Your 12-month project
For this project I have made some suggestions to shoot specific subjects every time you go out during a month. I am assuming that for the majority of people then shooting opportunities might commonly only be at weekends, perhaps some evenings. So, when I say shoot for a month, I am thinking this will be 4 or 5 days shooting per subject. If you are able to shoot more often than just weekends, then you might find that you can pack in 2 or even 3 subjects during a month. That’s fine but try to spend at least 4 solid days on each subject to get the best results from the exercise regardless of the time frame over which it is done.
You do not have to shoot in the order I have suggested, just make sure that you cover all the subjects. It’s surprising how much more you see when you are looking for a specific thing. Over the course of the month you will hopefully ‘tune in’ to the subject and find that you get better and better shots toward the end of that month.
If this does not happen don’t worry. If you find that your very best dog shot was the one you took on the first day out shooting this subject, then that’s fine. Try not to get to wrapped up in the right and wrong of this project. There is no right or wrong and there is no ’test’ at the end. It’s just a way of helping you tune in and see things that you might otherwise miss.
What follows are my suggested subjects / themes. If there are one or two you do not like, then replace them with your own ideas. Just pick a subject and shoot just that subject for the whole month.
MONTH 1. Find a good background
Find some great backgrounds and use them in your shots. Think about what the ideal picture would look like with the background you find and work out how you can make that shot happen.
MONTH 2. Old people
Old people make great subjects for photos. Not only are they often full of character in the way they look, but they are usually some of the nicest and most approachable people to engage with. Spend some time getting to know them, they usually have fascinating stories to tell and often turn out to be as interested in you as you are of them. You might find an old person on their own who is more than happy to have a conversation with you, or perhaps an elderly couple, still in love after so many years and happily looking after and supporting each other in their daily lives.
Copyright © Andrew Turner
OLD MAN ON A SCOOTER – Oxford – Fuji X70 | 28mm / f2.8 | ISO 200
This is very much a grab shot. I was stationary in a traffic queue waiting for the lights to change and just noticed this guy coming towards me. Miraculously I had my camera on the passenger seat and just managed to set things up to take this one shot as the man passed me at some speed.
MONTH 3. A single colour as the prominent element
Pick a colour, ideally one that works well in black and white in terms of the contrast it provides against other colours. Red is usually good but try others over the course of the month. Go out and look for subjects where whatever colour you are working on is prominent. You are not shooting just for the sake of the colour, think about your framing and composition but try and put the emphasis on the coloured element.
MONTH 4. Reflections
Once you start to look, reflections under the right conditions are everywhere. Most people pass them by without really noticing because they are not looking for them. This is the whole idea of the exercise. Look at shop widows, the sides of buildings, in puddles, car bodywork. From certain angles there will be reflections, notice how the very slightest change in point of view changes the reflection dramatically. You have to be careful with your focusing with reflections as autofocus can often be ‘confused’ by the surface which is reflecting and the reflection itself. Choose what you want to actually focus on which might sometimes be an element deep within the reflection. This may mean switching to manual focus.
MONTH 5. Vanishing points
Geometry, leading lines, vanishing points will all add drama and depth to your images. Look for them and use them in your shots. Something as simple as a long narrow street with houses either side can make a striking image if you find something like a characterful face to place in the foreground of your image, letting the houses slowly fade out of focus and forming the vanishing point that provides depth to the image.
MONTH 6. Coming out of the shadows
You need to shoot at the right time of day for great shadows and again the conditions have to be right but when they are present you can really use shadows to your advantage. A shadow can make an otherwise bland wall for instance take on a beautifully geometric element and therefore make a great background that would not be the case without the shadow. It’s also great fun to capture shots of people coming out of the shadows into the brighter light, or likewise going the opposite way. As this happens only the part of the person or whatever the subject might be is visible ‘on the brighter side’, the rest is in darkness. Meter for the highlights, have some fun experimenting and the chances are you will get some great shots.
