How To Know What To Take Photos Of

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Male portrait in the studio
by
Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

What should I take photos of? Are you running out of photography ideas? For many beginner photographers knowing what to take photos of can be challenging. Maybe you’ve been taking photos for a while and still haven’t found your groove. Worse still, you’ve put your camera on a shelf because you don’t know what to take photos of.

Some people buy their first camera because they know exactly what they want to photograph. Their first child is expected. A new garden has been planted and colorful flowers are blooming. Vacation time is due and you’re heading overseas to some exotic location. These are all good reasons to buy a camera. Even when you have made a start with a specific subject in mind, you’ll find you want to use your camera for other things.

Figuring out what to take photos of is a process. Few people identify a subject they can be passionate about instantly. A personal photography style, based around a particular subject, takes time to develop. And it’s important to give it time. Don’t try and rush the process.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Male Karen man portrait
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 105mm, Settings: f5.6, 1/160 sec, ISO 400

I’m not going to offer you a list of 100 things to photograph, I don’t think that’s productive. There are lots of lists online of photography ideas for beginners. These can help you a little, but may not truly guide you to what you will enjoy photographing. In this article I am writing to encourage you how to know what you will enjoy taking photos of. In the following article, I will focus on how to develop your photography style.

Questions To Ask Yourself About What To Take Photos Of

Who Are You? What Do You Like?

Are you someone who loves being out with your friends as much as possible? Or do you prefer to be on your own? Maybe you like being in the company of just one other.

Wherever you feel comfortable is a great place to start taking photos. Take your camera to your next social event. Bring it along when you walk on the beach or in the forest alone. When you arrange to meet your partner for dinner, plan to take your camera too.

Using your camera in situations you are comfortable, your creativity is more likely to flow. When you are relaxed and enjoying yourself you experience life around you in a positive way. You’ll see things you want to photograph.

You may or may not have a conscious awareness of photographing a particular subject because you feel good about it. Sometimes you’ll subconsciously take photos because you are feeling happy. You want to capture the moment because of the way you are feeling.

As a young photographer, once I became a little confident to photograph people, I’d take my camera when I went out with friends. This was a bit scary at first because I was very shy. But, the more I photographed my friends on these occasions, the more I began to enjoy the experience.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Friends
Camera: Nikkormat FTN, Lens:50mm. Out with friends circa 1985

What Influences You? What Attracts You Visually?

Why do you do the things you do and go to the places you go? Think about what influences you and how this can affect your choice of what to photograph.

Do you love the sound of a big motorcycle revving or if you prefer the smell of a fragrant rose? Let this influence your choice of what to photograph.

Are you someone who smiles every time you see your child sleeping, or are you awed at the birds in your garden? Follow what appeals to you and you’ll not have trouble finding a subject to photograph.

Saamlor Montage Portfolio of KevinLJ © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Learning how to know what to take photos of is a matter of being aware of the types of things you enjoy. If you make your choices because you enjoy something, you are more likely to stick with and be successful.

Don’t be shy about pushing yourself a little. When you have a fresh interest in a subject this can be ideal to photograph. A new fascination with something, driven by a lively curiosity, is a ripe opportunity for creative photography.

Before I found the courage to photograph people, I like to take photos of old stuff. Things that did not move and showed their age was what attracted me. Photographing old stuff still has some appeal, but now prefer taking portraits.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Old Stuff
Camera: Nikkormat FTN, Lens: 50mm,

What’s Your Occupation? Where Do You Live?

Photograph what’s around you. The things you have natural contact with and are part of your daily life. Carry your camera to school or to work. Take pictures as you commute. Actively look for things to take pictures of at home and at work. What can I photograph at home or work (or school)? Start looking when you have your camera in your hands. I am sure you’ll begin to find interesting subjects.

As you photograph the world around you, patterns in what attracts you will emerge. You’ll discover the subjects you are drawn to and naturally will take better photos of these things. Repetition builds connection and understanding, so make sure to photograph the same things more than once or twice.

