to the top the sun was shining through some clouds and making the water shimmer. A small island seemed so isolated in the water and clouds, so I knew I wanted to capture the feeling of it being all alone. As I was taking the picture in color I was thinking what it might look like in black and white, since the strong backlight on the clouds and water weren’t going to look good in color. But the black and white version emphasizes what I was feeling.
Now that I am back home after flying all day yesterday, I can take a good look at my photos from the trip and think about all the wonderful things I saw and people I met during my workshop in Guatemala. I can’t thank Edgar Monzon enough for putting us in great locations, driving us around, showing me how he connects with people on the street and for helping me get a new passport. Edgar worked hard to set up the trip and it showed, his arrangements were flawless, the hotels and meals were great. Edgar is a special person and I’m happy to be able to call him a friend.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, mainly due to the people. Most of them don’t have much money, many live in pure poverty but as Edgar says they might not be rich with money but they are rich with happiness. They greet each other, and us, on the street and seem to have a special spirit.
I put together a selection of photos below, I hope you enjoy them.
Like I said yesterday, the people of Guatemala are very friendly, except for that one guy whole stole my passport wallet, which, yes, had my passport, a couple of credit cards and some cash.
It happened Sunday morning while on the streets during the procession. I had a large passport wallet in my front pocket but it must have been sticking out some. We were wading through people elbow to elbow, so it got pulled while I was in the crowd. I noticed it was missing when I got back to the hotel but I thought I must have left it at Edgar’s condo. I contacted him and since we were going to be back near his condo yesterday, I didn’t worry about it until last night when we couldn’t find it there.
So I spent some time online to find out what I needed to do. I’d never lost my passport before and had no idea what to do. Fortunately there are benefits to being American and the State Department is one of them. I needed to fill out a couple of forms online, print them and go to the U.S. embassy back in Guatemala City, 90 minutes away. I planned on taking a taxi but Edgar wouldn’t let me. His daughter drove down this morning and took me to the embassy while Edgar guided the rest of the workshop in Antigua.