digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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5 Photography Ideas for When There’s Nothing Interesting to Shoot

There's nothing interesting to photograph!

I heard that a lot on a few of the photo walks I've led over the years. Sometimes people would even want to leave and go home because they saw nothing that inspired them to take a photo. I find it's a common question from my students in my classes and from you – my valued readers – here on the site. So I wanted to give you a few tips for how to get the muse working for you and how to find photography ideas and subjects anywhere.

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This was taken in a back alley in my own city's downtown core – I found the juxtaposition between the delicate flowers and grungy graffiti appealing.

Photography ideas for when there's nothing interesting to shoot

Try a new technique
When you're traveling, or away from home, it's easier to find interesting subjects because everything is new. So if you're bored with your surroundings and can't go anywhere try a new technique you've never done before. When you're traveling is not the time to experiment, do that now in your free time. I'm sure there are tons of things you've been itching to try out and haven't had the time – well now you can do just that.
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Black and white with split tone applied in Lightroom.

Pick one and find some articles, books, or tutorials on that topic – then give it a go. Here are some ideas to get you started:

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HDR of 5 bracketed images combined.
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Panning in Cuba
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Silhouette on the beach
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Night photography with light painting in Drumheller during a workshop
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Macphun Tonality plugin I was playing with (future review to come soon) textures and borders.
Get really close – do some macro photography
Closeup or macro photography requires you to look at objects differently. Look for textures, cobwebs, patterns. Find an ordinary household item and really take a good look at it. A wooden spoon, a copper penny, an old shoe, even a doorknob can become an interesting subject when you approach it from the macro perspective.
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This boring old fire hydrant on the street corner:

Becomes far more about light, shadows and textures when you get closer.

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Remember the doorknob? Okay granted, I have interesting doorknobs in my house but you get the idea.
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Also in my own house – an antique passed down to me by my great aunt.
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Flowers and plants – always a great macro subject.
Look for the Light (and the shadows)
You've probably heard this before but in photography light is everything. However – you also need shadows too. The play between light and dark is what creates texture, mood, and depth. Go out shooting one day just looking at how the light falls on everything. Look for interesting shadows and photograph them.
Hint: if you're having trouble finding the light – look for shadows!

Look at the three images below and see if the shadows don't give away the location – where do you think these were taken?

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#1 – Big city – but where? You guess.
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#2 – Look at the architecture, does it give you a hint?
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#3 – This could be a number of locations but you know it's on the prairie somewhere right?

Sometimes less is more in photography and a subtle hint of your subject can tell a story, even more so than showing the entire object. So use tips #2 and #3 to get creative.

Go to a farm, zoo or farmers market
Even if you can't get away on a trip or vacation try something a bit more local. Farms that allow visitors, the zoo, or even an outdoor market are great photo opportunities. You might even find something tasty to take home to eat.

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Pick an unusual subject and photograph only that for a day
If you're having a hard time finding anything interesting in your area pick something so obscure you have to go looking for it. Something you would normally just pass by without a second thought.

In a photo walk class I ran a few years ago I asked the students to give themselves an assignment to pick one topic and go out and do the walk with that in mind. We brainstormed together and they each picked something – then they picked something for me. I said I'd shoot whatever they came up with and they picked – FEET.

They thought they'd stump me but I actually had a lot of fun with it. Here are some of my favourites from that day.

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I liked the flower tattoo, pink flip flops and the flower petal on the ground that all worked together.

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I love the opposite styles of footwear and drinks here.
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Always be careful when photographing any military personnel. Get permission first!

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The fact that the dog and the man were walking stride for stride caught my attention. Same foot forward even.
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Can you tell the story here?
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The contrasting footwear again stole my eye, the rolled up pants just added to the story.

Notice there are no faces in any of those feet shots. But I'd likely not have seen or taken any of those images without that assignment from my students. Give yourself a tough mission and head out and see if you're up to the task.

Looking for more photography ideas for things to shoot?
Read:
Creating Depth and Dimension in Your Photos: 4 Tips

Okay by now the wheels must be turning and you've gotten some ideas. It's time to get out and try them, no time like the present.

Cheers,
Darlene-1-250x130.png

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  • Suzijo

    I really enjoyed this article! It sparked so many flames! I have been in a photographic slump! Thanks Darlene….

  • Kirsty Wilson

    went on a photo walk with NatGeo in September is a very common tourist stop in Vancouver, Granville Island..Thousands of items to capture the imagination, and all been done to distraction. The trick was to find something different in the overdone, similar issue 🙂 – https://www.facebook.com/106677062769706/photos/a.580955415341866.1073741950.106677062769706/580957722008302/?type=3&theater

    https://www.facebook.com/106677062769706/photos/a.580955415341866.1073741950.106677062769706/580957818674959/?type=3&theater

  • Really good ideas, Darlene!! Thanks so much!

  • Mukund Umra

    This article woke me up from my slumber.

  • I found this when there wasn’t anything to take a picture of.

  • dlovely1

    Funny, I just told my husband yesterday that there was nothing interesting to photograph while we were out. Thank you for the ideas on things to capture. I am going to give it a try.

  • Thank you, Darlene. The photos you shared are motivational. Here is a shot from my house- knobs on a favorite primitive cupboard thanks to your “play with a button each day” challenge earlier this year.

  • Boletta Fretheim

    Your articles always inspire me…thanks. I love your site.

    • Thanks so much! I love the simplicity and colors of this image. Ordinary things!

