Note: The creative photography ideas listed in this article should not be explored haphazardly within a Photography course, but rather selected purposefully, if appropriate for your topic or theme. These approaches may or may not be relevant for your own photography project and should be chosen only in conjunction with advice from your teacher. The techniques listed here are created using a range of different cameras and devices, such as a digital SLR/DSLR camera, traditional camera, pinhole camera and/or camera phone.
Paul Schneggenburger photographs couples sleeping. Taken during a single six hour exposure, the images contain many overlapping forms, reflecting a ‘nocturnal lovers dance’ in candlelight. Students looking for night photography ideas often assume that their options are limited to bright moving lights: Schneggenburger’s work is an excellent reminder of the potential that exists in other low-light settings.
Put objects on top of photographs and rephotograph them, like these images by Arnaud Jarsaillon and Remy Poncet of Brest Brest:
Photograph an artwork within a scene to create illusions, as in these images by Gregory Scott via Catherine Edelman Gallery:
As you can probably guess, this project borrows a lot of ideas from the 365 project only, instead of coming up with something every day, you come up with something each week.
Create illusions using forced perspective, like these photographs by Laurent Laveder:
Cut, fold and manipulate photos, like these examples by Joseph Parra:
Swing the camera while taking photos to achieve a swirling effect, as in this photo by Lucasbenc:
The shed might not be the first place you’d look for photographic inspiration, but if you don’t consider it’s potential you could be missing a trick. Nestled among the lawnmower and bikes, you’ll probably find a few rusty old tools and other paraphernalia that can make the perfect still-life study. Distressed, worn items have a story to tell, which you can help translate into photographic form.
Wrap torn plastic or other materials around the edge of your camera to create hazy edges, as in the photographs of Jesse David McGrady (via PetaPixel):
Aiming to replicate the effect of peeled layers of skin, the Stratum series was created by distressing and ripping Xerox copies of portraits (photocopies fold and tear more easily than photo paper) layering and overlapping these, before rephotographing.
The resulting images were digitally manipulated further, to produce a three dimensional effect.
Using an unconventional photography lighting technique, Amy Friend pokes holes in photographs, so that pinpoints of light cast a magical glow over portraits that have faded and darkened with age. Although many students looking for vintage photography ideas resort to copying this approach exactly, there are many other possibilities, such as cutting and folding images in different ways, shining different coloured lights through gaps, rephotographing images at unusual angles and scales, distorting images and deliberately creating bokeh.
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Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.
When so many photographers insist upon using digital manipulation to create bizarre and unexpected scenes, it is refreshing to see Cerise Douède string inanimate objects from the ceiling, positioning these as if they are exploding outwards from a central figure.
Creating this extraordinary still life took Doucède three days. The strings are left visible in the final photograph, adding an element of awe to the work, as the viewer becomes aware that this is not digital fantasy.
Photograph things with extreme macro lenses, like these photos of water drops by Andrew Osokin:
Simulate the effect of the wet collodion process used by Sally Mann via Edwynn Houk Gallery:
Wideangle lenses are invaluable in these situations, as they allow you to cram so much into the frame. When composing your shot, though, aim to have elements of the structure leading in from the edges of the frame to draw the eye into the image.
Think about the last time you used your camera… when was that?
Forced perspective is an optical illusion that occurs when deliberately tricking the viewer into thinking that an object is larger or smaller than it actually is. The illusion is created through careful staging of viewpoints and camera angles.
Most forced perspective photographs involve cliche scenes that are best avoided within a high school Photography project, but there are some beautiful examples, such as these evocative works by Laurent Laveder.
One thing I would recommend not doing is using photography apps that mainly just add effects and filters to photos. This is not improving your photography – you’re merely lulling yourself into a false sense of pride over a photo which you didn’t do by yourself.
Cut out shapes and insert coloured paper, as in these photographs by Micah Danges:
Contemporary photographer Rankin has helped design the new Swatch watches, which are adorned with his close up photographs of human eyes. In this example, eyes become unusual, captivating patterns that adorn a product.
Nick Frank creates sharp, stylised photographs of architectural details, zooming and framing a scene so that surface claddings appear to be vibrant two-dimensional paintings or designs, finding beauty and grace in spectacular and sometimes ‘ordinary’ architectural form.
Photographer Sally Mann is a fan of antique photography technology, often using a bellows camera (one that has a pleated, expandable box to extend the lens). She has produced a significant body of work using the platinum printing process, which results in high quality monochrome images with a very wide tonal range, as well as the bromoil printing process, which involves making an oil print from a bleached and hardened print on silver bromide paper.
Bleaching makes the darkest areas of the print become hardest, so when soaked in water, more water is absorbed in the highlights. Due to oil and water not mixing, when the bromide image is inked with oil paint, the oil adheres to the darker areas only.
This can then be printed using a printing press, resulting in a soft paint-like image, with no two images exactly the same. Sally Mann has also created many works using the collodion wet plate process, which can result in images that appear to be a hybrid of photography and painting.
This is a laborious historical printmaking method in which the final image is created onsite using a portable darkroom. It has seen a revival in popularity amongst contemporary photographers, with photography equipment now available to simulate this practise.
As in the examples above, colours are not true-to-life. It should be noted that these techniques involve complex processes and chemical mixing and are thus not suitable for most beginner Photography students (unless guided by a particularly enthusiastic teacher).
The stunning images above, however, suggest many creative ways in which paint, ink and photography can be combined as part of a high school Photography project.
Narrative photography involves communicating a story through visual clues: a frozen moment in time. Students looking for narrative photography ideas can learn a lot from looking at Dan Winters’ photography.
In the celebrity portrait above, props, backgrounds, the dimmed lighting and Brad Pitt’s pose all work together to suggest a particular backstory. Unlike documentary photography, where the photographer carefully selects an angle and cropping of the scene that already exists, narrative photography involves precise staging and careful manipulation of the ‘characters’ within the story.
The reason I recommend this project is because understanding composition is the most important factor in taking great photos. Just using your camera phone everyday and thinking about what you have to do to take a great photo is going to dramatically improve your photography.
Use a hand-held glass lens or prism, to create blurred, abstract forms, like this photograph by Sam Hurd:
Photography students often begin the year experimenting with the simplest type of photographic image – a photogram, also known as a ‘cameraless photograph’. This is created by placing objects directly onto photo paper in a darkroom and then exposing the arrangement to light for a set period of time.
The objects create shadows on the paper in various intensities, depending upon the strength and duration of the light as well as the transparency of the items. Translucent items can be particularly successful, as in the slices of lemons and limes shown in Joanne Keen’s photogram above.
Once the paper has been exposed to light, it is processed in the darkroom as per normal.
Matthew Chase-Daniel explores the way we look at the world. Rather than taking a single snapshot, he collects a ‘group of moments’, simulating the way we look in different directions and focus upon essential details.
He takes a collection of photographs over a few hours or days, sometimes moving around the landscape; other times remaining still. Once he returns to his studio he selects, edits and arranges the photographs digitally, so they communicate the essence of a place.
The final composite work is printed at a large scale on rag paper.
Digitally add abstract elements to an image, such as these architectural photographs by Nick Frank:
This is a richly textural high school Photography sketchbook, completed for an AS Photography project. It explores the theme: ‘Unknown and Forbidden’. Collaged, mixed media photography techniques can add another dimension to photographs, and can help with the exploration of conceptual photography ideas.
Collect many similar items and produce typology photography, like Sam Oster’s apparatus series:
There are thousands of fantastic buildings to photograph up and down the country, mostly in the larger cities. If you’re struggling to find the right ones, simply check out www.instantstreetview.com where you can click around your local area to find the perfect location.
Print photographs onto a flexible surface and stretch or distort them, as in these works by Michal Macku:
The idea of this project is to achieve simple but brilliant minimalist street images. The great thing about this type of photography is that it requires very little preparation – all you need is a camera, a few buildings or structures, a couple of people and sharp eyes to find the right place to shoot.
A vortograph is the abstract kaleidoscopic photograph taken when shooting an object or scene through a triangular tunnel of three mirrors. Alvin Langdon Coburn’s images were some of the first abstract photographs taken.
Light painting involves opening your camera’s shutter long enough to draw in the darkness with a light source, such as a torch or a lantern and effectively painting inside a photo.
Shooting with a single theme is a great way to start to broaden the objects that you shoot.
Create candid documentary photography, like these emotion-filled black and white football fan shots by Christopher Klettermayer:
Graphic shapes and a range of tones set the scene fofr a successful monochrome image. Photo by Phil Hall
This photograph blurs the boundary between a 2D representation and reality, integrating photography with 3D elements. Some of the works by Carmen Freudenthal and Elle Verhagen include videos projected onto photos and images printed onto draped sheets.
Repeat or stretch pixels, as in these examples by Maykel Lima:
Note: some teachers purchase a make-at-home pinhole camera set for their students, such as this one from Amazon US or Amazon UK (affiliate links). Matt Bigwood‘s DIY pinhole cameras are made from ordinary aluminium drink cans:
Many Art teachers and examiners have a fervent dislike of Adobe Photoshop filters. This is because many students seem to believe that spending ten seconds applying a garish filter to a mediocre photograph transforms it into ‘art’.
Digital filters do have a place, however, and can provide enormous value (such as in the example above, when several Photoshop filters have been applied, manipulated, erased and tweaked before arriving at the final image).
