Five Photography Projects to Get You Motivated

Unlike most people my age summer is actually a busier time of year for me than the school year is. Often one of the first things to fall by the wayside when I get busy is my photography. Even though I love it it's time consuming to get out and shoot photos and then do something more than just dump them in an unnamed folder on your hard drive. I don't want to miss out on one of my favourite hobbies this summer so I'm planning to set myself a fun, non-work related, project to work on and hope it inspires me to keep snapping away through the warmer months. In an effort to get myself and anyone out there like me motivated this summer, here are a few photography project ideas:

1. 365 Days Project - we've all heard of this one. You take one photo each day and you have a pretty cool way to look back on a year of your life. You may also get some insight into the things that are important to you, and you'll be photographing the ordinary, everyday aspects of your life not just the exceptional. I have wanted to try this project before but a whole year is just too daunting to me (I am not a forward planner, I barely know what I'm supposed to be doing next week, let alone next year) so if I pick this type of project I would probably scale it down to 30 days (a la Morgan Spurlock) and if I can manage that continue on from there.

2. Home Project - I move house usually once a year and have lived in some pretty cool buildings over the last 5 years but I have little photographic evidence of this fact. Before I move again (in exactly 30 days time!) I'd like to document the place that's been my home for the last year. Not just the outside of the building but all it's little nooks and crannies, the decor, the different angles and views. I think this would be a good project not just for someone who's moving but for anyone with a home they love. Homes are important to us but for some reason we rarely photograph them.

3. People Project - Again this appeals to me partly because I will soon be moving but I like the idea of photographing all the people that are important to me in a place that is important to them. Then I'd make either a scrapbook or a collage of the finished photos. I think this one would be especially interesting because you would get to find out which places were most important to the people in your life.

4. 30 Viewpoints - One photo a day for 30 days of the same object/person/place but with a different viewpoint for each photo. I think this might reveal some interesting new angles to shoot from. Plus I think it would make a very cool collage once all 30 shots were finished.

5. Charity Project - I've actually done this one a few times before and always have great fun and get to meet lots of wonderful new people. Simply find a local charity and offer them your photography skills for free. Many charities, especially smaller local ones, need someone who can take some good quality shots of the  work they do which they can use to promote themselves. Pictures often speak louder than words and this can be especially true for charities trying to get support from a community. Make sure you are willing to let them use your work for free if you decide to do this and if you want to be able to use the photos in your own portfolio remember to get model releases for any people in your shots. Really though this is just a great way to give a little something back to your community and meet some new people.

Do you have some photography project ideas to get me motivated this summer? If so, please let me know in the comments. I am always looking for inspiration!

Friday grab bag

A National Geographic photographer brings her kids to work. It's the ultimate photography internship. What a great opportunity for a kid.

The growth and birth of a chicken in pictures. Despite this, I will continue to enjoy eating eggs.

60 photo links you can't live without over at CameraPorn. No, it's perfectly work safe, trust me. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Olympus has a really neat new super zoom with the "soul of a DSLR." You can't change lenses, but why would you? The SP-570 UZ covers 26-520mm (f/2.8-4.5) with built in sensor-shift and digital image stabilization.

Review: The Flip Mino Video Camera

The Flip Mino video camera (www.theflip.com) could be the perfect complement to your digital still camera. I received a review copy of the Flip Mino this morning (sorry, no giveaway---it's going back to Pure Digital soon) and within minutes I was making videos. See gallery and sample video at the end of this review.

Just about every consumer digital still camera I can think of has the ability to capture videos. And videos from the Mino aren't going to wow you with their quality. What sets the Mino apart (I think it's pronounced "minnow") are it's ease of use, size, and that it can capture up to 60 minutes of television quality video (640x480 @ 30 frames/second) onto a 2GB internal memory. It is a device laser-focused on doing one thing and doing it well: creating video for viewing on the internet. Think YouTube and mailing videos to grandma.

