Summer Photography Challenge Ideas

Summer Photography Challenge Ideas

As many of you may know for the past two summers I have taken on a summer photography challenge. It all started in the summer of 2014 when I did a portrait photography challenge and took photos of a different friend every week (recap post 1, recap post 2, and recap post 3). In the summer of 2015 I did an event photography challenge where I took pictures at different events throughout the summer and quickly learned that wasn’t my jam (recap post).

love doing these challenges because (a) I always learn something and (b) 10 weeks is a short enough time frame to do something that it’s still just as exciting at the end as it was in the beginning.

Well, it’s almost summer again (even though the weather super seriously doesn’t feel like it), and so I’m in search of another photography project idea. I decided to bring in the help of some photographers that I’ve admired to see if they have any suggestions. Here’ what they had to say:

Summer Photography Challenge Ideas from Michael James

I’ve been following Michael James Photography for years now. I love his color palette and journalistic approach to shooting. I always feel like I’m able to grasp the story when I scroll through. Not only that, but he did an incredible job brainstorming summer photo challenge ideas for me. He asked me what I was interested in shooting and reminded me that it’s always good to step outside your comfort zone. He’s also incredibly personable, which makes for awesome conversation, and great ideas:

Well, at this point, it sounds like you’ve covered some people – formal portraiture where things are mostly controlled, and event photography which isn’t far from Photo Journalism work.

I’d encourage you to try something landscape oriented but with structure involved. That seems like it’s right up your alley. So, for instance, maybe City scrapes with a focus on geometric shapes. Sounds juvenile, but also amazing. Especially considering how you’re close too Philly. Have you considered that? Maybe even throw in an additional challenge to focus on something emotionally charged with those structures and city scapes. Dang… Now I’m getting excited and I wish I had time to do that!

Please enjoy a few of his favorite photos and don’t forget to check out his work.

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Summer Photography Challenge Ideas from Robert Cornelius

I met Robert from Robert Cornelius Photography two years ago at the first PHLbloggers annual holiday party potluck. I was super impressed how he (and a few other guys) were able to hold their own in a room full of women. I’ve spent so much time watching the videos he makes about the speed edits of his art. (I think we’ve passed photography and gone to art.)

He also had three awesome ideas. And his second one definitely falls into that “getting out of your comfort zone” category Michael was referring to above. Check them out:

One of my favorite ways to come up with an idea for a photo is to find a prop to work off of. It could be just about anything, maybe even something you already have that you’ve always thought was kinda cool…or even kinda boring haha. Try to think about that object and what it could mean or represent and how you could use it in a photo in an interesting new way. I actually have a whole blog post about this if you care to check that out!

Another fun project that you can give yourself is to shoot portraits of strangers. It can be really hard to approach people, especially if you are asking to photograph them. I actually did this very activity in Rittenhouse Square Park just to build up my courage and it ended up turning into a lovely little photo series. It can be quite exhilarating to walk boldly up to a stranger, tell them you think they are beautiful/interesting/cool/whatever and that you’d love to take their picture. You’d be surprised by the amount of people that will say yes if you’re not asking like a total creep-o. I actually have several more of these already shot that I need to edit and get posted. Again, I have a blog post about this if you want to take a peek!

My last suggestion would be to try out shooting creative self portraits. It can be really fun to come up with an idea for a character of some kind and create an image of yourself that tells a story. I’m not talking your typical headshot here – I’m talking about developing a costume/look of some kind, hair, makeup, props, and all that jazz and make an image completely on your own. It can be really fun to get out of your own head space and try something new. Plus even if it makes you feel silly, well, no one has to be there but you! Also if you hate the images, no one ever has to know they exist, haha. 😉

Please enjoy a few of his favorite photos and don’t forget to check out his work.

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Summer Photography Challenge Ideas from Tamara Camera

I found Tamara from Tamara Camera online a few weeks ago when she shared my 102 Verbs to use in Currently Blog Posts post. Her blog takes a photo-journalistic approach to sharing stories from both her childhood as well as stories from her own two children’s childhoods.