Using digital filters may be particularly appropriate for students who incorporate photography within graphic design or illustrative projects.
Self portraits sound really easy but they’re not at all because, once you’ve taken more than about 10, it becomes a lot harder to come up with original ideas.
Produce High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDR Photography), as in this example by Karim Nafatni:
When you do this a lot, you start to really understand what certain objects or colours do for various photos and how you can use them to your advantage. It also helps you to find something interesting in something boring, as you have to try and make everyday objects worth looking at.
Dragging and dropping a video into Photoshop will bring up the video pallete, which users can scroll through to find their specific frame. Once the shot is located, select File> Save As. Then save as a TIFF to avoid compression.
Most cameras have colour profiles in the menu that allow users to control sharpening, contrast and saturation. Either configure these first, or shoot with everything set to 0 and change them in post-processing.
Although TIFF images can be opened in Adobe Camera Raw, it’s often very hard to bring back shadow and highlight detail from video footage. For this reason, try to avoid shooting in very challenging lighting conditions.
Taking a video of a landscape will have very little benefit over a still image taken of the same scene. Pick a subject matter that’s constantly moving in order to capture the definitive moment in a single frame.
Objects from your shed
The trouble with learning even very basic composition techniques is that you start to think of these as rules rather than guidelines.
Experiment with camera filters, like the neutral density filter that was used to photograph this beautiful seascape by Salim Al-Harthy:
Add sculptural elements that protrude from the photograph, as in this example by Carmen Freudenthal & Elle Verhagen:
As technology progresses, it is possible for digital images to be engraved upon various surfaces (such as stone, timber, fabric or leather); on or within glass, as in a 3D crystal engraving; or around cylindrical items, such as a rotating bottle. A laser is used like a pencil, with a controlled beam moving in different directions, intensities and speeds, delivering energy to the surface, heating up and vaporises areas or causing small pieces to fracture and flake away. Although the majority of laser photo engraving examples online seem to be uninspiring commercial shots, laser engraving offers new possibilities for high school Photography students – not just in terms of printing images onto exciting materials, but as a way of creating a textured plate which can then be printed from. It should be noted that although most high school Art Departments are not in a position to purchase a 3D laser engraving machine to experiment with (although this may change in the future) some Design and Technology Departments are beginning to. Many companies also offer a custom laser engraving service that students may make use of. Remember that those who must post work away for assessment are not able to submit heavy, bulky or fragile pieces (such as laser wood engraving or laser engraving on glass).
As technology progresses, more cameras and digital image manipulation programs offer the ability to combine multiple shots from different angles into spherical 360 degree photographs (usually with the appearance of little planets or floating worlds).
Some cameras use two different lenses to achieve the 3D photography effect, while others use one. Students should be especially careful when using techniques such as this, as the temptation to experiment can overwhelm good judgment, but for certain themes or compositional approaches, 3D panoramic photography may be appropriate, especially if this is used in an artistic, experimental way.
Add photography cuttings to real life situations, like the surrealist scenes created by Yorch Miranda:
Students taking high school photography qualifications such as A Level Photography or NCEA Level 3 Photography often search the internet looking for tips, ideas and inspiration. This article contains well over 100 creative techniques and mixed media approaches that Fine Art / Photography students may wish to use within their work. It showcases student and artist examples along with brief descriptions of the techniques that have been used. Approaches relate specifically to mixed media photography techniques, technical / trick photography ideas and interesting, fun or unique compositional strategies.
Stacking upward of 10EV of ND filters inside a square filter holder is not uncommon for architectural photographers. This achieves silky smooth skies or blurred clouds. A cheap workaround for this is to use welding glass.
A shutter speed of between 1/30sec and 15mins is what you should aim for. If the clouds are moving very slowly, then a longer shutter speed is needed. This can be achieved by adding more stops of neutral density.
Try walking through a built-up area with a camera phone or a little compact camera and taking a couple of snapshots in order to find a subject you know will work. This helps reduce the trial and error of composition.
Shooting mid-morning or late afternoon will give you the best results as the sun is high enough to add dimension and depth to the subject matter. The movement of the light will be captured in the long exposure.
Book a model
Note: If you are interested in laser cut work, you may wish to see the excellent A Level Art project by Lucy Feng, which has been featured on the Student Art Guide.
Deliberately unfocus lights to create ‘bokeh’, as in this beautiful landscape by Takashi Kitajima:
These haunting photographs show painted figures overlaid with a web of linear structures. The images explore the human mind; the interconnected maze of human thought.
As we draw closer to the end of 2011, the standard practice of coming up with a new year’s resolution looms ever closer and, for all of us, there’s always room to improve our photography.
Clarisse d’Arcimoles has taken a series of photographs mimicking old family photographs, creating identical compositions of family members at different stages in their lives. The series explores ideas such as the ‘irretrievability of the past and photography’s strength to make memories tangible’.
Facial expressions, body angles, clothes, hairstyles, props and background settings are recreated entirely, so that family members sense that they travel back in time while the shoot takes place. Once taken, the shot is manipulated digitally, adding grainy textures and changing the light and tone to mimic the contrast within the old photograph.
This image is an archival injet print of d’Arcimole’s sister, aged 13 and 35.
When wandering round towns or cities (or even country houses), we invariably fall into the trap of looking at architecture from a fairly flat-on view, often shooting just the exterior of a building without venturing inside. While there’s plenty of scope for general interior views, next time you’re out and photography is permitted inside a building, look up. More often than not you’ll be rewarded with striking patterns that make really interesting and abstract imagery.
The nifty 50 challenge takes this lens and really helps you to get the most out of it.
Create abstract photography from blurred motion, as in the ‘Revolution’ series by Yvette Meltzer:
This amazing seascape by Antti Viitala shows overcast and stormy skies above crashing waves in South Africa. Long exposures blur the boundary between the sand and sea, creating an eerie and almost other-worldly effect.
This shot was taken with 50mm f/1.8 lens with a 14mm extension tube and lit from behind. Photo by Callum McInerney-Riley
Create sequence photography by combine multiple exposures, as in the high speed photography of Ray Demski:
Many students who explore motion photography ideas leap towards flashy digital manipulation tricks, without first making use of hand-generated collage techniques. This photomontage has been manually assembled upon a wooden surface, with images overlapped in sequence to imply movement.
It was inspired by the great photography series of Edward Muybridge and is an excellent way of investigating conceptual ideas for subsequent works.
It’s possible using this method to capture a fraction of a second of action that would not usually be possible with continuous shooting at high frame rates.
This clever photography trick produces soft, hazy edges around with a photograph, helping to create a seductive, ethereal or other-worldly atmosphere. Jessy David McGrady achieves this effect using a plastic sandwich bag, with a hole torn in the side.
He places the ring of plastic around his camera lens, secured in place with a rubber band, leaving rough, torn, slightly crunched edges visible through the viewfinder (but not obscuring the image completely).
The intention is that the middle of the image remains well-focused and sharp, while the edges become misty. You can experiment with using marker pens to colour the plastic or increasing the number of layers of plastic.
Use a transportable photography reflector (i.e. this one from Amazon.com or Amazom UK – affiliate links) to create better lighting within your shots, such as in this outdoor portrait by Toni Lynn:
Michal Macku has invented his own technique, which he named ‘Gellage’, whereby photographic emulsion is removed from its paper backing, leaving an image that is semi-transparent and flexible. This allows the image to be stretched and reformed – sometimes combined with other images to make imaginative, distorted and/or surreal scenes – before the artwork is adhered to durable paper.
Another creative approach is to place emphasis upon the shadows created by a subject. This can lend itself to trick photography ideas or illusions, as in the example above, or provide a way for creating dramatic lighting conditions within a photographic work.
Per Johansen has taken captivating photographs of organic meat and vegetable squeezed inside clear plastic containers. These examples show a sausage and eel coiled within mass produced synthetic bottles.
Many students search aimlessly for creative still life ideas: the notion of arranging objects inside other objects may have potential for a wide range of different themes.
If you’ve ever shot black & white film, you’ll know that creating a good mono image requires a set of skills entirely separate to colour. Most modern DSLRs now feature a built-in black & white mode, which enables you to shoot mono images straight out of the camera. Activating this often-overlooked feature is actually a great way to challenge your photography skills, as it takes away any reliance on bright colours to help make a shot interesting. Colours are transformed into tones, which forces you to look at scenes in an entirely different manner. So, this weekend, why not test your photography skills by stripping away the colour from your photos to capture some raw and gritty mono imagery.
Every shape, texture, colour and form within these photographs has been considered, selected and positioned with care. Those looking for out-of-the-box indoor photography approaches or unusual still life photography ideas can find it helpful to remind themselves that Photography students have the same level of compositional control as do Painting / Fine Art students.
Understanding how to balance and link different elements of a composition might be all that is needed for you to create unforgettable still life photography.
Create pinhole photography, making your own pinhole camera from scratch like Matt Bigwood (via The Phoblographer):
Apply a digital filter to create an illustrative effect, as shown in this Adobe Photoshop tutorial:
These silver gelatine prints consist of electrical consumer goods arranged in a grid format. Each item is photographed formally, within an identical setting: a typology of kettles and electrical fans. This is part of Samantha Oster’s ‘Short Circuit’ series; a photo-media investigation of the electrical consumption of modern society.
The items were collected from dumps and rubbish collections and photographed using black and white film, before being processed by hand.
