As part of our ongoing series to help you get more creative with your digital camera, each month we publish some fun, seasonal, creative photo ideas to help inspire your imagination.
Along with some amazing images, we’ve also provided some quick photography tips by both amateur and professional photographers who are experts in these fields.
We’re kicking off February with 9 fresh and creative ideas to try, from back-yard safaris to environmental portraiture, fun with shadows and reflections, long-lens landscapes and more!
Creative photo ideas for February: 01 Go on a back-yard safari
You don’t have to lug a long lens halfway around the world to bag prize-winning pictures of wildlife. Why not follow the lead of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Richard Peters?
He set up camera traps in his garden and went on to win the Urban category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition with the results.
For this image, Richard used a Nikon D750 and a Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G lens, along with three Nikon SB-28 flashguns, a Pixel Componor flash off-camera cord and a Camtraptions passive infrared motion sensor. “It’s a technically difficult shot,” he says.
“The long exposure for the stars has to be combined with flash and a subject that’s constantly on the move, which increases the risk of ghosting. I ended up using an exposure of 30 seconds at f/9, ISO 1,600.”
Setting up on your own patch gives you the time to tempt animals into the right position. At least, that’s the theory.
“I use peanuts and fresh water to encourage badgers, foxes, pigeons, jays and jackdaws in the garden,” says Richard, “although there is an element of uncertainty as they never regularly walk past the camera in the right position or from the right direction.
“Garden birds have had no issue with the camera, but it took three or four weeks for the badgers and foxes to adjust to the sound of the shutter.”
Creative photo ideas for February: 02 Shoot environmental portraiture
EnvIronmental portraits add much more conceptual content than a standard studio backdrop. Technique writer Tom Welsh has been high on the Anoach Eagach ridge in Glencoe, Scotland, to demonstrate shooting a winter portrait of a mountaineer, out in the hills.
“When composing an environmental portrait, whether on a mountain ridge or in a blooming garden, consider the framing of the landscape before positioning your model within it,” says Tom.
“If you’re using a wide lens, for the most part you’ll want to keep the person close to the camera so that they don’t appear too small and lost in the frame; or in our case, frame them against a clean backdrop or the horizon in order to make them stand out.
“If you’re faced with steep terrain, as I was here, try to stay level with your subject, as looking up or down at them will appear to flatten slopes.
“Along with the technical requirements of shooting an action portrait, such as fast shutter speeds, continuous focusing and high-speed drive mode, shooting in winter requires additional attention when it comes to exposure.
“Automated shooting modes can treat the white as a midtone, resulting in darker exposures, and slightly grey snow. Use your exposure compensation to brighten up the images, and check the histogram; it should stretch into the right side of the graph without falling off the end.”
Creative photo ideas for February: 03 Experiment with shadows
Sometimes it pays to look the other way. When you’re shooting on a sunny day, rather than focusing on the fine details of a subject, turn around and see how you can use the shadows being cast as a creative compositional device.
As with silhouettes, a strongly defined shape works well, and there are plenty of ways in which you can use them to either darken or lighten the mood.
A shadow project is gear-agnostic too, as you can shoot shadows regardless of the camera or lens you own – although some degree of exposure adjustment will help you control the density of the shadows.
Even a phone will do. Street photographer Foad Ashtari used an iPhone 6 to shoot this striking scene where the shadows tell the story.
“I was walking in a park in Tehran and suddenly I noticed a van in which there was a horse,” Foad explains. “The van came to a halt and two men came out. One of them went inside the van, while the other held the rope which was around the horse’s neck and tried to pull it out.
“I took four or five shots of the horse and the men next to it, before I noticed the shadows on the wall. I realised the potential was there for a good shot.
“I sat next to the van, looking at the wall and waiting for the best moment. I guess it took around five minutes before they could get the horse out, and I was sitting there with my back to them the whole time!”
Creative photo ideas for February: 04 Shoot at dawn
Being out and about early to catch the best light isn’t only good for your landscape photography. A crisp sunrise can also form the perfect background to a portrait – if you’re persuasive enough to get a model to join you at the sharp end of the day, that is.
