Finding interesting things to photograph can be one of the most difficult things for a photographer to do.
You’re surrounded by potentially interesting subjects, but you might not realize it if you’re stuck for inspiration. I have been stuck, so I know what that feels like.
The good news is that the world is full of interesting ideas and subjects. All you have to do is find the good ones and develop them into personal photography projects that work for you.
Of course, wouldn’t be easier if you could find lots of ideas in one place?
That’s why I wrote an ebook called 100 Creative Photography Assignments. It gives you lots of ideas for projects that you can do close to home, without traveling to exotic locations.
The book is structured into 20 broad themes, with five assignments for each theme.
To give you a taste of what’s in the book, and to help you get inspired into action here are 10 of my favorite assignments. (The theme for each is shown in brackets after the assignment number and name)
Assignment 3: Urban trees (trees)
Humans have planted trees in formal gardens for centuries to bring nature into towns and cities. Photographing trees in urban environments gives you something that is different than traditional landscapes.
How can you explore the juxtaposition of man-made and natural items?
In the photo below, the tree, which is obviously well-cared for fits in perfectly with the historic home. The two go together, as intended.
But in other situations, you might find a jarring contrast between the natural and urban environments. That is called juxtaposition and it can make for some really striking images.
Assignment 8: People and the sea (or a lake)
How do people interact with the sea?
The sea has strong links to leisure, sport, and industry, all of which have plenty of potential photographically. Think beyond simple photos of people on summer holidays. How can you explore the relationship between people and water in more depth?
Another approach is to show scale and photograph people in a way that shows the vast size and scope of the ocean. Yet another is to show people battling the weather, perhaps fishermen at sea.
Assignment 20: Framed by color (frames)
Some frames are visual rather than literal. One way to make a visual frame is to look for compositions where the main subject is surrounded by a solid block of color, as in the photo below.
This is another assignment that tests your observational skills. It also has the potential to make an interesting series. What happens when you group a set of photos that use color as a frame together?
Assignment 24: Weathered surfaces (texture)
Old buildings of all descriptions are made of materials with interesting textures. The definition of old is relative, your chosen building might be hundreds of years old or just a few.
The important thing is that it looks old. That means visible signs of weathering, like the metal wall and wooden door frame in the photo below. Some texture surfaces, like rust, also have interesting colors that you can use to your advantage.
Assignment 31: On the outside (buildings)
One approach to photographing buildings is to include as much of the building as possible in the frame. But what happens if you take another approach?
Have you ever stopped to notice the interesting things that people put outside buildings?
In Italy, I found a shrine on the outside of a colorful red building in Venice (below). In the United States window boxes and mailboxes are commonplace. Nearly everywhere you go you’ll see plants in pots outside people’s homes.
All these items make potentially interesting subjects and have the potential to be turned into an interesting series.
This assignment gets more interesting when you do it in different places, and compare the things you find outside buildings in one place with those in another location.
Assignment 39: Urban decay (your local neighborhood)
Some buildings can look good for centuries if they’re well maintained. But others soon fall into decay, especially if they’re not kept up. Look for the beauty in decayed or run-down buildings.
You expect older buildings to be in a state of disrepair, especially if you live in a country that has plenty of ruins. But more modern, urban decay can be just as interesting.
Why do modern buildings fall into disrepair? What stories do they tell about their neighborhoods, towns, and cities?
Another approach to this idea is to photograph urban decay in other countries, and then compare the results with what you capture in your local area.
Assignment 54: Capture the character of a place (b/w)
The absence of color gives you another way of capturing the character of a place. Yes, it’s true that in some areas color is an essential part of the essence of the place. But in others, it’s less important.
Working in black and white gives you a chance to see through the colors and get to the essence of a place. Visually speaking that’s texture, contrast, and tone.
But in another way, black and white images seem to help you see further and deeper. They’re moody, atmospheric, and timeless. Use these characteristics to create a set of photos that capture the character of a place.
It’s also an assignment you can do when you travel. It’s easier because you get to see everything with fresh eyes. But for a real challenge try it in your local neighborhood, where familiarity can prevent you from seeing things that might be obvious to newcomers.
Assignment 62: Embrace hard light (light and shadow)
In this assignment, your brief is to photograph a scene on a sunny day when shadows are falling across the subject in an interesting way.
Look at the way the sun casts shadows across the scene during the day. How do the shadows move as the sun moves across the sky? Do the shadows make interesting shapes?
For example, in the photo below the shadow falling across the building comes from a neighboring house and you can clearly see the chimney.
Assignment 71: Signs (everyday objects)
We’re surrounded by signs – signs that tell us which way to go, what to do, that advertise to us, state the name of a business, or tell us about roadworks.
Signs are designed to be informative, but they can also tell a story. Signs in the American mid-west look different from signs in New York City. Signs here in the UK look different from the ones in rural France. Old signs have character and tell you something about the place.
What interesting photos can you make using signs?
Assignment 94: People in the landscape (landscape)
Some landscapes are empty or void of visitors. But others are closer to large population centers and therefore you’re more likely to see other people there in the scene. The idea of a pristine landscape untouched by man is appealing, but it’s also interesting to see how people interact with the scene.
One way to approach this assignment is to use people for scale. A human figure can anchor a composition and show the width and breadth of the landscape. A small figure in the frame emphasizes the size of the landscape, and the idea of people being small compared to the beauty of nature.
The photo below juxtaposes two elements of human interaction. The stone pillar is part of a Neolithic settlement, and the people on the right are modern visitors who came to see it.
Taking it further – traveling and exploring your archives
You’ll get the most from these assignments if you make new photos for them. They’ll get you thinking about your local neighborhood – and areas a little further afield – in a new way.
The beauty of these assignments is that most of them are repeatable. You can select your favorites and use them as themes to follow when you’re traveling away from home.
You might also find that you can go through your archives and find photos that match a particular assignment. It’s an interesting exercise because you’ll start to see themes and connections that you didn’t realize were there.
For example, I have photos that fit Assignment 39: Urban decay from Alaska, Chile, and my hometown (see above). And I can continue to explore this theme when I travel to new places as well.
These ideas are explored further in Creative Photography Assignments: Themes & Projects, a bonus ebook that comes with 100 Creative Photography Assignments.
100 Creative Photography Assignments
Buy 100 Creative Photography Assignments now for just $14 USD.
Buy it now and get out there taking photos!
Note from Darlene: This is perfect if you want to get out there doing some photography. But maybe due to covid, finances, or other circumstances you can’t currently travel. Look no further than your front door to get started! To really challenge yourself do the 100 assignments one a day for the next 100 days!