Choose a local location and get up early to make the most of the early morning light. Photo by Phil Hall
‘Light painting’ is the act of illuminating another object or scene using a moving hand-held light, such as a flashlight or laser pointer. ‘Light drawing’ involves shining the lights at the camera and drawing or painting with light in much the same way as an artist might draw or paint with ink.
The spectacular night landscape above was created using a torch at twilight upon New Zealand sand dunes, as part of a high school Photography project. Tips: use a long exposure in a dark setting, with the camera mounted upon a tripod.
An alternative light painting technique involves moving the camera around stationary lights (this is sometimes known as kinetic light painting or camera painting). This is a less predictable method and results in vibrant, abstract photographs.
As with many of the ideas listed in this article, rather than reading a complex light painting tutorial outlining exact camera settings for night photography, sometimes the best approach is simply to dive in and experiment, test and explore.
Take unfocused shots and create semi-abstract photographs, like those by Bill Armstrong:
Make an photography collage using masking tape, like Iosif Kiraly:
Sometimes the best way to inspire creativity is through limitation. It forces you to look at a scene in a new light, presents new challenges and ultimately enhances your ability to overcome these obstacles.
Experiment with night photography and create a light painting or drawing, as in A Level Photography example by Georgia Shattky:
A convex lens or prism held in front of your camera lens can create stunning reflections, distortions and ‘bokeh’ (see below) within and around your image. The results are unexpected and unpredictable, often creating beautiful abstracted shapes and colours that are not easily replicable using Photoshop.
A hand-held glass lens or prism enables you to quickly add variety to an image, bending and directing light and colour from the scene itself. Sam Hurd has used this technique to create a strong focal point: a magical environment with attention swiftly focused upon the two figures in the centre.
This technique takes practise, but can generate some spectacular results.
The basic idea is that you take a photo with a 50mm lens every day, for 50 days. By the end of it, you will have some beautiful shots that focus around you making the most out of what you’ve got.
Mirrors hold much potential for students and can be useful for directing light as well as reflecting images. This photograph was digitally enhanced using Photoshop, so that the mirror appears transparent or invisible, showing the landscape behind the figure.
Art teachers and students frequently take photographs upon cluttered classroom tabletops, often with less than optimal lighting conditions. Light box photography can be especially useful in this situation, helping those who wish to create professional product shots (Graphic Design students creating promotional material, for instance) or those who want to photograph sculptural or design pieces, create composite works from several elements or just to have a simple backdrop for their images. Tabletop photography becomes infinitely easier when you can light a subject well, and capture true colour and details, in a reliable, uniform way. If you are looking for other less time-intensive tabletop photography ideas or backdrop ideas, it is possible to purchase inexpensive light box kits and light tents from Amazon.com and Amazon UK (affiliate links).
Deliberately overexpose a shot, creating ‘high-key’ photography, like this portrait by Gabi Lukacs:
Place objects on top of a photograph and scan it, like this example by Rosanna Jones:
This is a project that I’m planning for next year. It involves taking photos of images that represent the letters of the alphabet, which can be done in three different ways:
These centres can offer fabulous photo opportunities that would take great patience and fieldcraft to achieve if you were in the wild. And for those really wanting to get the perfect wildlife shot, you’ll find that some centres will offer specific days for photographers in small groups that are often closed off to the public. This means you’ll have the luxury of better vantage points and, in some cases, access inside enclosures to get even closer.
Use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, like the action photography of Justin Grant:
Photowalks are great for finding inspiration with photography because you explore new places, actively thinking about how you can take photos of certain objects. This leads to some really interesting photos which you wouldn’t otherwise have taken.
Whereas most photographers capture a frozen moment, Mirjam Appelhof aims to express the ongoing passage of time. Rather than create an ordinary static image, she photographs herself moving, using a self-timer.
Sometimes she works over the images with paint or different materials.
Take photos using a scanner, like Evilsabeth Schmitz-Garcia:
Make sculptural installations and then photograph them, as in this A Level work by Kim Seymour:
Wildlife centres offer the ideal opportunity to photograph some of Britain’s more elusive wildlife, such as otters. Photo by Phil Hall
With a keen eye and the right conditions, you’ll be surprised by the images you can achieve close to home, while you can be back in time for Saturday Kitchen Live. This is a great way to push your creativity that bit further, and, since you are close to home, if the conditions aren’t quite right, you can easily pop back later.
This is a fairly common project idea and one that I’ve attempted myself in the past but, I must say, it’s much harder than it seems. I actually only made it about three months before I stopped.
Not only will this project document your photography but yourself as a person too. The beauty of having yourself as a subject is that you never have to look for a model.
There are moments when it is best to forget outrageous techniques, enticing accessories and photography trickery, and instead concentrate upon the world in front of you. Find the beauty that is overlooked and bring it to the forefront.
Find the magic and hold it still for others to see.
Students who are looking for creative portrait photography ideas will be inspired by the compositions of Elena Kalis. The dreamlike, other-worldly quality of shooting underwater can trigger many abstract or literally ‘cool’ photography ideas.
Pairing extension tubes with wide-aperture prime lenses, such as the 50mm f/1.8, will allow a very shallow depth of field when shot wide open. So you can achieve sharp focus on subjects and blur the background extensively.
If you are shooting subjects with out-of-focus backgrounds, try manipulating the look in-camera using props and different types of light. Candles, LED lights, tin foil and highly textured surfaces all make excellent backgrounds.
Focusing will often need to be precise, especially when using longer focal-length lenses. Try to keep the camera steady by using a good tripod and, where possible, use manual focusing with preview enlargements.
With subjects so close, the lens can often obstruct the on-camera flash and the light won’t fall properly on the subject. Try using an off-camera flash, LED panel or macro ring light to illuminate the subject instead.
Stick to One Lens
Lorna Freytag is a photographer, children’s book illustrator and author. She creates commissioned portraits, like the works above, merging children into imaginative, fantasy situations. Students often want creative portrait photography ideas and to integrate stories and fairytales within their work; these examples combine both.
A photowalk doesn’t have to be a specific walk with the sole purpose of taking photos, it can just be a time when you’re out of the house with your camera.
Use kites to create aerial photography, as in this image by Pierre Lesage:
Take photos from uncommon or unexpected viewpoints, like these birds eye view photographs commissioned by the human rights organization Society for Community Organization:
If there’s something we all carry with us everyday, it’s our phones. With the cameras in them improving every year, what better way to start capturing photos? Using your phone allows you to put exposure on the back burner, allowing you to focus more on composition instead.
Project images onto people or scenes, as in these examples by freelance photographer Lee Kirby:
Photograph scenes through small gaps or holes, as in these photographs by Reina Takahashi:
These urban landscape photographs were created using a homemade camera that projects an image onto a piece of scratched plastic and then photographs this. A similar effect could be achieved by projecting images via an overhead projector or slide projector onto a textured or decorative surface, such as an eroding wall, ripped wallpaper and stained concrete.
Being limited to a single focal length doesn’t mean you can’t add variety to your shots. Experiment with the aperture setting to either isolate a subject with a shallow depth of field, or capture the whole scene using a large f-number.
As a prime lens doesn’t offer the flexibility of being able to zoom in and out of a scene, it’s up to you to physically move yourself closer or further away from a subject in order to gain the correct composition.
One of the added benefits of shooting with a single prime lens is the reduction in weight. Generally, primes are lighter than zoom lenses, meaning that you’ll most likely find it less of a chore to carry your camera about.
Prime lenses offer a much wider maximum aperture than most zooms, allowing you to shoot as wide as f/1.8, f/1.4 or even f/1.2. This provides a host of practical advantages, particularly when shooting in low light.
Yvette Meltzer takes photographs in Chicago laundromats, closely cropping the images of driers in motion so that they become abstract pieces. Meltzer quotes Picasso: ‘There is no abstract art. You must always start with something.
Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.’
Quick release shutter speeds allow photographers to create an exciting sequence of photographs. Ray Demsky captures athletes in motion: digitally combining a series of high speed photographs in a single composite work.
If you fancy a change from shooting the same old landscapes and portraits, why not try this rather unusual, but very creative, photo project. The idea is to take individual images of letters and shapes taken from a variety of everyday street signs, billboards and the like, then merge them together in Photoshop to spell out your name. It is deceptively challenging, as you must scout out and record each of the letters you’ll need from your local area. In turn, it will change the way you view your surroundings. Once you get started, you’ll look at every street sign and advertisement board in an entirely new light, as you start to piece together the letters needed to create your name.
So why not use an extension tube with one of your existing lenses to shoot some creative macro images.
This gives a new, fresh perspective on your composition as well as creating shots by accident that you may not otherwise have thought to take. By taking away the viewfinder, you have to use your instincts to capture a photo, which can be very refreshing.
Stephanie Jung creates stunning urban landscapes, overlaying near-identical city scenes that have been taken from slightly different angles, at different transparencies and colour intensities. The repeated forms (buildings / vehicles / street signs) suggest echoed memories, vibrations of life; the ebb and flow of time.
Paint directly onto photographs, as in these works by Gerhard Richter:
Photographer Jakob Wagner took a five minute tunnel ride in an automated car through a tunnel in China, creating vibrant, abstracted, long exposure, night photography that conveys the motion and changing light conditions along the journey.
If you do manage to get any shots you’re proud of, tweet them to us at @ap_magazine with the hashtag #photoprojects or send them into [email protected] and we’ll retweet the best ones.