When you frequently photograph the same subjects you will become more familiar with various aspects of them. You will look at them and photograph them in more creative ways. Or you will get bored and find a new thing to take pictures of. The key is to choose subjects you have access to regularly so you can photograph them often.

Portfolio of KevinLJ © Kevin Landwer-Johan Rice Farmer Pano Thailand
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 85mm, Settings: f2, 1/3200 sec, ISO 400 (about 8 images stitched together)

Most of us spend the bulk of our time at the same location working or studying and then return home. These are the places to be using your camera so you can have it in your hands and build a good habit of using it often. If you’re only using it occasionally you will be limited. Frequent camera use will build your technical skills. This will lead to less frustration and greater enjoyment.

Can You Find Accessible Subjects?

There may be subjects you want to photograph that are not part of your daily life. Your kid’s football games or your horse may be subjects you photograph less frequently, possibly once a week. Other subjects you may love will be even less accessible. Finding subjects around you to photograph often will build experience. This will help encourage your photography confidence.

Photographing subjects that are part of your daily life will help you build familiarity with your camera. As you think a lot about taking photos, the more likely you will recognize the subjects you enjoy. This experience can then lead to further creative growth. You will learn how to develop your photography style.

Suan Sook Homestay View across rice fields in Thailand
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 50mm, Settings: f11, 1/200 sec, ISO 500

Experiment To Discover Your The Best Photography Ideas For You

Try New Things

Are you stuck trying to think of what to take pictures of when you are bored? This state of mind is not conducive to photography, or anything creative. Be proactive and challenge yourself to discover topics that you don’t find boring.

Trying new things is a good way to shake off boredom. Hopefully, the questions in this article have stimulated your thoughts. You now have plenty to work with that can help get you started. Once you are underway, with camera in hand, you will find creative ideas of what to photograph come to you.

I have written about what to take photos of based around what’s familiar and comfortable. Sometimes it’s also important to push yourself and experiment with subjects outside your comfort zone. I’ve experienced this with wonderful results many times throughout my photography career.

A Story About A Train

How To Know What To Take Photos Of

Many years ago I was co-opted by the newspaper I was working for into covering a charity event one weekend. It involved a steam train and a western cowboy club. People who dressed up and pretended to be American cowboys, (in New Zealand.) I was not so interested but agreed to go along.

On the train station platform, I walked alongside a live steam locomotive for the first time. It was a massive metal monster was hissing, snorting, clanging and grunting. Black steel, shiny brass, sticky grease, beads of water and gushing steam. It breathed and flexed and whistled. This was my subject for the day.

Overwhelmed by the experience I hardly knew where to start. I made close-ups and wide compositions, with people and without. The action of the dramatized cowboy train robbery was a lot of fun for the punters along for the ride, and the photographer covering it. Part of the journey back to the city I spent riding in the cab with the engineers.

The whole experience was far beyond what I had imagined and set me up with a new favorite subject. Now I rarely get to photograph live steam engines, but when the opportunity arises I make the most of it. By trying something different one day I have what became a new passion.

Take chances when they come to you. Say ‘yes’ when someone invites you to a place you may not otherwise go. Carry your camera with you. It may be the beginning of something new and interesting.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of

Photograph What You Know And Care About

Do you love a sport and know about the different teams? Photograph it. Do you love long walks on the beach? Always take your camera. Is gardening your passion? Take photos. I know many avid gardeners with a great deal of knowledge about flowers. My wife is one of them.

She takes great photos of our garden and flowers, wherever she goes. Pansa knows about what she loves and translates this into wonderful photos. The better understanding you have of what you photograph the better your pictures will be. Focusing on photographing this subject often you will become more creative with it.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Orchid Flowers

Use the knowledge you have of a particular subject to develop a creative passion to make pictures. Sure, some things will be better to photograph than other things you know about. Be creative in your thinking. Think positively and laterally if at first, you can’t imagine how to photograph what you know about. Dwell on it for a while and ideas will come to you.

