Photography Ideas

Part 2

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Part 2 of this two part series will present six more photography ideas that can be used as the basis for photography projects.


Figure 1: Balance
Photography Ideas: Balance

Often, photographers seek to create images that are balanced. In this sense, a balanced image is one that is harmonious. It tends to create a comfortable feeling. Now, there are many ways to create balance in an image. Three ways that we will look at are composition, color, and tonal contrast.

Composition: For balanced images, the goal is to create images where the images do not have any unusual, visual weights. In other words, no one part of an image feels visually heavier than any other part.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One way is to create symmetrical images. These images look similar on the left and right sides (or on the top and bottom). Since the sides are so similar, they have equal visual weights.

Another way is to follow a rule of composition such as the rule of thirds. Such composition rules tend to create balanced images. In this case, the images are not necessarily symmetrical. However, there is a nonsymmetrical balance. While this is not an easy term to define, perhaps the best way to think of it is that the image has a comfortable feel to it -- no one part of the image feels visually heavy.

Color: In a balanced image, the colors are harmonious. In other words, they do not clash. Colors that contrast strongly are to be avoided.

Tonal Contrast: In a balanced image, the contrast must be managed. That is not to say that there will not be any high contrast areas. There very well may be, but the high contrast areas will be deliberately placed to draw attention to the center of interest. Other high contrast areas will be avoided.

Photography Project: This assignment requires you to use composition, color, and tonal contrast to create a portfolio of balanced images.


Figure 2: Tension
Photography Ideas: Tension
It is not always desirable to create harmonious images. In fact, it is sometimes desired to deliberately create tension in an image. There are many ways that tension can be created. Three of the most popular are: curves, tonal contrast, and unequal visual weight.

Curves: One of the most effective ways to create tension is through the use of curves. Curves create tension by causing the viewer's attention to constantly jump from one part of an image to another -- never resting at any one point in an image. One way that curves can achieve this end is to have two or more diagonal curves that point in different directions. The viewer's eyes will first follow one diagonal, then, the other. Another way to create tension with curves is to use multiple, jagged curves that run in many different directions. When done properly, this can create not only a visual tension but also an uncomfortable mood that adds to the tension.

Tonal Contrast: Harsh tonal contrast can add to the sense of tension. This is particularly true if there is more than one area of high contrast in an image. The viewer's eyes jump from one area of high contrast to another. This, again, creates constant eye movement -- which generates tension.

Visual Weight: Deliberately creating an image that is visually unbalanced also creates tension. In this case, one part of an image seems heavier that the rest of the image. The viewer's eyes roam around trying to find balance, but they never find it.

Photography Project: Your goal in this project is to use curves, tonal contrast, and visual weight to create a portfolio of images that exhibit a sense of tension.


Figure 3: Framing
Photography Ideas: Framing

Placing a frame around the center of interest of an image can be a very effective way of improving an image. The frame serves to help define the center of interest, add depth to an image, and lead the viewer's eye.

Define: When used properly, the frame provides details that help to define the center of interest. Essentially, the frame puts the center of interest into context by showing some of the environment in which the center of interest exists.

Depth: The frame provides a foreground that adds depth to an image.

Lead: The frame also serves to lead the viewer's eye to the center of interest. The frame essentially focuses the attention.


Photography Project: Capture a number of images using frames.

Color in Black and White

Figure 4: Color in Black and White
Photography Ideas: Color in Black & White

This technique involves creating an image where the center of interest is in color. Everything else is in black and white. The goal of this technique is to focus the attention on the center of interest.

This technique is done in an image editing program such as Photoshop. There are a number of ways that the technique can be carried out. One way that works well is as follows.

1. Open the image in the image editing program. The original image will be placed on the Background layer.

2. Create a second layer above the Background layer. Fill this layer with neutral gray. Name this the Gray layer.

3. Create a selection that selects everything except the center of interest. Use this selection to create a mask on the Gray layer that hides the center of interest.

4. Set the Blend mode of the Gray layer to Saturation.

Photography Project: The goal of this project is to create a group of images where the center of interest is in color while everything else is in black and white. One nice thing about this project is that you do not need to go take any new images. You can use images that are already in your collection.


Figure 5: Chiarscuro

Chiaroscuro is a style of image that is specifically designed to create a dramatic modeling of a subject through the combination of high contrast and low key.

High Contrast: The light is positioned such that only certain parts of the subject are illuminated. The rest of the image falls quickly into shadow. Specifically, the center of interest is illuminated; the rest of the image is not. This does four things. First, it draws attention to the center of interest. Second, it removes any distracting detail from the rest of the image. Third, it tends to create a feeling of depth in an image. Fourth, it creates a very dramatic image because of the high tonal contrast.

Low Key: Low key means that the majority of the image is composed of dark tones. With chiaroscuro, since only the center of interest is well lit, most of the image is composed of dark tones. The low key nature of chiaroscuro tends to create a moody image.

Mood: From the two paragraphs above, it can be seen that the chiaroscuro technique is generally used to create dramatic, moody images.

Lighting: Two types of lighting can be used to create chiaroscuro images: natural light and flash. Creating chiaroscuro images outdoors, with natural light, can be a bit challenging. The most common way to do this is to shoot on a cloudy day and hope for a break in the clouds that allows a shaft of light through that illuminates your subject. When shooting chiaroscuro indoors, the light from a single window can be used to light a subject.

Shooting chiaroscuro with flash is much easier. Barn doors (or other objects that can be used to block or focus the light) can be used.

Photography Project: For this project, you will seek to create chiaroscuro images. This project will require you to pay close attention to the light and how it falls on the objects you are photographing.


Figure 6: Reflections
Photography Ideas: Reflections

Reflections provide a great opportunity for creating images. Most reflection shots will be from either glass or water.

Glass: Reflections on glass will be found mostly in buildings. So, these types of shots will be located primarily in cities or suburban areas. Focusing can become an issue with reflections on glass. The issue is whether the image is all about the reflection or about a subject that can be seen through the window with the reflection simply superimposed over the subject. Thus, special care must be taken to ensure that the camera is focusing on the proper object.

Water: Photographing water reflections is a lot of fun. These types of opportunities often result in abstract images with the reflection providing a rather distorted interpretation of the objects that surround the body of water.

In order to create water reflections, a body of water that is not too disturbed will need to be located (if the water surface is too disturbed, the reflected objects will not be recognizable). Next, the body of water will need to be surrounded by one or more objects that reflect in the water. Objects that are brightly colored often work well. For example, flowers along a slow moving stream can produce colorful reflections.

The shutter speed must be carefully chosen as it determines how the reflection will appear in the image. Longer shutter speeds will produce more accurate reflections (i.e., they look a lot like the original objects) because they smooth out the disturbances in the water. Shorter shutter speeds create more abstract reflections as the disturbances in the water are frozen in place.

Photography Project: Reflections are the goal of this project. Try creating reflection images with both glass and water.


Hopefully, you now have some ideas for a great photography project or two. You may have even come up with some other ideas. The important point is to grab you camera and head out to capture your new images.


Photography Ideas -- Part 1