Arrange compositions as if they were a beautiful still life painting, such as these food photographs styled by Maggie Ruggiero and photographed by Martyn Thompson (left) and Marcus Nilsson (right):
Photograph things that are submerged in coloured liquid or milk bath, such as these shots by Rosanna Jones:
Maurizio Anzeri offers a wealth of inspiration for students who are looking for portrait photography ideas. The brightly embroidered patterns and delicately stitched veils cross the faces with sharp lines and dramatic glimmering forms.
Note: Although Anzeri sews directly into found vintage photographs (often from flea markets and car boot sales) it is usually recommended that most high school students use their own photographs for this purpose.
Although images can be combined digitally, projecting one image across a three-dimensional form creates a close interaction between the two scenes. The projected image distorts and becomes obscured as it bends around a 3D form and falls within shadowed crevices.
Projecting images onto people can be a great way to experiment with ideas relating to identity and portraiture, or as mechanism for moving towards abstract photography. It can also become a creative photography lighting technique – a way of introducing mottled, coloured light to a scene.
Redraw part of a scene with paint, as in these works by Aliza Razell:
Create a complex ‘unrealistic’ setting and photograph it, as in this composition by Cerise Doucède:
Midori Harima makes black and white Xerox copies of photographs on archival paper and uses these to create hollow papier-mâché sculptures, with methyl cellulose paste, archival tape and paperclay (clay that has paper fibres added to it, resulting in a stronger, light-weight modelling product that can make thinner more delicate forms and easily bonds with other mediums when dry).
The final works are formed from tiny pieces of the images, exploring ideas about childhood senses and our fragmented absorption of data in an ‘information intensive society’.
READ NEXT: How to make an artist website (and why you need one)
Many high school Photography students have skills in a wide range of other art disciplines. If you are looking for photography portrait ideas or still life photography ideas and are also a strong painter or drawer, you may wish to use trick photography to create surreal, distorted or unexpected illusions.
Greg Scott takes photographs of large painted self-portraits, suspended within a real life setting. The final shots are black and white photographs (the elimination of colour helps to conceal the boundary between the painted and ‘real’ worlds) with careful organisation of perspective helping to merge the boundary between the painted and photographic image.
Think about the look you want from the shoot, asking the model to bring a selection of outfits to fit in with the brief. Hair and make-up are just as important – to start with you may want the model to do this but as you progress you may want to hire a professional make-up artist.
You want to build a rapport with your model – start by telling them what you want and how you want them to pose. It may help to strike the poses yourself and, as the model warms up and relaxes, they will invariably start to create their own poses.
Maximise your time with your model, especially if you are paying. Iron out any technical issues you may have with a stand-in to avoid wasted time once your model arrives. You can then concentrate on the shoot and get the shots you want.
If you’re looking to sell your images for commercial use, then ensure the model signs a model release form. Models have legal rights as to how and where the pictures are used, but release the right to influence picture usage by signing.
Photograph your car
I take my camera most places when I’m out walking these days because you never know when you’re going to see something worth capturing.
Photograph things without contextual information, so objects become almost unrecognisable, as in this example by Peter Lik:
Use a homemade light box to create uncluttered backdrops for photography, as in this YouTube video by Auctiva:
Digitally merge images to play with scale, as in this photograph by Katherine Mitchell:
This year, I attempted a couple of photography projects and, as I took more and more photos, I found that they were getting better and better. The best way to learn is to practice and what better way to do so than with a fun, creative photography project.
Traditional photographers have long been able to create two exposures on a single piece of film. This technique is now also easily achieved digitally – overlaying images using a multiply or transparency filter, for example.
This example shows how the integration of two different scenes can help to strengthen the ideas communicated within an artwork.
This collection is a work in progress. It is continually updated with creative photography ideas and examples. If you are looking instead for photography theme ideas or project ideas for your entire high school or college photography course, please read our article about how to select a great subject or theme for your Art project.
Photograph slow moving objects over a long period of time, as in this photograph by Paul Schneggenburger:
Photograph a single scene over time and join the pieces in sequence, like these composite photographs by Fong Qi Wei:
This photograph uses colour to draw attention to a certain area of the composition and create a focal point. Photography editing software is used to create a duplicate black and white copy of an artwork as a separate layer beneath the original photograph.
The coloured layer is then partially erased, cropped or selected, leaving colour visible in certain areas only.
This awesome experimental photograph was created by Matt Bigwood during a six month exposure, using a homemade pinhole camera, made out of an aluminium can (the light proof box). The top of the can was removed and a pinhole was punctured in the side (the smaller the hole, the sharper the image – although the longer exposure time is needed, as less light is let in).
Photographic paper was then inserted into the can (in the dark), with a cardboard lid placed back over the opening, before it was positioned in place. As the pinhole was uncovered, light entered the ‘camera’, creating an inverted view of the scene on the photographic paper (film can also be used) positioned inside the camera.
Although pinhole cameras often create unpredictable photographs, they are a great way for understanding how photographs were originally created. This example by Matt Bigwood captures the movement of the sun (a type of photography known as solargraphy) across a suburban sky.
Look for strong architectural shapes and then wait for someone to walk into the frame. Photo by Callum McInerney-Riley
I always think that I know what I’m going to capture when I take a photo from the hip but only on very rare occasions do I actually capture what I thought I would.
Whether you have a gorgeous classic, a hot hatch or a family runaround, why not try to shoot your car in a style that wouldn’t look out of place in a glossy car magazine? Take a look at a few car magazines for inspiration and try to deconstruct why they work so well. Think about the angle and framing, focal length used, location and if they’ve captured that feeling of speed. Before you set off with your camera and car, though, make sure it is spotlessly clean – even the best Photoshop retouching can’t clean a grubby car, while you’ll need an insured friend free to do the driving. And think where you’re going to shoot as well: avoid busy roads, opting for quiet country lanes towards the end of the day that are dappled in warm evening light.
Photographing something from an uncommon angle can often result in fresh, unexpected images. This bird’s eye view shows a tiny apartment in Hong Kong, where 1.3 million people live below the poverty line.
The image was taken via a camera installed in the ceiling and aims to illustrate the unsafe living conditions of people crammed into small spaces.
These precise, analytical works by Jelle Martens, combine geometric blocks of colour with photographs, creating perfectly balanced patterns
Combining multiple exposures within one photograph (the same technique that is used for sequence photography above) makes it possible to create the illusion that there are many identical elements within a composition.
In these great examples, a imaginative fantasy concept is created – several mystical figures moving dramatically within the frame.
Use frames within frames to create intriguing compositions, such as these photographs by Chen Po-I:
The landscape is constantly changing, so always pay attention to it. Some spots will take on a new quality that will then fade away, so make mental notes and pinpoint where you want to shoot at the weekend.
Get up early in order to make the best of the first light – if it will benefit your shot. With your location being only a short walk or drive away, at least you won’t have a long journey ahead of you.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, especially with your framing. Try shooting down low to get the vegetation in, or pick out elements in your composition and opt for a shallow depth of field to really draw in the eye.
Why not set yourself a challenge and return regularly to the same location time and again? Shoot from the same spot or work the scene so that you come away with a completely different shot each time. Letter Montage
When you take your eyes out of the equation, you start to see different results that can work just as easily and, without even realising it, you will be implementing compositional techniques that you haven’t even learned about yet.
Digitally overlay textures onto photos, as illustrated in this tutorial by PhotoshopStar:
Use slow shutter speeds to create blurred movement, as in this beautiful water photo by Antti Viitala:
Matthew Brandt has created unexpected and dramatic running of coloured ink by submerging printed photographs in water. After photographing lakes or reservoirs from around the United States, Brandt collects samples of water and brings them back to his studio.
He then soaks the c-prints in water from the location that the image represents. Over time, the surface begins to degrade, creating images that are relics of this process. This is a great example of how creative photography techniques can (and should) be driven by the subject or theme that is explored.
With community sites like modelmayhem.com putting photographers, models and make-up artists in touch with each other, you’re bound to find a model in your area. You’ll often find models starting out happy to work for free in return for images (though you may have to pay travel), but to guarantee a level of professionalism and punctuality, it is worth booking a professional model from a model agency like missionmodels.co.uk. You’ll have to pay, but if you club together with someone else, you can spread the cost and help each other with lights and diffusion.
As anyone who’s spent any real time on this website will know, I love to recommend the 50mm f/1.8 to people because it’s a great upgrade for the price.
Frank Hallam Day carefully selects pieces of hulls from wrecked ships in West African harbours. Peeling paint, eroding metal and horizontal water lines take on the linear and textural qualities of an abstract painting: a commentary about the influence of time upon humanity’s technical achievement.
Photograph scenes through visible hand-held lenses, as in this A Level Photography work by Freya Dumasia:
Make a photographic assemblage combining foreground, middleground and background, as in this example by Matthew Chase-Daniel:
Capture the same scene at different times, as in this photography series by Clarisse d’Arcimoles:
Use specialised photography lighting to achieve dramatic contrasts, as in this portrait of two brothers by dankos-unlmtd:
Experiment with slow shutter speeds at night, blurring lights, as in the abstract ‘Sightseeing Tunnel’ series by Jakob Wagner:
The photos will start to depict your mood, along with the various events that are happening in the world at the time. It’s like a journal that you don’t have to share with anyone if you don’t want to but it will continue to help your photography evolve as you’re forced to think of new ideas for the same subject.