MONTH 7. Young people / teenagers
They are not always that approachable I know but young people often get up to things on the streets that older people are no longer able or brave enough to do. In most cities you will find a fair number of ‘sub-cultures’, usually created and enjoyed by younger people and they make great subjects to shoot. Skateboarders or basketball players for instance. Look for the leaders in the group, they are usually easy to spot. Explain that you would love to shoot some images of them doing what they’re doing. They are usually pretty flattered and quite honoured that you are taking an interest so will be happy for you to take their picture. They will of course not usually express this beyond a shrug and a ‘yeah whatever’ but that’s all the permission you need.
MONTH 8. Tattoos & piercings
Body art, like it or loathe it, tattoos and piercings can make for great images. The people who decide to put a hole in their body where there wasn’t one before, or those that decide to permanently mark their skin are usually pretty happy to show off their creations. These are not usually the kind of shots you can get candidly; you will have to talk to the subject and explain what you want to shoot the image for and perhaps show them some examples. Explain that you are working on a photography project featuring tattoos and piercings, suggest it might even culminate in an exhibition sometime in the future. Chances are they will be happy to be part of it and who knows, it might be true, perhaps it will result in an exhibition. Remember people that choose to decorate themselves in this way are often wanting to draw attention to themselves and are therefore usually only too willing to talk to anyone who is genuinely interested in these decorations. Be careful of course since this may not always be the case but on the whole, I think you will find this to be true.
Copyright © Andrew Turner
TATTOOED MAN – Oxford, UK – Panasonic GF-1 | 25mm / f1.4 | ISO 100
It took me about 3 hours of seeing this man wandering around, before I worked up the courage to actually speak with him. Turned out he was not as scary as he looks. He is now a friend. Believe it or not he works as a primary school teacher!
MONTH 9. Dogs
Dogs always make great subjects, sometimes even better are dogs and their owners. In workshops I have run I often suggest to students that one way of overcoming the fear of approaching and talking to people is to first of all approach people with dogs. Dog owners are usually really proud of their pooches and will happily pass the time of day with a stranger who shows any interest in their dog. Use this to your advantage. Flatter the owner on what a beautiful dog they have – and would it be OK to take a photo? It usually works. As a caveat to this, some dogs bite; as do some owners! Use your common sense and if you get any feeling the dog is not happy, or the owner suggests it’s not a good idea then just walk away.
MONTH 10. Very low / high viewpoints
We spend most of our lives looking at things from pretty much the same point of view. So, if you shoot from either a very low or a very high angle then you are going to see something in your shot that immediately looks different from normal. Try it now without a camera. Go to the floor of your kitchen, lie on your side and look at the cabinets. Chances are you can no longer see the top of the work surface, yet you still get a sense of being in your kitchen. Your point of view has only slightly changed, yet you see something completely different. Now go out in the real world with a camera and do the same thing.
MONTH 11. Skateboarders / BMX Riders
You are probably going to need to get permission from the ‘group’ for this one but once you befriend them and demonstrate your genuine interest in what they are doing in most cases you are going to be free to shoot as much and as often as you like.
MONTH 12. Together
This, perhaps more than the other suggestions, will mean different things to different people and that’s the idea. It potentially has a very broad interpretation and therefore will give you an element of freedom and allow you to see the ‘category’ in many things that perhaps you would otherwise have not. As you wander and explore just keep thinking ‘together’, ‘together’ and you will start to see images that fit into the category everywhere.
Copyright © Andrew Turner
EN POINT – Italy – Panasonic GF-1 | 45mm / f2.8| ISO 1600
This shot, taken in a very badly lit theatre in Italy was submitted to competition with the theme of ‘Together’. It did not win any prizes but was chosen as the image for the promotional poster used to advertise the exhibition. I was happy with that. This demonstrates the potentially very wide interpretation of a theme.