5 Intentional Ways to Improve Your Skills With a Personal Project
5 Intentional Ways to Improve Your Skills With a Personal Project

Last fall, we moved to a little home on 5 acres to begin our dream of building our small farm. When we were closing on the house, I knew a personal project was going to happen. So I began Yellow Brick Farm, which is an ode to where we live. This project enables me to step away from work, experiment with photography and get back to basics to create photos of our life that are visually interesting. I’m also documenting our memories for us to remember years from now when our dream is a reality. Here a few key skills I work on when photographing my project.

This is a great read if you're starting a personal project. I'm going to give these a try! Read - "5 Intentional Ways to Improve Your Skills With a Personal Project"

Read more: Power of Personal Photography Projects

  • No.
    Try Different Lighting Techniques

    I’m a notorious backlight shooter. I love the soft tones it creates and if I could choose one type of light for the rest of my life, that would be it. But life doesn’t always present itself with that lighting on a daily basis. So I try to push myself out of my comfort zone.

    When I have a chance, I try to experiment with different light. Two types of light I’ve been experimenting with since moving to our new property is full sun and dramatic lighting. Our property has full sun all day long, so learning to shoot in that lighting situation is essential for me to capture our every day. Also, our current house has smaller windows, which, combined with the full sun, create challenging shadows.

    As a hazy backlight lover, this was a real struggle. Being forced to work with these lighting conditions has helped me become more creative in all areas in lighting, including including my favorite backlight. Learning to look at light differently can really help improve how you approach how you photograph your life.

  • No.

    I tend to always fall into a rut with composition. I get so focused on photographing the moment that I forget to be creative. While sometimes the moment is more important, there are times when my subject is cooperating and I have more time to photograph them more intentionally.

    Using rule of thirds, framing or filling your frame with the subject is a few compositions techniques to use while composing your photo. Below I searched for leading lines within the frame and creating negative space to make these photos more visually interesting.

  • No.
    Depth of Field

    I love playing with depth of field. I feel this can massively improve your photos and help tell your story. Deciding how much of the frame is in focus can be really fun in creating your photograph. I have been known to take two shots, one wide open and one closed down a bit.

    I tend to default to wide open images that create beautiful bokeh, but I’m noticing more with my project that sometimes a closed down aperture is more fitting for that particular moment. For example, my first instinct with the image below was to get up close and really focus in on what these my kids were were doing in the shop. But then I swapped for a wide-angle lens and stopped down to include more in my frame to show my kids in their environment.

    Not only are they working on a wood project; they are surrounded by a larger wood working project still in the making.

  • No.
    Changing Lens

    Another rut I get stuck in is sticking to one lens, usually my Sigma 35mm 1.4. However, we had a deep freeze this winter, and I decided to pull it out and began photographing the frozen water and various plants.

    Photographing these small things inspired me to use something other than my 35 to document my kids playing in the snow and ice. If I hadn’t pulled out a different lens in the first place, I might never have been motivated to create this series of my kids! And it all started with putting on a different lens.

  • No.
    Creating a Series

    Speaking of creating a series, it can really develop your artist vision and stir your creativity. Challenge yourself to photograph the same scene or subject in as many different ways as possible to see how many times you can create something different.

    You can use all the skills listed above in your series – different lighting scenarios, compositional elements, lenses, and depth of field. The first series I started working on is of our road. It is three quarters of a mile long and we love to walk down it. I not only photograph the different things we do along our road, like puddle jumping, sledding, etc. but I also have a seasonal series I plan on completely this year.

    I have two shots already from Fall and Winter of our kids walking down our road. I hope to display this series in our house when completed showing what it looks like year round around here.

  • Laurie
    March 22, 2017 at 9:43 PM

    Long time no see!!!! I love the pics at your new farm!!!!

  • Renee Wright
    April 25, 2017 at 12:27 PM

    Thanks for these wonderful way to improve! I’ve been working on 2 personal projects this year. A 365 project and a 52 week “get in the frame” project. Some weeks are better than others but I can see a lot of improvement in myself already. Thanks!

  • Laura
    April 25, 2017 at 12:44 PM

    Love this post! Very inspirational. Im actually having trouble with my lens, time to get it cleaned/checked out so I can start a personal project myself!!! I am a natural light photographer as well, and it’s so good to feel new energy!!! All the best to you in your dream home!!!

  • Allison LeMay
    April 25, 2017 at 3:20 PM

    Great post! You mentioned you switched up your lens from your usual 35MM. What did you use for the switch?

  • Brian Cazares
    April 25, 2017 at 5:56 PM

    Inspirational, especially when as you said earlier you get caught up in taking the photograph and not the creative aspect of what you are photographing. I fall into the rut as I photograph my grandchildren.

  • Whitswildtribe
    May 3, 2018 at 10:47 AM

    Love this article! ❤️ Thank you for the info! I’ve thought about doing a series and some projects but it definitely takes a little focus and a lot of determination! Love your photos!

  • Tracy
    May 3, 2018 at 12:17 PM

    I enjoyed the post and the photos are great! Would you mind sharing your camera settings for the close up of your kiddo in the winter hat? Also, did you use an off camera flash, or was that all natural lighting? Thanks in advance!!

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