By starting this project yourself, you’ll begin to see things in a different light and, rather than just colour, your eyes will become better at recognising different shapes and forms.
Lisa Kokin takes found, unrelated photographs and stitches them together, fabricating a relationship between them; creating an imagined life from the nostalgic shots.
Swinging of the camera while shooting can help to create a sense of movement in a photograph or create spontaneous, unpredictable blurred, generating unexpected abstract photography ideas.
Photograph objects through mottled or translucent screens, like this work by Matthew Tischler:
If you’re looking to start an A-Z project, I would suggest the object one first, perhaps once a week for the first half of the year, and then the action one second. That way, by the end of the year, you have images to match up to each other, and a point of comparison for each. The same project can also be done with numbers.
The idea is that you take a photo every day and submit it to a website, or even just your personal archive so that, by the end of the year, you have something to look back on and see how much you’ve improved. You also get a record of your year.
Create layered handmade collages, like these works by Damien Blottière:
Letter: Firstly, you can simply capture images of letters that you see about. This will open your eyes to the world around you and encourage you to see it in a more photographic way. Object: Instead of seeing a physical letter on a sign, look for objects that represent the same shape as the letter that you’re trying to capture such as an s-shape in a river.
This is slightly more difficult but will have more positive effects as you’re forced to look a little deeper into what you see around you. Action: Rather than looking for a physical letter, look for an action that represents one.
This sounds easier than the other two – all you have to do is think of 26 actions – but it’s really not. Not only do you have to find these naturally occurring actions but they need to be easily recognised by anyone looking at the image too.
Retaking photographs of photographs – similar to the scanning of photographs above – is another technique that is becoming more popular. Retaking photographs is particularly suitable when the nature of the added objects cannot be scanned (as in a wet liquid) or when you wish to use alternative angles and other photography techniques to manipulate the image further.
In these examples by Brest Brest, the raw egg and tomato ketchup provide an unexpected contrast to the formal portraits, creating images that command attention.
Use tilt-shift photography to make real things look miniature, as in this example by Nicolas:
If you don’t want the pressure of taking a photo every day, or you simply don’t have the time, this is a great way to explore your photography skills and track your progress.
Merging images using photography editing software such as Adobe Fireworks or Photoshop and exploring surreal photography ideas can result in exciting and striking images. This beautiful photograph by Katherine Mitchell depicts people in boxes.
Digitally erase parts of objects, as in this A Level Photography work by Leigh Drinkwater:
Use mirrors to create illusions, as in this self-portrait by 18 year old photographer Laura Williams:
Create a composition that tells a narrative or story, like Dan Winters’ photography featuring Brad Pitt:
Damnengine uses photography editing software to combine stunning painted textures with photographic images, creating an exciting graphic illustration. The repetitive element in this portrait and the surrounding paint splatters helps to express movement and energy.
This technique suggests numerous ideas for portrait photography, as well as a development path for students who wish to move towards abstract photography ideas.
Emphasise reflections, rather than the objects themselves, as in the urban landscape photography of Yafiq Yusman:
Think how much your photography would improve if you took photos every day. That’s the basic premise of this project and, I must say, it really does work. I would find myself dedicating time towards finding something new to take a photo of every day and trying to make it interesting.
This A Level Photography work explores themes about the of exploitation of women, using a sculptural installation. Lights behind greaseproof paper windows draw attention to certain parts of the photograph.
Moving beyond an ordinary photography still life, the sculpture becomes a conceptual art form in its own right.
Paint onto objects and then photograph them, as in this IGCSE Photography piece by Rachel Ecclestone:
Overlay tracing paper, obscuring parts of an image, like this photograph by Gemma Schiebe:
Although similar to the above technique, this involves more than applying painterly colours or textures to a work. In the example on the left, part of a digital image has been erased and replaced with a hand painted image.
Many high school photography students have superb painting and drawing skill. Adopting a technique such as this can be a great way to flaunt multiple strengths.
Superimpose two different but related scenes over the top of each other, like in this photograph by Adam Goldberg:
Digitally draw over photographs, as in these portraits by May Xiong:
Abstract an image completely through three mirrors, creating a vortograph, like Alvin Langdon Coburn:
After focusing upon a scene, deliberate shaking of a camera with small, controlled movements (making sure that the shake reduction feature is turned off on a DSLR camera) can result in painterly impressionistic scenes.
It can help to start with slower movements, adjusting the aperture and exposure settings until the desired appearance is achieved.
This image was created using photogravure – a photographic printmaking technique that was used to create some of the first photographs. It uses a treated, light-sensitive gelatin tissue that is exposed to the image and adhered to a copper plate.
After the areas of unexposed gelatine are washed away (leaving different depths of hardened gelatine in darker and lighter areas) ferric chloride is used to etch the image into the copper plate beneath (the ferric chloride soaks in more in the shadowed / darker areas etc), allowing a fully tonal photograph to be produced when printed using a printing press.
In this example, Frank Eugene has scratched away background details with a retouching knife, so the horse remains the dominant element in the composition. The resulting image is a combination of drawing, etching and photography (an unorthodox approach for the time, which was influenced by his experience as a painter).
Photogravure is now a largely discontinued method of printing a photograph (it has been replaced by laser etching machines – see below) however, it inspires a range of contemporary photography ideas, such as scratching the surface of a photograph with a fine point or scratching a negative prior to printing.
Last September, we recorded some video footage of a model using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4. We then reviewed the footage of the model moving and extracted a still image of the perfect moment. See how we did this in our online article. This shoot was recorded in 4K resolution, which gave us an 8-million-pixel still image, but even with 1080p full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel) video, it’s possible to save a still image at just over 2 million pixels. Such low resolution makes this image unsuitable for large-scale printing, but for uploading to the web it should be fine.
Shooting from the hip with your camera is similar to shooting from the hip with a gun; it’s incredibly inaccurate.
‘Frames within frames’ is an age-old compositional strategy that helps to direct vision, create depth and emphasise certain areas of a photograph. In these examples, from Chen Po-I’s series ‘Outlook’, urban growth in Taiwan is framed by windows in nearby derelict, abandoned buildings.
This helps to contextualise the scenes and introduces ideas related to industrial expansion.
High school Photography students are able to experiment with burning or scratching negatives prior to printing or once the photo is printed. In these dramatic photographs, Lucas Simões purposefully targets the faces, leaving a single eye.
As when using any dangerous technique, burning should be attempted with adult/teacher supervision and care.
Whether you want to experiment with some lighting set-ups, shoot some outdoor portraits or you have a specific image in mind, there will be occasions when you might want to think about booking a model, especially if you’ve exhausted the goodwill of family and friends as subjects.
This project by Fabienne Rivory explores interactions between imagination and reality. Selecting photographs that represent a memory, Fabienne digitally overlays a gouache or ink painting, introducing an intense vibrant colour to the work.
Students might like to experiment with this idea by creating a photocopy of a work and applying ink or watercolours directly (watery mediums will not ‘adhere’ to an ordinary photography surface).
Look for strong shapes. Buildings, roads, columns, railings and steps are all perfect examples of this. Once you’ve found a good shot, wait until an interesting person walks past before taking your shot.
If your camera can display grid lines in the viewfinder or on the LCD, make sure you turn them on. This will allow you to compose your shots more precisely and achieve a more balanced composition. Street photography does not rely on there being exceptional light, but do look for shadows and directional light that may add to your composition, and conform with the shapes and structures in the frame.
Don’t be afraid to chop bits out post-capture. Parking meters, traffic cones and manhole covers can be big distractions in a minimalistic scene. Don’t be shy about using software to clone out bits you don’t like.
Try your hand at long-exposure architecture
Use an ink transfer method to print photograph images onto other materials, as in this video by Crystal Hethcote:
These images by Art student Rosanna Jones show a figure lying in a lukewarm bath of powdered milk. This results in beautiful, semi-translucent, ghostly images, with dramatic focal areas and a high-key effect (see above).
Photograph moving subjects to create blurred, painterly forms, as in these examples by Mirjam Appelhof:
This video by Ultimate PhotoGuide shows one method of easily combining multiple exposures:
100+ Creative Photography Ideas: Techniques, Compositions & Mixed Media Approaches
These Jenny Saville photographs show a woman’s body pressed up against glass. Well known for her shocking contemporary paintings, Jenny Saville’s photography is just as captivating – a superb example of creative portrait photography ideas.
The main difference is that you can add a theme to each week, whether you want to take photos of a particular object, in a certain place, or on a different photowalk.
Splash, smear or throw mixed media upon photographs, as in this A Level Photography sketchbook example by Jemma Kelly:
Try photography with one lens for an entire week. Photo by Tom Calton
This image has been created by hanging a cut out photographic figure above a laundry basket. The change in scale results in an inventive, surrealist scene, with the shadow cast by the figure becoming an integral part of the work.
Note: If you are interested in light painting you may also wish to view this high school NCEA Photography project by Jessica Louise. Jessica uses a range of night photography techniques, including using a laser to paint with light.
In recent years, fine-art style architectural photography has risen in popularity and many photographers have embraced the use of long exposures to capture the beauty of architecture. They rely on simple composition and dynamic lighting in order to make the images come to life. Shooting with a tripod and using very dark neutral density filters is the way to achieve these images.
These landscape photographs by contemporary photographer Micah Danges have separate photographic layers and incorporate stylised abstract elements. The simple strategy of cutting pieces out of a photograph and adding layers of different paper can be a great technique for high school photography students.