After studying photography in college, and then continuing to explore the medium over the years, she was able come up with five great ideas to try:

1. Know the company Best Gift Ever? They have photographs of things out in nature and in objects that look like numbers and letters. We ordered one for my sister’s housewarming that said her last name with letters that had a baseball/rocker theme. The photographers at the company have told me you can eye-train yourself to see letters out in public. I think it’s an awesome photo project because of more access to being outside. A to Z! If that is hard, you can also just do an A to Z project where you take 26 photos, of something that starts with every letter of the alphabet.

2. Golden hour. In warm weather, the hour or two before sunset is an amazing use of light. I think every photographer should tackle doing that a little each day or so.

3. Self-portraits are very challenging and I think it’s a great skill to learn, especially in the age of blogging.

4. A summer photography bucket list – getting all the amazing sights of summer. Make a list and then check them off as you photograph them.

5. A street photography project, especially if you live in or near a city.

Please enjoy a few of her favorite photos and don’t forget to check out her work. And the fact that I asked her to send three photos she loves totally explains how she ended up with three photos of her daughter. #curlyhairisthebest

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Summer Photography Challenge Ideas from Charles S Cerrone

When I was an RA in college my senior year, Charles was one of my residents, except I know him as “Shan,” the S in Charles S. Cerrone Photography. It’s been so cool getting to watch him go from always taking photos in the dorm to doing some awesome shots like the one below. He even led a photography walking tour for PHLbloggers to teach us more about how cameras work, composition, and troubleshooting. Super informative, and super great to work with somebody that I knew in a different walk of life.

He has a little bit of experience in giving photo assignments because whenever he finds time he’s teaching others, which is pretty cool. Here was his summer photography challenge idea:

Outside of composition/framing, I think one of the best learning tools for people just starting out with digital photography is understanding when and how to use color. Photography is all about including/excluding things from your environment into the frame. When you get really selective about what colors from you include in your composition, it tops a black and white photo any day. One assignment I give my students is to photograph “color pairs”, ie blue+yellow, red+cyan, green+magenta, natural blacks+whites, etc. Going out and exploring on a nice day while trying to work in those specific colors, and only those colors to your pictures, can turn up some interesting results – and teach you how to be more selective with what you include in your frame. The more you perfect your use of color, the stronger your work gets.

Please enjoy a few of his favorite photos and don’t forget to check out his work.

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I’m so excited that these awesome photographers had such great ideas to share. I love the idea of finding geometric shapes in city scapes, shooting creative self portraits with hair and makeup, and a summer bucketlist challenge. They’ve also got me thinking a little harder than I originally started thinking. I was thinking about the top layer of the challenge – take photos of things in the city – but didn’t get to the second layer of (a) that look like letters or (b) that look like geometric shapes. I was also thinking about what I was going to be taking photos of as opposed to why I was going to be taking photos of it. Which is clearly just naive. They’re one in the same, and I really need to think more big picture.

I can’t wait to figure it out. In the meantime, make sure to check out Michael, Robert, and Tamara’s sites. Do you have any additional suggestions for me to add to the list? Or maybe you’ve been inspired to start a photo project of your own?

My Event Photography Adventure

If you’ve been following along with Chrystina Noel for a while you know that last year I did a summer photography project where I took pictures of a different friend every week to get better at portrait photography. (Here’s a recap of what I learned from the first half, what I learned from the second half, and what I learned overall.) This year I decided that I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try my hand at event photography – a completely different ball game.