      • Boletta Fretheim

        There’s nothing ordinary about Fiestaware

        • Marjorie Bull

          Fiestaware is such fun! I used to have a pitcher….no idea where it went, but it was blue, and every spring I filled it with daffodils…really perked up the kitchen. I love the way you have the light bouncing up onto the bottom of the mug.

          • Boletta Fretheim

            Thank-you! I had some of these printed and hung them above my kitchen window. Really brightened up the kitchen.

          • Awesome!

    • Very nice!

  • Thank you for another great article, Darlene. A couple of days ago I shot this on a boring day. After that, I increased the brightness, contrast and saturation little bit and darkened the edges.

  • Eric Lloyd

    Took this walking back to my car after a meeting downtown…

    • Nice. Have you read my ebook 10 photography challenges? Have you done the shoot around the object one?

      • Eric Lloyd

        I have not read it…just getting into photography. My wife has always loved and now I love having a camera in my hands! I will have to check out the book…

        • Hi Eric – just sign up using the from on the sidebar or bottom of this article. You will get it for free to your inbox. What the “walk around your subject” helps you do is it take more photos of the same thing – to work it and find the best angle, lens, lighting, etc.

      • Eric Lloyd

        I completed the sign-up, verified the email address, but haven’t received the link for the ebook download yet.

        Thanks for your help, Darlene! Have a great weekend!!

        Eric

        • Eric if you haven’t got it check your junk or spam folders it may have gotten in there. If not use the contact form to get me your info so I can check it and resend. Thanks, sorry about that.

  • Hi Rosanna – just as all the others but I shot it in RAW and processed it in Lightroom later. By lowering the clarity and sharpness you get this type of look. You cannot do that if you’ve shot a JPG out of the camera. Does that help?

    • Rosanna

      Thanks and yes it helps. I shoot only in RAW and process in Lightroom.

      (Have you seen the Auroras up there as of late, they’ve been stellar for Edmonton? I follow Aurora Watch, based out of Edmonton. Try hard to capture them here straight south of you.)

    • NeutralDensity

      If you know what you are doing, then you can edit a JPG, do you know anything at all, really?

      • Thanks for your comments. I do know some thing, not all things. But I do know that once you’ve shot a JPG and the camera has processed it, you cannot remove sharpness. Can’t be done.

  • harold

    thanks I needed that

  • Johann (SA)

    Hi

    I’ve taken this photo on a road where there was nothing to photograph.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/riemlander/16861582352/

  • Johann (SA)

    Another photo that I took when there was nothing interesting.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/riemlander/16881005381/

  • Thanks for interesting ideas, Really, sometime I were hesitate to take photos.

  • Imagination can help you make cool shots like this! I was SUPER bored and the weather was crappy so I set up some Christmas lights in dark room. Then found an object to have as my subject and bam I was instantly hooked on a new awesome idea!

  • Marjorie Bull

    Tuesdays I have the entire day full except one hour in the morning when I make it a point to take pictures. But since I’m always in the same place, outside a suburban office building duller than dirt, I was running out of ideas. I read this article and really got motivated. I set myself several tasks: shoot at least a dozen or so images using my telephoto lens; shoot only things that are either out of my reach overhead (good for the telephoto) or down below my knees; and look for the light and shadows. Here are the results, and I’m quite pleased with them.

  • I found lots of interesting things to shoot in this overgrown creek bed, especially this old split tree trunk.
    Thanks for the reminder that there always is something to photograph, we just need to look, maybe look with a new perspective.

  • I posting this mainly because I’d love comments. I deliberately overexposed these cows to capture the soft, quiet mood. Then tweaked a bit in Lightroom to add some saturation/contrast back in on the top of the big cow’s head that had been lost. I got some other nice “normal” photos but, with my art background, I believe I like this best.

    • Hi Jenny – I don’t mind the soft overexposed treatment at all. What is concerning to me is the sharpness. It looks blurry, likely from camera shake. What were your settings on this shot? Did you use a tripod? I’m guessing not based on the location. Do you know how to eliminate that issue?

      • No tripod, was a unexpected stop. And not much time to deal with settings, not all deliberate! 1/4 second, 5.6, 200 ISO. How could I get this effect without losing clarity? Thanks much!

        • The issue there is the shutter speed – it’s just way too slow to come away with a sharp image hand held, and with moving subjects. Depending on the lens you used you need to have at least 1 over the focal length for your shutter speed. So if you used a 100mm lens, then 1/100 is what you need to shoot at. That’s 5 stops faster so if you have f/4 on the lens that’s one, then 4 more on ISO would be: 200>400>800>1600>3200. So f/4, ISO 3200 at 1/125 would likely have given you a much sharper image.

          • Thank you, Darlene. I know I needed a tripod to do something like this, just took a chance, and somehow I still like it even though blurry. I was surprised that you answered so quickly, with so much good advice. I’m half embarrassed that I posted this photo. I am going to try to capture something like this again, but PLAN it better!

            My next “have to do” is to set up some interesting lighting and shoot photos of some of my antique film projectors, have planned this for almost a year now. They are so beautifully made, such great architectural structure and polished metals. I think with the right lighting, they could be great. I just bought an old movie screen that I can use as a backdrop, although I need to experiment with a dark background also … not just the white.

            BTW, I LOVE your shot of the old Underwood! Thanks again.

          • That sounds really good. Maybe try some light painting if you haven’t before!

      • Guess if I’d had time to think, I would have pushed the ISO and shortened the shutter speed.

  • Sometimes extraordinary scenes may not be needed to capture an awesome shot rather an ordinary scene can be captured in an extraordinary way. Its the reason I like street photography a lot, no much complicasy but only great shots of simple moments.

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