Why and How to Choose a Photography Project Theme

One of my favourite things to see other photographers doing is a photography project, as opposed to just publishing a stream of individual images on their Instagram.

I did one myself, by the way. It started as a 365 project but morphed into something slightly different.

If you want to start a photography project of your own but don’t want to commit to a year then of course you don’t have to. There are countless other ways to do it.

My project was in the street photography genre, which was a natural choice as that’s what I shoot anyway. If you want to start a project and aren’t sure what to shoot though, giving yourself a theme will help you get going.

Your theme could be anything. Absolutely anything. So let’s help you narrow that down, and also explain more about why choosing a photography theme can help you be even more creative than you already are.

What is a photography theme?

A photography theme – sometimes called a prompt – is a visual element you look for when you shoot. The idea is that it runs through and links the individual pictures in your set or project. What that prompt is, is entirely up to you.

Any noun, adjective, or verb you can think of would work, although some would obviously be harder to find and represent in photographs than others. Quite how difficult you want to make this on yourself is also up to you.

Photography theme ideas can be grouped into different types.

Yours could be something physical, like:

  • leaves
  • water
  • hats
  • shadows
  • eyes

It could also be based on a more abstract concept, such as:

  • a shape
  • things in twos or threes
  • old & new
  • a colour
  • a feeling

The technical composition of your shots could also be your theme:

  • reflections
  • natural frames
  • diagonal lines
  • negative space
  • repeating patterns

You could also shoot a photography project using one piece of equipment:

  • a distinctive camera
  • a single prime lens
  • a single film stock
  • a drone
  • a tripod for long exposures

The four images below are from a set I shot with the theme circles in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

bicycle at chiang mai sunday walking street

meatballs at chiang mai sunday market

monochrome market scales in chiang mai

three buddha figurines chiang mai thailand

Why choose a photography theme?

Choosing a photography theme for your project will focus your mind and this will show in your results.

If you choose the circles as your theme as I did, you will see circles everywhere when you’re out shooting. Hundreds of them, in places you probably would never have looked at twice, and in objects you never would have thought of shooting before.

There’s an instant injection of motivation, and a reason to shoot what before was probably nondescript.

That doesn’t mean including anything and everything that fits your theme though.

You still need the pictures to be good, and so still need to be selective and think about composition, but this is what helps you to refine your eye and improve your standalone shots too.

I’m not saying I necessarily achieved that when I went out with my themes in mind. Speaking of which, here are four more shots, this time from Shanghai and with the theme behind bars.

How to shoot a good set of photographs

Consistency is key, but so is variety.

Mixing monochrome with colour isn’t usually a good idea, in my opinion, unless your project is based on that. Unless deliberate, it’s perhaps the biggest thing that leads to a lack of consistency throughout your project.

Consider whether you want your theme to be the main subject in every photograph too and think about mixing things up. You could make it the centrepiece of one image and more in the background of another.

Another piece of advice: if you’re struggling to think of a good theme for your project, think about what interests you outside of photography. You might be into classic cars, or street fashion, or Asian typography.

Choosing a theme that people know is connected to you will help you to connect with your photographs, and for your audience to later connect them to you too.

A truly good set of photographs should be full of images strong enough to work by themselves as well as in the group, but a truly good set of photographs with a common theme running through them is then even greater than the sum of its parts.

When can I give myself a photography theme?

The very next time you go out shooting. You could then stick to it for that one day, see what you get, and give yourself a new one the next time you go out after that.

Alternatively, you could keep it as an ongoing project for years to come. For the rest of your life even. Once you have one ingrained in your mind, you’ll never stop noticing scenes that could go into your collection.

Even if you build it up casually as an ongoing thing, think where you’ll be with it in a few years time. Think of the book you could put out or the gallery you could put on with your work then.

It might take a while to get there, but that’s even more reason to get started sooner rather than later. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

… p.s. if you have any experience with shooting a themed photography project yourself, let us know in the comments below or over on Twitter. 🙂

… p.p.s. if you’ve found this post useful and think others will too, why not share or pin it?

Choosing a photography theme is a great way to get even more creative with your work than you already are. Come read and learn why and how to pick yours.
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2 thoughts on “Why and How to Choose a Photography Project Theme”

  1. Another could be alphabet photography. Find something that represents a letter of the alphabet and then when you are ready, and have finished editing them, put it in a collage.

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