My goal was to take pictures at an event every week, but I only managed five. I still definitely learned a lot though; I took pictures at a graduation, a 30th birthday party, a 1st birthday party, a work event, and another 1st birthday party. Here’s a bit about what I learned at each event:

The Graduation

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My friend graduated from Jefferson as a Master of Public Health and wanted a few pictures to commemorate the graduation. This was actually a really good first “event” to shoot because it was a combination portrait & event shoot. It completely threw me for a loop when I realized I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be capturing moments (by just clicking the shutter) or creating moments (by posing people). I ended up taking a handful of each, but posing people isn’t something I feel incredibly comfortable with at this point. Should they be close to each other? Where should their arms be? What happens if they’re facing the sun? Will they all be in focus when I click?

Overall I learned that I need to get better to communicating to people where I want them to be and what I want them to be doing. I also learned a lot about trying to edit shadows out of photos, but overall I was definitely pretty happy with how the pictures turned out.

A 30th Birthday Party

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Then I was asked to take pictures at a 30th Birthday Party. This was the first event where I felt really out of my element. Right off the bat I realized I should have done a little more research and asked a few more questions. For example: is it an indoor or outdoor event? what is the event setup going to be? They had rented an awesome tent in case it rained (which it did), the party was casino themed, and it went from about 6:00pm to 10:00pm – so it started to get dark pretty soon into the event. For this mostly natural light photographer that was a game changer. I also should have done some research into the key players at the event – know who the parents were, what their names were, etc.

Photographers need to be able to do this thing where they assimilate into whatever event they’re at. That’s not me; I’m an observer, I like to blend into the background until I understand exactly what event I’m at – and I actually really hate asking to point a camera in people’s faces, especially people I don’t know, and especially when I’m unsure how the photgraph is going to come out (because it’s so dark outside). It was at this moment that I also learned that I’m much more comfortable helping out at parties than trying to take pictures at them. I took a few “candid” photos, but instead of feeling like part of the moment I came out feeling like I was always on the outside looking in.

I was really bummed because I felt like I messed up the most important shot: a picture of my friend, her husband (whose birthday it was), and their daughter. I wasn’t able to get the three of them together until it was already dark outside, which meant that I was going to end up with a really grainy photograph or I was going to have to use the (dreaded) built-in flash. I came to the event assuming I could try to use napkins to attempt to cover the intensity of the flash (which I had seen done before at a concert), but when I got to the event I found out the napkins were red, which tinted my picture red. Then I went inside to grab a papertowel to cover the flash with, but it looks really silly to have a bunch of papertowel taped to your camera flash with washi tape. This was the moment I realized I was going to invest in a Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash.

Aside: It was right around this time that my computer broke this summer and I wasn’t sure exactly how much money it was going to cost to fix it, which meant that I had to put buying my new flash on hold until I figured that out.

The first 1st Birthday Party

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The next event I took picture at was a first birthday party. I, yet again, should have asked what the setup was. It was an indoor event, for some reason I had continually pictured an outdoor event.

When I arrived I was one of the first ones there and I immediately asked if they needed help. Yay comfort zone. I talked to a few people without feeling overwhelmed and felt useful as I stacked the cupcakes on the trays. A little bit before the event actually started another photographer showed up and all of a sudden I actually felt a huge sigh of relief. It wasn’t going to have to be me who put the camera in everybody’s face, it could be him. I introduced myself to him to make things less awkward, “hi, I’m Chrystina, I was looking to get more practice shooting events this summer and the host told me I could come here and try”. He was very nice about it and offered some good advice (like buy a UV filter for my expensive lens so I didn’t destroy the lens by accident, which turned out very useful when I fell on my face in Portland last weekend while holding my camera), but then I had to figure out how to interact with another photographer. I decided it involved me staying out of the way, especially because he actually had a flash. Which kind of meant that I had failed.

I was also very confused about whether photographers actually get to eat at the events they’re shooting. I decided the answer was yes, but I’m not sure I would have decided the same thing if the paid photographer wasn’t there.

This was also the first event I was at where people kept asking me to take photos of them. I had a camera, they wanted photos, it really did make sense, I was just so surprised that they wanted me to do it when they could clearly have that more experienced guy take the photos instead. (I guess they didn’t know that though.) I was just so nervous because I didn’t have a flash again, which meant the pictures were either going to come out grainy or extra-bright.