Keep it local, as Luca Simonetti did for this image, so you can take advantage of rapidly changing conditions.
“I plan everything in detail in advance,” explains Luca. “Checking the weather forecast consumes much of my time, as I try to figure out the chances of catching a perfect sunrise.
“But the most challenging thing about taking pictures early in the morning is timing. You need the model to be on time, ready for the shoot, as you generally only have around 20 minutes before the best light’s gone.”
Creative photo ideas for February: 05 Shoot a reflection
Choose reflections as the theme of your next photo project, and you’ll be challenging yourself technically as well as creatively.
Include a large expanse of pale sky as part of the reflection, for example, and you’ll have to keep a close eye on the histogram if you’re to avoid problems of underexposure.
You’ll also have to find an angle that doesn’t see your own image reflected back at you.
The urban environment offers lots of potential for this type of photography. Take a standard zoom on your next photo walk and look for creative ways in which you can contrast an interesting reflection with its surroundings, or shoot with abstract images in mind.
Creative photo ideas for February: 06 Shoot wide-angle up close
Specialist macro lenses are among the sharpest optics available, able to resolve incredible detail across a picture. But why not try something a bit different this month?
Dial in the widest aperture available on the lens (typically f/2.8) and get in close, selectively focusing on one part of a subject and allowing the rest to fall into blur.
This technique can produce great results with delicate subjects such as flowers and food, but can also create abstract pictures of cutlery, kitchen utensils and other everyday items.
The image displayed in the viewfinder is always shown at the lens’s widest aperture, making it easy to judge the overall effect, but it pays to use the larger Live View screen as an aid for manually focusing with absolute precision.
Creative photo ideas for February: 07 Play with perspective
This project is great training for your photography brain. Can you frame a shot so that an object appears much smaller than it is in reality? Or do the opposite: make a small object look really big?
The trick here is in selecting the right lens for the job. Longer focal lengths will ‘pull’ distant objects in, making them appear to be on a similar plane as objects that are closer to the camera.
Wide lenses do the reverse, making objects in the background appear much farther away and smaller in the image.
‘Forced perspective’ photography exploits this trait. It’s typically used to show people interacting with objects that are in the foreground or background – such as appearing to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But it’s a useful trick for creating interesting framing elements, too…
Creative photo ideas for February: 08 Look for geometric shapes
The next time you’re lining up a city view, look for geometric shapes to help build stronger images.
“I was scouting around the Thames for architectural subjects when I came across this view of the Tate Gallery’s chimney and the Shard glass tower,” explains Stavros Charisopoulos.
“What drew me to it was the perspective of the two buildings and the negative space created at the centre of the composition.
“My intention was to emphasise the competitive relationship between the two buildings, and also to take advantage of the strong dark geometric shape of the granite seawall on the left. I used an ND filter and a long exposure to create a milky effect on the water, as well as in the cloudy sky.
“When I converted the image to black-and-white in Photoshop, I did it with the intention of creating a path through the image for the viewer. I increased the contrast to enhance the geometric shapes of the Tate chimney and the white space of the water underneath.
Creative photo ideas for February: 09 Shoot a long-lens landscape
Wide-angle lenses may be the go-to kit for scenic photographers, but the reach offered by a telephoto zoom can bring frame-filling impact to your landscape portfolio.
It can be easier to compose ‘cleaner’ landscape shots with a long lens, as their narrower angle of view enables you to crop out distractions.
You’re able to isolate interesting features, textures and tones, and the manner in which long focal lengths ‘compress’ a scene can be used as a creative compositional tool as well.
If you want rows of hills or mountains to appear tightly stacked together, a telephoto lens is the way to go.
For the sharpest results, you’ll need to mount a long lens, rather than the camera, on a stable tripod and head.
Even then, their larger size makes them prone to picking up vibrations in breezy conditions, so be prepared to act as a wind-break for your set-up.
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