Take Pictures Of Subjects You Have Good Memories Of

What did you love to do as a kid? Are there things and people still in your life that relate to your childhood? Make these your subject.

Build a whole project about recreating memories. There are so many avenues to explore. Dig out old photos and recreate them with the people who are in the pictures, or with other family and friends. Make your own life what you photograph. Both past and present.

If you can, visit places you used to go to when you were young. Take a trip back to your old schools. Vacation where your family vacationed. Go back to places you hung out as a teenager. As you make a start I am sure many memories of great times will come back to you. Keep a notebook handy. Write down other places, things or people from your past as they come to mind.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Auckland Harbour Bridge

Consider The Seasons

Do you live in a part of the world where seasonal changes will influence your photography? I was talking with one of the photographers I mentor recently. She was leaning more towards indoor photography as the weather turned colder. Where I live I have the opposite issue. When the weather here in Thailand starts to cool down, it’s lovely outdoors for photography.

You may like to work on a few different photography ideas so you are not slowed down when the seasons change. Staying indoors to photograph in the winter is more practical for some.

Embracing seasonal changes can add depth and dynamic to many subjects. If you’re in the northern hemisphere and far from the equator, opportunities abound for diverse seasonal photography. Are you photographing trees in your street or activity at the local park? These subjects will change dramatically with the seasons in some places. You will be faced with challenges and opportunities to create interesting photos.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Monks
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f4, 1/320 sec, ISO 400

Set Yourself Photography Assignments

Giving yourself something to work on, with a deadline, can help stimulate growth and new ideas. A little pressure, even self-imposed, can help push you forward when you’re stuck for ideas.

Think of a topic, even something easy. Create a deadline and the number of good photos you want to take. Commit to it and see it through, even if you find it dull or difficult partway through.

My First Photography Assignment
How To Know What To Take Photos Of Bicycle detail
Camera: Nikkormat FTN, Lens: 50mm. 1984.

My first assignment was given by a night school tutor. I’d owned my first camera for a few months and had enrolled in a class on black and white photography at the local high school. During the first lesson, we were given a simple task. Photograph one roll of film of something familiar to us. It could be a 12, 24 or 36 exposure, but we had to use up the whole film on one subject.

I made 36 exposures of my bicycle. Cycling was an everyday occurrence for me, (I still do ride most days,) and it was something I enjoyed. I’d never thought about taking pictures of my bike before, but used the roll of film up on it without difficulty. My night class tutor was impressed I’d been ‘brave’ enough to load a 36 exposure film in my camera for the assignment.

Portfolio of KevinLJ © Kevin Landwer-Johan Cycle Taxi Shadow

These bicycle photos were the beginning of something that’s lasted, this far, for 36 years. I am still photographing bicycles and tricycles. Whenever I see one in an interesting situation and the light is right I add some photos to my collection. I had no idea as I made those first exposures of my bike that cycles would become a lifetime subject for me.

By committing to a subject and creating an assignment you’ll have a different approach than when you photograph a subject once. It may take a few tries before you get a taste for something you want to stick with, but it’s a great way to develop an appetite.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Bent Bike
Camera: Nikkormat FTN. 1987

Develop A Sense Of Purpose For The Photos You Take

What do you do with the photos you take? Having in mind ways to use the photos you take will help you find inspiration. Don’t get stuck on the question ‘What should I do with my photography?’. Instead, develop a clear sense of purpose about what you will do with the photos you take.

Here are some ideas for what to do with your photos:

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Blue Hair Portrait
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 105mm, Settings: f9, 1/160 sec, ISO 100

Ideas For The Uninspired Photographer

Don’t slog it alone. Even if you’ve made it so far through this article and still do not know what to take photos of, you can seek some photography inspiration.

Stimulate your brain and emotions with photographs. Look at photos made by the very best photographers. Images that have stood the test of time, that convey meaning and have depth. You will not likely find many pictures fitting this description on the Instagram feeds of your friends.