In the end, the paid photographer ended up taking most of the pictures of the family and I walked around and took pictures of some of the other guests. When I was walking back to the train station I was so angry at myself for whimping out again, then I ran into a guy from the event who asked for my business card. He told me he liked the style of photograph he saw me taking and was wondering where he could hire me if he needed a photographer. Maybe I did have a chance at this? (Or maybe I just looked really down in the dumps.)

The work event

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This one was a complete fail (sense a theme here?). We had a work event that they wanted photos taken at and I said I had a nice camera and I’d bring it along. I had even bought the flash at this point, which meant I could really try my hand at this for the first time. What happened? I got there and someone else had a camera who seemed to be taking a lot of pictures so I backed off. I officially left the event with less than 5 pictures, none of which are a good representation of the event itself.

That said, I did take a lot of pictures this summer just for fun. Pictures at events where it wasn’t my responsibility to take the pictures and I was just a guest. Hence, the “Just for Fun” category.

Just For Fun

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My cousin’s wedding happened earlier this summer and I definitely got some good shots of the family together (and an entire photoshoot of my sister, but that’s a different story). I went into the event energized, I had just sung at the wedding, it was a beautiful day outside and I was so excited to capture some memories that don’t usually happen. That said, I had known almost every person I was taking photos of for at least 23 years, which probably helped.

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I also took some photos at my friends’, Melissa and Heather’s, wedding. Yet again, there was a specific event photographer who I didn’t want to get in the way of so it took me about 2 hours to feel okay pulling out the camera. I got some good shots, but most of them felt like I was on the outside looking in again – and by the time I worked up the nerve to ask people to take pictures of them directly it was already dark outside. (I decided taking the flash to this party would be overkill. Also, there wasn’t really anything to bounce it off of anyway.) I did, however, get some good candid moments.

The second 1st Birthday Party

Then we get to the most recent event, Johanna’s son’s first birthday party. This event felt right. I showed up early and helped prepare for the party, I got to take pictures before the guests arrived, I knew everyone who was coming, and there was a super cute “The Very Hungry Caterpilar” theme.

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I followed the kids outside at one point and got this awesome picture. Natural light for the win, man. I was proud of myself for heading outside because it was out of my comfort zone. Also, interacting with these children/teenagers who I had met before was way easier than interacting with the children I hadn’t met before at the other first birthday party.

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Then the cake came out, which I wasn’t totally ready for. I didn’t have my flash – it was all the way upstairs! I took some photographs, but I was still kind of bummed out about how grainy they were. I kept moving around Joseph to try to find the best light and I was able to get some good candids, but I didn’t really get an awesome cake shot.

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I was able to put my flash on before we got to presents though. I still hadn’t actually used the flash for more than a few shots, but goodness gracious it made a huge difference. All of a sudden I was no longer embarassed by the indoor photographs I was taking. I experimented with the difference between bouncing the flash off the ceiling and the side wall to see the different shadows it created in the picture. It was great. (I learned bouncing the flash off of green balloons will turn your whole picture green. Who knew?)

The only problem was I felt like I was sitting right in the way of everyone else’s view of him opening photographs. Maybe I actually need a zoomier lens? We’ll see. Maybe that will be my birthday present to myself.

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The other thing that was really great about taking pictures at a party where you know all the people is that you know all the inside jokes (not that this is a joke). I knew it was important for me to take pictures of Max and Fritz. And I liked knowing that ahead of time. (Although I guess she made a point to tell her wedding photographer, so she could have just made a point to tell me.)

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I had even remembered to ask if there were any specific shots they wanted me to capture to which, Johanna responded “no, I just figuerd if I took out my camera it would sit on the counter the whole time and I wouldn’t use it” – which, yet again, right from the beginning took the pressure off.