My Nikon D70 has no video capability at all and our Canon Elph, while respectable in the video arena, doesn't have the juice to record a lot of video on a single charge. Plus, since video shares space with stills on the same memory card, total capacity is limited. The Flip solves that problem by providing a separate device dedicated to video.

The Mino is extremely compact and lightweight and easily slips into a shirt pocket. It can be operated one-handed but felt slightly awkward---although, that could easily be because I have large hands and/or because I'm not accustomed to the device. My wife didn't think it was awkward at all.

It has seven buttons on the back arranged in a logical pattern beneath a smallish but workable screen. Play/Pause, Delete, Record, Back, Forward, Up, and Down. The up/down buttons are for changing playback volume or zooming. Left/right are for scrolling through videos you've already captured. The buttons are very sensitive and require no pressure at all to activate which took some getting used to. The record button is large with a good feel. I had no trouble finding it by touch and a red LED on the front lights up when recording---perfect for those YouTube confession-style videos.

I took the Flip out to the park with my kids to test it. The video quality was decent although nowhere as good as my Panasonic DV camera (which cost 3x as much). Color was accurate enough in good lighting conditions but not vibrant. Because the Mino uses MPEG4 compression (at about a 4Mbps bitrate), artifacts are visible in the video during quick motion. But on a standard television set you wouldn't notice and YouTube will do much worse things to the video quality.

The fixed-focus lens covers a focal length approximately equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. The Mino does have a 2x digital zoom but I'd avoid it. Zoomed video looks terrible and anyway 2x doesn't really get you a lot closer. Don't plan on zooming into the on-field or on-stage action with one of these.

The audio (44.1kHz mono) was surprisingly good. Sounds were crisp and clear and covered a good range from normal speech to high-pitched whistles. I was able to record 60 minutes of video, as advertised, with enough charge left over to review videos on the device or play them back on a television with the included RCA audio/video cable.

The device appears like a removable hard drive to your computer. Plug it into a USB port (also used for charging) and you can drag videos onto your desktop---no software required.

A couple of minor gripes: the Mino's lens is protected by a clear glass/plastic membrane but I'd have still liked to see an automatic lens cover to prevent scratches. The namesake flip-out USB port works well but feels flimsy---if anything breaks on your Mino it will be this.

I think the Mino is a solid device. It does one thing and does it well. For the price ($179.99 MSRP) it provides a good value. I can see many people using a Flip Mino to augment the capabilities of their still camera. DSLR owners might find the Mino especially handy since most DSLRs lack video capability altogether (imagine documenting a photo shoot or a lighting setup).

Buy the Flip Mino in black or white from Amazon.com →

{democracy:5}

Full quality demo video (151MB AVI) (blip.tv)

Review: Nikon Coolpix S550

Before you even take it out of the box the Nikon Coolpix S550 looks cool (mine looks especially cool being “cool blue” coloured). But while looking good is nice the important thing is how it performs. Nikon give very simple instructions for getting started with your camera, step one in the quick start guide is, no joke, “remove the camera from the box”! This might give you the impression that this camera is only for first time photographers and people who frequently try to use electronic devices without removing the packaging. Whilst the S550 would be a good camera for both of those consumer groups I’ve been testing it out as someone with a reasonable amount of digital photography experience and so far, to borrow a phrase from McDonalds, I’m lovin’ it.

Using the S550 on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC.

It is fantastic to have a camera that fits in my pocket! Nikon markets the S550 as having the “smallest body among competing compact cameras” and it certainly is small for a camera with so many awesome features. First off it’s easy to put it in a fully automatic “scene” mode and just point and shoot. There’s every imaginable type of scene mode available from portrait to fireworks and beach to panorama. Face recognition allows the camera to recognize up to 12 faces which means getting clear group shots is easy. I played around in the automatic scene modes for a few shots but then switched to “shooting” mode which gives a surprising amount of control over the camera’s settings. Exposure, aperture, and the point of focus can all be easily changed. ISO sensitivity can be set from 64 all the way up to 2000 (I haven’t really found any reason to test the highest settings yet) and the white balance can set to any of seven different options.