Flóra Borsi combines photographic elements with painting techniques in these creative portraits. The images depict a model holding a painted transparent sheet, so that the painterly marks semi-obscure her body.
This could be a great approach for students investigating identity, for example.
High-key photography is the result of letting too much light into the camera (having the shutter open for longer than the light conditions would normally require). Although overexposure usually occurs by accident, this can be used as a deliberate stylistic technique.
A high-key photograph is typically taken in a bright location (extreme sunshine or under special photography lighting) with a white background or surroundings. A high-key photo often has a minimal, sleek and/or futuristic appearance: smooth flawless surfaces, pale shadows, few minor details, and light areas ‘blown out’ (whitened).
Cut through photographs to expose other layers of photographs below, as in these images by Lucas Simões:
This photography collage of a chair by David Hockney shows how several viewpoints can be combined within the one photomontage, creating an image that is intriguing and cohesive, despite the distorted perspective.
This approach might be suitable for those looking for still life photography ideas or those who wish to move towards a more fragmented or abstracted photographic image.
There’s no denying that visiting a new location can be incredibly inspirational and it often provides a sometimes much-needed shot of creativity that might otherwise be missing. That said, with demands of family life and other commitments, it’s not always possible to travel around the country to shoot a new spot. Rather than giving up and keeping your camera tucked away in its bag, why not focus on the landscape and locations near you?
This is a great idea for a project because it takes such a long time to master – you can document your improvements as time passes.
Collage photographs and found materials together, creating mixed media art like Jelle Martens:
The new, lower angle can work really well, even if you want to see what you’re doing. Try using live view to compose the shot if you’re struggling to end up with the result you’re looking for.
You simply take a certain theme, such as a colour, an object, or even an idea such as contrast. Spend an entire day only shooting objects that suit that day’s theme.
Overlay multiple photos from slightly different angles, like these experimental photographs by Stephanie Jung:
You may also wish to view our collection of Featured Photography Projects by high school students from around the world.
Digitally superimpose photographs onto other products, as in these watches by John Rankin Waddell:
Move the camera horizontally, so a moving subject is in focus but the background is blurred, as in the panning photography of Mr Bones (via My Modern Met):
Sew or embroider photos, as in the stitched vintage photography of Maurizio Anzeri:
These images are created by layering a similar photograph on top of another and then cutting precise holes into the top layer to expose the images below. This is repeated many times, creating a semi-abstract final work that is composed of fragmented and disassembled forms.
The forms can be neatly cut using a craft knife or – as in the case of Lucas Simões’ latest work – a laser cutter.
Take close-up, tightly cropped scenes, creating abstract photography from surfaces and pattern, like these works by Frank Hallam Day:
A great example is setting yourself the task of choosing one lens from your kit bag and sticking to it for the entire weekend. Selecting a prime lens for this project would be best, as it will constrain you to a single focal length. We’d recommend using either a 50mm for full-frame users, or 35mm for APS-C DSLRs, as these generally provide a happy medium between wide and tele. Ultimately, though, it’s your choice, so select a lens that will force you to rethink your compositions.
Matthew Tischler takes photographs through window screens, netting and scrims, using these to dissect, pixelate and filter his images. This removes the fine detail from his work and creates ‘faceless characters whose identities are defined by their surroundings’.
This is very similar to light graffiti, the main difference being that, with graffiti, you’re using the light source as the subject, to create cool shapes in the air, rather than using it to paint light onto a dark scene. It’s actually a lot of fun to try and you could even combine this project with others, such as the A-Z.
This image was created by zooming the lens in and out at a slow pace, in a relatively low-light setting, with a slow shutter speed (low-lit situations help to avoid over exposure). The model stood still and the camera was on a tripod (the aim is to minimise any movement aside from the zoom of the lens).
This photography technique creates a sense of movement and creates a dramatic focal point. It usually takes practise and experimentation to achieve the desired effect. Those without a zoom function on their camera can attempt to manually move their camera towards or away from a scene, however this can makes things challenging, as it introduces movement and camera shake.
This video shows a simple image transfer technique using gel medium, which could be useful for applying a digital image to any number of creative surfaces.
Although it’s tempting, don’t just stick to shooting letters on street signs. Try to be a little more creative in your approach and look for shapes in your surrounds that could make up the letters – like the bicycle wheel ‘O’ in our shot.
In order to capture the most detail in your letters and to crop out any other distractions, you may have to shoot close-up, which will require a lens that has a relatively good minimum focusing distance.
You don’t have to spell your first name using this technique. If you fancy doing something a little different, why not try spelling out the name of your home town, or even your family’s last name instead? Once you’ve constructed your final montage, why not see about getting it printed via a professional printing service? The resulting image would make an eye-catching piece of art when placed on the wall in your home.
Take a Still from a Video
Digitally combine paintings with photos, as in these examples by Dennis Sibeijn and Iwona Drozda-Sibeijn of Damnengine:
Take photos everyday only with this project, the subject is already decided upon: yourself.
Carrying your camera everywhere can become a bit of a drag and, often, the quality of the photo isn’t necessarily related to the quality of the camera you’re using – it can rely on the image itself.
The subject matter of this dramatic photograph is not immediately clear. At a first glance, it could be a swirling sheet in air, sand dunes at sunset or thick layers of impasto paint smeared across a canvas.
In fact, Peter Lik is a renowned landscape photographer and this work is from his Hidden Canyon’s series – photographs of America’s beautiful canyon landscapes. Rather than seeking to distort or manipulate a scene, students looking for abstract photography ideas may wish to take this approach: zoom in until all contextual information is missing from a shot, capturing a beautiful fragment of the world that no one else has seen.
Bill Armstrong sets his camera’s focus ring at infinity and takes purposefully unfocused photographs. He makes collages – photocopying, cutting and painting over images – and then retakes these as blurred photographs, so that the resulting scene appears to be a photograph of reality.
Exact identities and objects remain mysterious. This photographic technique allows the emphasis to be placed upon light, tone and colour, resulting in intriguing, suggestive images.
Third year Art student Serena Malyon achieved some draw-dropping results when applying the tilt-shift technique to famous van Gogh paintings using Photoshop. Flat, two-dimensional images took on the illusion of three-dimensional scenes, casting the viewer suddenly back in time.
This tilt-shift approach may be more suitable for high school students who specialise in Painting, but there may be ways in which digital distortion of painted scenes can form an integral part of a senior Photography project.
Whereas the above example depicts a physical arrangement of subject matter, this photograph shows how digital manipulation can be used to create a powerful and moving image.
Documentary photography – or reportage photography, as it is sometimes known – involves candid photographs of unstaged, unmanipulated scenes (usually involving people) such as might be taken by a photo journalist.
Emphasis is often upon movement, expressions and emotions of the subjects, with images left in a mainly raw, unprocessed state. Looking around for opportunities in your local environment can be all that is needed for students to find documentary photography project ideas, however it is worth remembering that capturing well-balanced innovative compositions in an unfolding situation takes practise and skill.
Takashi Kitajima stands on high-rise buildings and photographs Tokyo city at night, capturing radiant semi-abstract urban landscapes. This composition contains a single focused area, surrounded by circular, glowing ‘bokeh’ – shimmering orbs that appear when a camera lens attempts to record unfocused points of light.
Bokeh is created in different ways by different lenses – typically appearing unintentionally in the background of a scene. In this image, Kitajima has used a narrow depth of field (so the area in focus is very small).
In addition to being an exciting part of outdoor night photography, bokeh can occur in dimly lit interiors, such as when photographing sequinned fabric, glitter sparkle or Christmas lights etc.
Joseph Parra has cut and folded three identical prints with meticulous precision, creating transfixing, distorted portraits. Entitled ‘Oneself’, this work references the ‘fractured, multiple, and twisted ways we often view ourselves’.
Many students search endlessly for still life photography ideas: this is a reminder that sometimes the photograph itself can become the still life.
These photographs are from Fong Qi Wei’s ‘Time is a Dimension’ series, and show digital slices of photographs taken over several hours at one location. The shots above show a seaside in sunrise, with the images organised together in a way that shows the changing light conditions.
Shake or jiggle the camera to create an impressionist effect, like these examples by Gerald Sanders (via Apogee Photo Magazine):
With the obvious exception of dedicated macro lenses, most optics don’t feature a close focusing distance. However, with the addition of an extension tube it is possible to make the minimum focusing distance a lot closer. There are a variety of different adapters on offer, typically ranging from 8-35mm in length. The longer the extension, the closer the focusing distance becomes. As these extension tubes do not feature any optical elements, they are relatively inexpensive, although those that feature autofocusing can cost significantly more.
Stain, smudge and erode photographs using water, like Matthew Brandt:
Identity photography ideas: these photographs were created by distorting and inverting crowd scenes through circular lenses. The frame of the lens becomes a dominant compositional element, containing blurred and abstracted figures that are reduced to smears of unidentifiable colour.
Rip and layer photographs, as in this example by Mark Jacob Bulford:
Many students assume that tweaking of the colour or light in a photograph takes place digitally, after the image is taken. Although digital editing tools are great, there are many benefits to starting with a higher quality image.
Camera lens filters – optical filters which typically screw or clip to the camera lens â€“ can help with this. The lens filter shown (above left) is a neutral density filter, which reduces the amount of light that enters the camera.
