Doesn’t matter what it is, if it interests you, photograph it
The best photographic projects stem from a fascination with the subject matter. You will be spending a lot of time working on any particular project, so make sure you feel inspired, motivated, and ready to return to it many times.
I see plenty of photographers shoot subjects that seem to be ‘on trend’ rather than something they are intrigued by. If you like photographing teapots, then go for it, the images will reflect your passion. The breadth and quality photographs will reflect the effort put in.
Think of a linking theme for your images
Have a look around the internet and your local area to find a subject matter that you think will pique your interest. Also start to think about what the cohesive theme for the ultimate set of photographs might be. A project is a set of images that hang together as a collection.
Consider an initial visit during which you take a broad variety of images. Afterward, looking through the catalog some frames will jump out and push you towards a creative theme. Then return to the venue to pursue your goal.
The images below show a theme not only of steam trains but also focus on the state of repair and amount of work required to reconstruct an old and battered train or carriage. Establishing the theme was the starting point for the steam train photographic project at this visitor center and how they are fixed up over many years to their former glory.
Do you want a person in each image or are you looking for openings with the theme of ‘seeing through’? The possibilities are endless! For example, I could have chosen – peeling paint, the color red, details, signaling paraphernalia, or even coal and steam.
Consider the angles, composition and lighting
The challenge is to take better and more interesting photographs than anyone else. This a useful goal to have when thinking of a new creative project. This sets the bar high and encourages you to rise to the challenge of making the best work you can on location. You want your ultimate set of images to stand out. There will be a simple shot of record as it’s known, here is a train and I’m going to photograph it. However, look again, a steam train can be represented by a detail of one of its huge steel wheels, or maybe a driver’s cab, or the old-world font on the side of the boiler. So, then there is a theme – elegant decay, steampunk architecture, or charming old fonts.
Be acutely aware of the light and weather conditions as well as the surroundings and constantly be on the lookout for an interesting shot or group of shots. It may mean coming back later in the day or when the venue first opens.
Choosing the camera and lenses for the photo session
The kit you use for a photographic project is important – both the camera and lenses are key. Personally, I go to a new venue with one lens and one camera. This means when confronted with many new scenes and options my choices are limited technically. So, I have to think creatively to get a cohesive set of images that work well together without being ‘samey’.
Think about what you are ultimately trying to achieve i.e. with a shallow depth of field or everything pin sharp with a large f-stop. My favorite cameras and lenses are from Leica but obviously any camera even an iPhone with a committed project will be interesting.
Photograph in RAW and process later
Later, after the photo session, the software that images are processed through will make a huge difference to the final look of the photographs. It really is true to say that if the starting point is RAW files then the finished photographs can be greatly enhanced by careful processing using contrast, exposure, and every other available setting.
Lightroom which has been developed especially for professional photography is an excellent package for processing images. The other experiment which you can easily explore in Lightroom is the option to present your final images in black and white. With a quick click of a button, you can view your color files in black and white and adjust the tonal response to your liking.
Douglas Fry Photographer is a corporate photographer in London. Over a typical year, he covers about 300 photographic commissions around the UK and Europe for Piranha Photography. All Photos in this article are by Douglas Fry and shared with permission.