Books

Go to your local library or buy some books by photographers whose work you admire. Build a collection of photography coffee table books. And read them. Published volumes of photography by masters are sure to inspire. I have many books by photographers whose style I appreciate. Viewing the work of other photographers and reading about them is a major inspiration for me.

Iron Bridge Montage Portfolio of KevinLJ © Kevin Landwer-Johan
David Hockney inspired photomontage. I also have a long-time habit of making these.
Magazines and Websites

Some photography magazines and websites can be great sources of inspiration. Be picky about the ones you choose. There is a lot of poorly produced media out there that may not serve your purpose. Do some research and find a few that suit your style.

Social Media

Social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram can work as places of inspiration, but you must be careful. They can also be a huge waste of time. The key is to control what you see. Limit the feeds so you are only viewing high-quality photography posted by people you respect. This will allow you to make the most of your time and give you the best inspiration.

Photography Quotes

Quotes from famous photographers can also serve as great inspiration. Get inside the heads and hearts of photographers who’ve left their mark by reading what they say. Sure, look at their photography and love that too, but read what motivates them. Often you will find some inspiring quotes that will stimulate your thinking.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 400

Be open to the whole world to inspire you. Open your mind to new ideas. Keep a positive attitude and know what you want to achieve with your photography. Ideas will come to you. If you sit inside on the couch watching tv with a negative attitude you will not find inspiration. Read a book or poem, watch a good movie, play some of your favorite music, anything that will uplift you.

Challenge Yourself To Improve Your Photography

When you don’t know what to take photos of, don’t settle on the easiest subject that comes to mind. Your interest in it probably won’t last long. You are better off challenging yourself to improve. Choose a slightly difficult subject in an environment you are comfortable with.

If fear is motivating you not to choose a topic you are interested in, push past it. Don’t let your inhibitions about something stop you from choosing it as one of your photography subjects.

When I am asked what I like to photograph, I reply, ‘people’. I love interacting with people and taking their pictures. I’ve not always been like this. Starting out with my camera I was much more comfortable to photograph my bike. People were too difficult because I was very shy. I preferred not to talk with strangers and had no desire to photograph them. It took me a long time to work through this to where I am at now as a photographer, and it was totally worth it. Most of my favorite photos are of people I have met.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f1.4, 1/4000 sec, ISO 400

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing your fear and the death of fear is certain.” Tweak this quote a little to apply it to what you’d love to photograph but are afraid to. You will experience the death of your fear and will begin to create wonderful photographs.

Find A Photography Buddy Or Mentor

Having someone you trust to encourage you and help inspire you is very valuable. Many photographers struggle in isolation. It’s difficult at times to figure out how to know what to take photos of. It’s also challenging to continue to remain inspired after you’ve enjoyed using a camera for years.

Friendship with other photographers is a great way to improve your photography. Whether it’s to get help with ideas when you don’t know what to photograph or build up your technical skills. Having trusting friendships with others who share your interest in photography is wonderful. You will encourage and help one another in ways non-photographers will not.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of photographer mentoring

Engaging a professional photography mentor is another option that will stimulate your photography. A good mentor will help you come up with ideas and guide you towards your strengths as a photographer. They will also help you build on areas you need help to master by positively and honestly critiquing your photographs.

Please take a look at the photographer mentoring programs I offer on my website.

How To Know What To Take Photos Of Thai Model
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 105mm, Settings: f5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 1000

I Know What To Take Photos Of!

Hopefully you are inspired by what you read here. I understand the struggle it can be to find out what you will enjoy taking photos of. The most important thing is to get out and use your camera. Experiment with it. Try different and unusual things. Push yourself further than you have gone before and explore your creativity.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post you will also enjoy “Five Key Things All The Best Photos Have In Common” and “What Do I Do With All These Wonderful Photos?”

Kevin Landwer-Johan photographer
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