This allows long exposure shots in brightly lit scenes, such as in Salim Al-Harthy’s beautiful seascape photography, to occur without becoming over exposed. Other filters affect the brightness or hue of a colour, reduce reflections, distort or diffuse a scene.
Camera filters can be added and used in combination as needed.
In certain situations, part of a normal photograph may appear too dark or too light. For example, when photographing a figure before a brightly lit window, the portrait and interior may appear as a dark silhouette – or the window scene may appear bright white.
What is HDR photography? HDR is a way of solving this, by combining two or three photographs of the same scene taken at different exposures, so that all areas of the photograph have the right ‘dynamic range’ or brightness.
As is demonstrated in this stunning photograph of an aeroplane flight deck by airline captain Karim Nafatni, even shadows and very bright areas in HDR photography are perfectly exposed and full of detail.
This results in a captivating, almost illustrative effect. Wondering how to do HDR photography? Shots taken at different exposures can be combined using HDR photography software; the HDR mode in-camera or the HDR Camera setting on some smartphones (see the list below).
In-camera modes do all the work for you and simply spit out the final image. HDR Photography tips: avoid movement (of both the subject and your camera) for the duration of the shots (use a tripod!); avoid this technique if you desire strong contrasts between dark and light areas; and do not use when a scene that is already vivid and well exposed.
Digitally create patterns, as in this artwork by Misha Gordin:
Many high school photography classes have a set of lighting equipment, tripods and backdrops which can be shared among students and used for demonstration purposes. Although expensive lighting is not necessary to create a great shot (indeed, daylight is all that is needed in many cases), experimenting with photography lighting techniques can be helpful, especially in staged, indoor shots.
Lighting is particularly important in black and white photography, where the removal of colour means greater emphasis upon light and shadow. In this portrait, backlighting creates a dramatic highlight around the contour of the face, emphasising the similarities and differences between the older and younger brother.
Combine objects in unexpected ways, to create something new, as in Carl Warner’s foodscapes:
Gerhard Richter has painted over 500 of his own photographs (with many more works discarded): commercially printed images that are overpainted with spontaneous gestural smears, using leftover oil paint applied with palette knives, squeegees or doctors’ blades.
In the examples above, the thick painted lines divide the composition and inject colour into what is otherwise a rather drab interior scene. The paint disturbs the viewer – shatters the illusion that we are quietly observing a scene – pulling our attention to the tactile surface and smear of texture in front of our eyes.
Whereas the previous photomontage montages involve precise trimming and arrangement of forms, this collage has an informal aesthetic, with visible pieces of masking tape holding it together. This can be a great method for shifting and moving pieces until the work is well balanced and cohesive.
Iosif Kiraly’s work explores the relationship between perception, time and memory.
You could simply use your computer to document yourself everyday for the next year but it’s much more interesting when you try to break free from your computer and come up with something different.
Most transportable reflectors for photography are inexpensive, lightweight and easy to carry. They come in a range of sizes and colours and are usually made from reflective fabric, held taut by a wire ring (although you can make your own silver version using tinfoil taped onto a cardboard sheet or use reflective insulation board from a hardware store).
The primary function of a photography reflector is to lighten a subject naturally, eliminate harsh shadows and/or add a sparkle to the eyes by directing, absorbing or diffusing light. Different coloured reflectors can also be used to change the mood of an image, such as a gold reflector for warmth and silver for increasing highlights.
Black and translucent ‘reflectors’ are not technically reflectors at all – and instead absorb, scatter or diffuse light. In the example above, Toni Li demonstrates how a natural backlit portrait can be improved dramatically by reflecting light back onto the subject’s face.
Tilt-shift photography is a technique that makes real objects appear small, as if they were part of a miniature scale model. This is achieved through blurring and distortion – either with special camera lenses (such as the Nikon or Canon tilt shift lens); lens adaptors (such as the Hasselblad Tilt Shift adapter) which convert traditional lenses to tilt shift lenses; digital manipulation after the image is taken; or using a free smartphone app or Photoshop.
There are also websites that convert images to tilt-shift photos, such as http://tiltshiftmaker.com. A quick tilt-shift photography tutorial: start with a high quality, well-lit, in-focus photograph; take the photo from above and to the side (as if looking down upon a scale model); choose a relatively simple scene; and make sure people are small (realistic people don’t appear in models).
Remember that exciting techniques such as this are fun and tempting to use to excess: integrate only those which are beneficial and relevant to your high school Photography project.
The obvious place to start is with a panning shot. Experiment with shutter speeds and, to help, ask someone to drive the car past you relatively slowly. Also, set yourself as far back from the road as possible.
For static shots, get down low to add drama and use a telephoto lens to compress perspective. Think about the angle and try to get a pleasing and balanced front three-quarter shot, maybe tilting the camera a little.
Dedicated boom arms allow you to attach a camera to the car, so you can capture (triggering the camera remotely) close-up shots while the car’s moving. Even 5mph is enough – the arm can be removed in Photoshop.
Don’t just think about shooting the whole car, either. Look to pick out those little details on the body as well as the interior. A 50mm fast prime lens on a full-frame body is perfect for isolating these elements of the car.
Visit a wildlife centre
The last time you lugged around a big, heavy camera and took lots of photos?
Try these photography project ideas to help inspire you, and possibly improve your photography skills at the same time.
Your knowledge of depth of field and aperture will also greatly improve because the results are much more extreme at the widest apertures. If there was anything that you weren’t sure about, you’ll soon know all about it with this project.
Zoom in while shooting with a slow shutter speed, like A Level Photography student Freya Dumasia:
Panning is often one of the first ‘tricks’ that Photography students are introduced to. Using a slower shutter speed, the camera follows the motion of a moving object, ensuring that the panning movement is as smooth and steady as possible (sometimes this can be achieved by rotating the camera atop a tripod).
This results in the background appearing blurred, with the moving object sharp, as in the example of a cat chasing a mouse above.
A fast shutter speed gives us the option to capture action that might not normally be visible with the naked eye. Although many students fall for the trap of recording cliche high speed movement, such as splashing water, shattering wine glasses or racing cars, there are many ways in which high speed / action photography can be integrated within a high school Photography project.
This shot by Justin Grant provides a great example. The emphasis is not just upon capturing the athletic movement of the human body, but upon composing a polished and well-balanced piece of art.
Photograph things through transparent sheets, as in these works by Flóra Borsi:
For best results, be clear in what you want to achieve from a shoot with a model. Photo by Phil Hall
After taking initial photographs, Damien Blottière cuts, layers and pastes these, extending the lines and curved organic forms of the human body – the bones, muscles, face, features and limbs – as well as the designer garments that clothe them, creating fantasy/futuristic images.
The cuts become the act of drawing, with shadows between the layers adding depth.
Combine multiple exposures to create the illusion of repeated objects, like these creative compositions by Lera:
Street photography is more popular than ever before, with many photographers shooting their own specific style of street imagery. Much of the work of many famous street photographers relies upon a certain technique or subject matter to define their style, from capturing a definitive moment in a street scene to a very specific type of lighting.
Photography students sometimes get caught up in ‘finding’ a perfect scene, environment or moment to photograph and forget that they have direct compositional control. Objects or scenes can be deliberately arranged and composed, creating meaningful installations or repeating patterns.
A reminder of the price of progress, Jim Golden purchases obsolete technology at yard sales and thrift stores and arranged these into dramatic patterns. Placing hundreds of near identical objects next to each other forces viewers to notice and observe tiny differences.
I personally recommend starting with colour as it can be so powerful, yet challenging at the same time.
This IGCSE Photography portrait submission incorporates imaginative face painting with dramatic lighting and well-composed images. This approach is growing in popularity amongst contemporary online photographers and provides students with another avenue for expressing a wide range of artistic skill.
Poke or cut holes in photos and shine light through, like Amy Friend:
Shooting this scene on video at 1080p full HD enabled this still to be extracted. Phot by Callum McInereny-Riley
Use a tilt-shift effect to make paintings or drawings appear real, as in these photographs of Vincent van Gogh artworks by Serena Malyon:
Photographing a scene through holes holds exciting promise for students. In these examples, Reina Takahashi creates an intricate paper cut and then photographs a room interior behind this. This fragments and abstracts the image, and casts beautiful shadows.
Kite aerial photography (KAP) is a technique for only the particularly dedicated and experimental Photography student. It involves lifting a camera via a kite using a purpose-built or DIY rig, with the shutter triggered remotely or automatically.
Although one of the more complex (and potentially risky) photography techniques listed here, it can allow exciting experimentation with camera angles and height, creating beautiful images like the one by Pierre Lesage above, which would never otherwise be able to be achieved.
With fast shutter speeds, motion blur can often be avoided. Students who are inexperienced using kite aerial photography are best to trial this using an inexpensive camera!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography’s Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading… CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It’s my training video that will walk you how to use your camera’s functions in just 10 minutes – for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects: Beginner – Intermediate Photography eBook Beginner – Intermediate Photography Video Course Landscape Photography eBook Landscape Photography Video Course Photography Blogging (Service) You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!
If you live in a big city, then the beauy is that your potential subjects are all around you. Photo by Callum McInerney-Riley
Students often become adept at using digital software to erase or enhance parts of scenes, forgetting that objects themselves can be used to construct entirely new scenes. In this case, a landscape has been physically crafted from food, with vegetables superglued and pinned in position upon a tabletop in Carl Warner’s studio: celery stem trees; mushrooms for rocks etc.