I was definitely pretty happy with how the photographs for Joseph’s birthday party turned out. As for whether or not I have a career in event photography, I clearly have a bunch more hurdles to jump through before I could charge anybody for this service. Mainly getting better with the indoor flash, learning how to command a room, finding some chutzpah, and determining what questions to ask to really understand the client’s vision before I show up. I think some of this pressure could be alleviated by building an actual portfolio because then if somebody hired me based on my portfolio they would already know what kind of shots I usually take. Something to consider for the future I guess.

Maybe it’s time to shut down the greeting cards business and start building up a photography business? We’ll have to see what 2016 brings.

A Year of Digital Scrapbooking

One of my goals for this year was to create a digital scrapbook.  It’s been two months so far and I wanted to report back on how it’s going.

It’s going awesome.  I’ve really been enjoying this process – it’s a great chance to look back at my pictures, and a good chance to use some of the ones that aren’t “blog-worthy” or “facebook-worthy” but really just tell a great story.

How I started: I opened up Photoshop, created a new 8.5″ x 11″ page, and designed my first page.  I decided I wanted to keep two things the same on every page, but other than that it was free game.  The title is the same, and each page has a colored bar across the top and bottom.

The rules: There aren’t any rules.  I use pictures from my digital camera, my phone, and instagram to tell the story of what’s been going on.  If I miss a week, oh well, if I make more than one page another week, that’s okay too.  Also, the fact that there’s no templates lets me decide how creative I’m feeling that week.  That’s the fun of this, there’s no way to do it wrong.

Something I would do differently: Honestly, I just didn’t have enough motivation to do this right from the start.  I should have figured out how I was going to print the book before I started this so that the template would be correct, but I’ve decided to give that problem to Future Ted.

Where my inspiration came from: I started reading CZ Design.  She makes and sells digital scrapbooking pages.  Her designs are so inspiring it reminded me of being in yearbook in high school.  You should check out some of her pages here if you’re interested.

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Have you ever done something like this before?  Do you have any suggestions?

2015 Calendar Photos

This is my last shameless plug for the Chrystina Noel 2015 Calendar (this week). Last year’s calendar had locations listed on each photo, but this year I didn’t. The locations weren’t as impressive as Munich and Bangalore this year, but each photo has a story of its own that I feel like is worth sharing.  So here goes nothing.

01 January
January’s champagne photo was taken at Moshulu while brunching with Jai, Marie, and Claire for our 2014 Christmas celebration.

02 February
February’s photo was taken at The Bakers Jar, a recently opened Philadelphia dessert restaurant. Highly recommend checking it out.

03 March
March’s photo was taken behind the Philadelphia Art Museum during the second photoshoot I did of Ryan.

04 April
April’s photo was taken while camping through Bryce Canyon, Utah with on the 13-mile hike where I pooped in the woods.

05 May
May’s photo was taken at Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana while my parents were visiting to see the Baton Rouge Chorus concert this past summer.

06 June
June’s photo was taken at my dad’s cousin Tree’s house. The colors and textures of the rooms in her house are all so natural & comfortable.

07 July
July’s photo was taken while I was taken photographs for the what to dunk in a chocolate fountain post during a party at Johanna and John’s house.

08 August
August’s photo was taken at my friend Kevin’s house on my first trip ever to Denver, Colorado taken last January.

09 September
September’s photo was taken at the Good Karma located at 22nd and Pine, one of my go to coffee shops in Philadelphia.

10 October
October’s photo was taken while up in the Poconos with my senior design group.

11 November
November’s photo was also taken while up in the Poconos with my senior design group. The first morning we woke up there were lots of deer hanging out right outside.

12 December
December’s photo was also taken  while up in the Poconos with my senior design group. This is Michelle and Kevin, they’re engaged to be married next year.

Those are all of the stories behind the calendar. Definitely worth sharing, right? We’ll have to see how my focus on experiences this year affects the 2016 calendar. I’m sure everybody would love a calendar with pictures of my family sitting around eating dinner, right?

PS. Here’s the link for the calendar if you happen to need it.