Fishermen at sunset on Cape Cod.

I took the camera on a camping trip and a weekend away in New York City. For the camping trip it was great to have a camera that could both fit in my pocket when I was biking/hiking and easily attach to my tripod for some sunset shots. The only problem I had was with some blurred images when I was biking. My hands were a little shaky from biking fast in hot weather and even with the camera’s image stabilization I got some blurry shots of a group of geese when I tried using full zoom to capture them. For me part of the problem was the lack of a view finder which meant holding the camera with arms tucked close to my body for some extra stability didn’t work very well as then I couldn’t see what I was taking a photo of! However I did find the ability to record a quick voice note reminding myself what I had just photographed was helpful, especially on the camping trip where I would otherwise have quickly forgotten which harbour that sun was setting over. In NYC I had fun experimenting with the “smile” mode, which allows you to add a list of recognized faces (by taking a quick portrait of the person you want to be recognized). Then when you’re photographing one of those faces the camera detects when they are smiling and the shutter is automatically released. It’s a nice feature, especially photographing kids whose smiles can be fleeting and the camera also alerts you if the subject blinked so you can try again.

P-town harbour on a Saturday afternoon.

Another feature I would like to try, but have yet to find a suitable subject for, is the time lapse photography feature. This allows you to take photographs at intervals of between 30 seconds and 1 hour until either 1,800 shots have been taken or the memory card fills up (whichever comes first). And of course there’s also a movie mode, which allows you to shoot movies with sound, the length of the movie depends on the size of the memory card.

Overall I would certainly recommend this camera to a friend, it’s a good all round camera with plenty of features for those who want to experiment or the option to just point and shoot for those who like to keep it simple. The battery charged quickly and has yet to require a re-charge, the LCD screen is a good size (2.5 inches diagonally) to see what you’re photographing, and the lack of sliders, knobs, or other twiddly bits means it’s a reasonably easy camera for someone like me with reduced fine motor skills to use. I do wish Nikon had provided at least a basic case though, to provide some protection for the LCD screen. So far I’ve been keeping mine in an old binoculars case until I get around to shelling out for a real camera one! You can buy the Nikon Coolpix S550 from Amazon.com.

Competitions For You and Your Kids

If you've been making photography a family affair and you're a competitive bunch check out these competitions which all feature categories for adults and under 18s:

Travel Photographer of the Year - Always has exceptionally high standards of work entered, this one is open to amateurs and professionals and features a special category for under 17s. This year they've created the "first shot" category to give less experienced amateurs a chance to compete against each other while the more experienced compete in the other categories. The entry fee for adults are from £10 to £15 per category and the Young TPOTY category is free. There are some awesome travel and photography equipment prizes up for grabs.

Environmental Photographer of the Year - Features four categories for any age (both amateur and pro photographers) and one specifically for under 21s. This one is free to enter and has the aim of raising awareness of our environment. There are no physical prizes but winning work will be published on the website and displayed in a roving exhibition.

National Wildlife Photo Contest - In it's 38th year this competition from the National Wildlife Federation has pro, amateur, and youth division. The entry fee is $15 (for up to 20 photos) and includes a one-year subscription to National Wildlife magazine.

Wildlife in North Carolina 2008 Photo Competition - If you've photographer wildlife in NC anytime since September 2003 you're eligible to enter the eight adult categories and two youth categories (one for 13-17 year olds and one for 12 and under). Some smaller cash prizes up for grabs and the chance to have your winning photo on a magazine cover. This one's free to enter.

Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest - This one's a chance to work together as a family, entries into this competition (which includes poetry and essay categories too) have to be a team effort submitted by a team made of multiple generations (not necessarily related to each other). The theme is to submit a photo, poem, or essay (or combination thereof) "that best expresses the Sense of Wonder that you feel for the sea, the night sky, forests, birds, wildlife, and all that is beautiful to your eyes." The deadline for this one is coming up fast though, entries must be received by June 16th 2008.

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