A series of different photographs are taken of the miniature landscape, using a combination of tungsten and flash lighting equipment to simulate daylight. These images are then assembled digitally, post production.
Visual artist Timothy Pakron uses experimental darkroom techniques to create ‘silver drip portraits’ of his close friends and family, including his mother and twin sister. Rather than immersing the paper entirely, Pakron hand-paints developer solution onto the photo paper, revealing key elements of the face, such as eyes, nose and mouth, communicating emotion via a few selected features.
The dripping chemical solution creates a stream of drips across the image, revealing further details of the face in unexpected and unpredictable ways. The drips suggest tears, exhaustion and despair: the feeling of being submerged in a storm.
This aptly communicates the struggle of separation and loss in his family, which are specifically represented in the portraits of his twin sister and mother.
In these digitally manipulated works by Maykel Lima, lines of pixels have been stretched to the edge of the image – a promising approach for those who wish to create abstract or partially abstract photographs.
This is a relatively simple process using image manipulation software, yet it requires careful selecting and balancing of space, form, line and colour.
With all colour stripped away, you’re going to have to rely on elements such as texture, tone and shape to draw the viewer’s eye into your shot and make it appear visually interesting. Keep an eye out for unusual shapes and patterns.
When shooting black & white, the colour noise that’s generated when using higher ISOs ceases to be a problem. Instead, it creates a colourless ‘grain’, which can be used to add a gritty, film-like appearance to your shots.
Did you know that on some cameras you can adjust the amount of contrast added to your JPEG images via the camera settings menu? This is a great way to add some punch to your images if they’re looking a little flat.
It’s a good idea to set your camera to shoot in raw + JPEG mode. In that way, the black & white effect will only be applied to the JPEG image, leaving the raw image as a full-colour backup should you dislike the mono version.
Shoot minimalist street photography
Photograph things pressed against transparent surfaces, as in these photograph details by Jenny Saville:
Some objects will make an interesting image on their own, while others can be grouped together as a study in composition. Any camera will be suitable, although you might want to consider using a prime lens. Also, a tripod is vital. While there’s nothing wrong with using flash, soft and diffused window light can produce some lovely effects.
Collage mixed media materials onto images, as in Vasilisa Forbes’ photography:
For some of us, it’s yesterday but there will be plenty of people for whom it was weeks ago.
I got into light painting because I found that I was so busy that the only time I had left available to take photos was at night. This meant that I did a lot of night photography, naturally leading on to light painting.
If you have only new tools hanging up in your shed, see what relatives and friends might have tucked away. Alternatively, visit a reclamation yard or car-boot sale to find some well-used and loved tools.
Take three tools, and instead of shooting them together, shoot them all identically. Then, in Photoshop, create a new document and position the images side-by-side to create an understated triptych. Choose a background that complements your main subject.
Look downwards and you might find that your shed floor provides the perfect solution. Pieces of old wood can also make a lovely backdrop. If you’ve converted your image to mono, experiment with split-toning.
Light tones work well with highlights, with darker tones for shadows. The technique is simple to carry out in Camera Raw or Lightroom.
Use a CNC or Laser Engraving Machine to etch a photographic image onto glass, wood, aluminium or another similar material:
Finally, forget all fancy techniques. Open your eyes. Produce an unflinching record of what you see, as in this example by Gianfranco Meloni:
Textured layers can be digitally added to part or all of a photograph to impart the illusion of texture. There is a huge range of possible textures that are suitable for photographic overlays; the opportunities are endless.
Students should find and photograph these themselves – for example, decaying timber surfaces, peeling paint or stained concrete. Ideally a student’s theme or topic should inspire a suitable textural surface to explore.
Think about the light. Shooting at midday (especially if it’s bright) can cause unwanted shadows and contrast in the shot, so try to get there early or wait until the end of the day. Failing that, an overcast day is good.
If some animals aren’t that active or are too far away to photograph, there will often be a couple of opportunities to get shots at feeding time or when keepers are giving a talk. Think about your positioning.
Try to get down to eye-level with the animal for a more pleasing frame, but pay attention to your background to avoid any unwanted and distracting elements ruining your shot. As you’ll have pretty good access to the animals, ultra-long telephotos aren’t necessary.
A lens such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 or 70-300mm will do the job, allowing you to fill the frame with your subject. Keep it local
To ensure everything is lined up in the frame, use your camera’s grid overlay. Photo by Phil Hall
Black and white is nothing new when it comes to art; it’s been going on since the beginning of time. Art photography is similar in that it started out as black and white due to technical limitations, way before the dawn of colour film.
Inset scenes within other scenes, as in these photographs by Richard Koenig:
Looking for inspiration or a new challenge with your photography? Try one of our photography project ideas to get you started. Each task should be manageable within a weekend, or can be expanded into as large a project as you like.
Project images onto textured surfaces and rephotograph them, as in these experimental images by Pete Ashton:
This is an exercise in both your skill and imagination as a photographer.
Fold a photograph and make a installation, still life or sculpture, as in this example by Joseph Parra:
Paint developer sporadically onto photo paper to expose only parts of the work, as in these portraits by Timothy Pakron:
Combine paint and photographs digitally, like Fabienne Rivory‘s LaBokoff project:
If you want to dip your toe in the world of wildlife photography, a visit to a wildlife centre offers a great opportunity to get close to a host of our native species. So, whether you want to see foxes, red squirrels, little owls or otters, you’re likely to find them at venues like the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey.
Mark or scratch negatives or photos, as in this 100 year old vintage print by Frank Eugene:
People are always making excuses for why they can’t take a certain type of photo and it usually comes down to the gear they’re using. When you eliminate this excuse and just focus on taking great photos, you’ll find that the photos come out a lot better than you expected.
Create 360 degree 3D panoramic photography, as in this image by Nemo Nikt:
These ethereal photographs of frozen water drops on plants are at such an extreme scale that they seem to be of a miniature, undiscovered worlds. Students looking for macro photography ideas often do not have to look far.
At an extreme close-up, a whole other realm of detail and possibility emerges.
Richard Koenig hangs a print and rephotographs this in its new location, creating intriguing illusions of space within space. Perspective lines within the two images are aligned to create optical confusion, so the viewer is disconcerted and unsure about the separation of the two spaces.
His work often features intimate, private moments inset within generic, impersonal, public environment.
When I had a great idea, or found something really interesting, the results were great but I found that I was so busy with other things that a lot of my photos weren’t that interesting. If you have the stamina to keep it up for the whole year, this is definitely the project for you.
Cut and Overlap a sequence of photos to create a sense of movement, as in this A Level Photography project by Harriet James-Weed:
Scanography is the art of recording a subject using a flatbed scanner. It is created in the same way that Xerox art is created using a photocopier, however scanners typically have the ability to create larger, higher quality digital files, as opposed to an immediate black and white print.
Scanography artists arrange objects upon the scanner screen (sometimes covering these with a layer of paper or draped fabric) and create a ‘scanogram’; or capture movement in exciting ways, such as Evilsabeth Schmitz-Garcia’s ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ portraits above, which have been distorted and stretched as the scanner arm moves across the screen.
Scanners can also be used to take scans of objects place upon existing photographs, as per the example below.
This work by Fine Art student Gemma Schiebe emphasises our loneliness within cities and explores the idea that people often move around a busy urban space without any connection or interaction with those around them.
The central figure has been cut out of the tracing paper, so that the surrounding scene is washed out and obscured.
In Joseph Parra’s ‘Braided’ series, portraits are sliced into strips and plaited, obscuring the faces. Manipulating the paper that photography is printed upon holds exciting potential for students.
This series of contemporary photographs, entitled ‘You were there we were all there’, have precise, analytical strips of coloured paper collaged onto black and white photographs, removing the human presence from an image.
Her work explores popular culture and the ‘conditions of living in a commercial system’.
Even though the majority of photography is done automatically on digital cameras, black and white still lives on today. The beauty of black and white photography is that it focuses on visual elements such as tone, texture and shape.
There are many opportunities for students to explore reflections within their work â€“ such as those that occur upon metal, glass or water. Yafiq Yusman has created a great series of bustling Singaporean landscapes photographs showing scenes from his home town reflected in puddles.
It may not be possible to set up a tripod in a public building, so be prepared to handhold your shot and increase your ISO. Don’t be afraid to lie on the floor, as trying to lean backwards and shoot can be uncomfortable.
Use your camera’s grid overlay to ensure that everything is symmetrical and lined-up straight in the frame, otherwise the effect won’t be as good as it could be. You may need to shuffle on the spot to do this.
To avoid the loss of too much detail in the highlights, it’s worth underexposing the shot a little. Then play with the Shadow slider when converting the raw file to lift detail in the shadows and balance the exposure.
You’ll want a nice wideangle lens to really achieve a striking look. When converting the file, use the Lens Correction tool to avoid any distortions that may occur when shooting at a wide focal length.
The mouth of this A Level Photography portrait has been digitally removed using photography editing software. Rather than erasing the image entirely, a ‘rubber stamp tool’ or the equivalent can be used to duplicate a surface.
In this case, facial skin has been imitated, concealing the mouth.
This image was created in response to the topic ‘Concealment’. A strip of folded tape was placed upon a blurred photograph and then scanned to create a subsequent digital image. This creates the illusion of a piece of tape floating in midair, in front of a ghost-like figure.
Create 3D photography collages, as in these works by Midori Harima: