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Whatever your ability as a photographer, it can be hard to find the time to start a big photo project. You might have all these wonderful ideas but just can’t get them off the ground. Not all photo projects have to be huge time sinks though. In just a weekend you can create something great.
Although anyone of any level can do these projects, they’re aimed at people who understand the basics of using a camera. If you’re not at that level yet, you should check out some of the great photography courses available online. I’ve also written about some simple ways to get better at photography and load of tips for taking better photos that will help.
Take Portraits of Your Friends and Family
Let’s start off with a really simple idea: a series of portraits of your friends and family. The odds are that the only photos you take of your loved ones are casual snaps with your smartphone. It’s now so easy to take a quick picture that most people aren’t bothered to go to the effort of taking a great picture. This weekend you can change that.
For this project, you ideally need a DSLR or mirrorless camera and a portrait lens with a wide aperture — something with a focal length of between 50 and 100 mm and an aperture of f/1.8 is perfect — although any set up can work. If you’ve got a DSLR, you can get a “Nifty Fifty” for less than $200 for both Nikon and Canon. These 50 mm f/1.8 lenses are great for portraits.
Although it might be tempting to play around with studio lights and flashes, the easiest way to get great results is with natural light from a window. As long as the sun isn’t shining directly into the room you’ll get a lovely even light to work with.
To take the pictures:
- Position your subject facing the window with a relatively plain background behind them. It doesn’t need to be perfectly blank as long as it’s not brightly colored or heavily patterned.
- Stand between the subject and the window.
- Set your lens to the widest aperture it will go. Use Aperture Priority mode and let the camera take care of the shutter speed and ISO.
- Focus on your subjects eye and take the picture.
While that’s the technical aspects covered, there’s more to taking a great picture. While you’re shooting, chat to your subject and put them at ease. You’ll get a much more genuine image.
Try Macro Photography
Macro photography is all about seeing the world up close. You use your camera to take pictures of tiny objects and blow the images up to larger-than-life sizes. It’s one of the easiest specialties to get into and you can get great results with a little bit of practice. Any close-up shots of bugs or flowers you’ve seen are macro photography.
For good macro images, you need to get your camera very close to the subject. Most lenses can’t focus that close so you need to use an adaptor to reduce their minimum focus. You can get a simple extension tube adaptor for your DSLR for about $15.
With an extension tube, you’ll need to focus manually and your lens will be stuck at its widest aperture – but that’s all a small trade off compared to the price. If you fall in love with macro photography, more expensive adaptors and dedicated lenses support auto focus and other features.
As awesome as bug photos are, they can be tricky to shoot because the subjects move. For your first dip into macro photography you should pick a subject that can’t run (or fly) away: flowers, small objects, and anything else that might look cool close up works.
To take the pictures:
- Choose your lens with the narrowest aperture when wide open — the kit lens that came with your camera is normally perfect — and attach it to the extension tube.
- Attach the other end of the tube to your camera. This will reduce the minimum focus distance of the lens to a few centimeters.
- If your camera supports Live View, use that. Otherwise look through the viewfinder.
- Rather than focusing with the lens, the easiest thing to do is move the camera towards your subject until it comes into focus in the viewfinder.
- Once it does, take your picture.
Create A Levitation Composite
Levitation photos are surprisingly easy to do. They might look like there’s a lot of hard work involved but if you plan things carefully, anyone can pull one off. This is the most involved project so if you’re not confident about it, try one of the simpler ones first.
For this project, the most important thing is a tripod. The easiest way to take levitation photos to lock your camera down on a tripod and take two pictures: one without the subject and another with the subject balancing on a stool or chair so they look like they’re floating.
To create the levitation image:
- Frame your shot and lock your camera down on the tripod.
- Put your camera in manual mode and turn off autofocus.
- Have your subject stand where they’re going to be levitating so you can set your focus and exposure manually.
- With focus and exposure set, have the subject step away and shoot a background plate.
- Next, have the subject sit or lie on something so they look like they’re levitating — stools work great for this. Depending on the pose you want, you may need to use more than one stool.
- Take your second picture.
Once you’ve got the two images, you need to use Photoshop or another image editing program to composite them together. The techniques you need are very similar to the ones I used to create a ghost picture and a killer doll composite. If you’re a total Photoshop beginner, you should check out some of the sites from this article to get an introduction to the power of the program.
Load the files into your app of choice and then carefully mask away the objects that are supporting your subject. With the background plate to fill in the missing details, it will look like they’re levitating.
In just a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon you can create a new series, play around with some new techniques, or add a great image to your portfolio. While many photo projects require a huge amount of time, there are plenty of others that don’t, so get out there and take pictures.
Have you any ideas for weekend photography projects? Let us know in the comments.