30 Ideas to Jump-start Your Photo Theme Project

Variety, not only the spice of life, is also one of the most beautiful things about the art form of photography; the number of possible subjects for a photo is almost limitless.  There are formats, within forms and within disciplines, and all we need to create a work of art is an idea, which can come to us at any time and in many ways.


Unfortunately, like with any creative medium, photographers can experience a block, or lack of ideas for a subject.  It’s no different than a writer drawing a blank on words to add to his book or an artist having a difficult time putting that first stroke of paint to a blank canvas.

With photography, however, we have the advantage of instantaneous results, and we therefore have more options to quickly develop ideas for our photographic subjects.  One of the most popular ways to do this is to create a themed project.

A photo theme simply means creating a set of photographs that are related in some way, whether it be through subject, color or other reoccurring pattern.  The beauty of doing this is that you are not required to constantly come up with a new subject or idea for each consecutive photo; once a theme’s subject has been established, you only need to find new instances of that subject.  This forces you to think along one idea path and allows you to forget about the subject altogether and concentrate on what’s really important…taking an interesting and thought-provoking photo.

But alas, we’ve returned to our initial problem of photographer’s block!  Not to worry since we’ve provided you with 30 solid ideas to get you started.  Take one and go crazy: Create an online photo book from your set, or post a blog entry describing the journey you took to capture all of these pictures.  Truly, the sky is the limit!

Black and White

All photos should be taken in black and white or converted to black and white in post-processing. Focus on the tone of the image.

Ringling Bridge - Tim Gilbreath
Ringling Bridge – Tim Gilbreath


Pick a color, and take photos where that color is dominant in the image.

Photo by Andreas Steegmann

Urban Exploration

Explore an out-of-the-way or dilapidated building (safely, of course).

Fred Matos

Street Portraits

A great way to come out of your shell, so to speak; ask strangers to participate in quick, impromptu portraits.

Mitsuru Moriguchi


You can pick a type of food or shoot a variety.  Get up close and personal.

Claudia Totir

Letters or Numbers

These can be found on signs, buildings and various other places.  Try to assemble the entire alphabet!  For an even bigger challenge, you can also take photos of objects that begin with these letters instead.

Derrick Collins

Vintage Signs

Do some research in your local area, and see how many old signs from decades past remain in your area. Then, photograph the lot!  If there aren’t enough locally, try capturing unique or interesting signs of any age.

Top Billing - Tim Gilbreath
Top Billing – Tim Gilbreath

Setup Scenes

This could include situational shots, vintage recreations, pinups…the possibilities are endless.

Spring Gardening - Tim Gilbreath
Spring Gardening – Tim Gilbreath

Social Issues

Homelessness, abuse, alcoholism, you name it.

samantha oulavong

Abstract and Conceptual

Here’s your chance to be a little heavy in the Photoshop department: Take a photo up close, and go a little nuts with post-processing.  Alternately, you can take a picture of an “idea”; try to communicate this idea through nothing but a photo.

War Photo - Tim Gilbreath
War Photo – Tim Gilbreath

Lens Type

Pick one lens and use it exclusively; a 50mm is a good starting point, as it forces you to move around and be selective.  A specialty lens such as a fisheye could also make an interesting theme.

The Photo Fiend


Rough, smooth, serrated, bumpy, brick, wood, metal…there are tons of textures to capture out there.  Shoot close and fill the frame.

Dmitry Chemyakin

Sunsets and Sunrises

Regardless of where you live, there are always opportunities for spectacular sunsets or sunrises.  Collect several of the most dramatic.

Inlet Sunset - Tim Gilbreath
Inlet Sunset – Tim Gilbreath


My personal favorite.  Instruments, concerts or even conceptual photos that invoke thoughts of music or other sounds.


Happiness, sadness, joy, envy…how many emotions can you capture with just a photo?

Lisa Holloway


Pick a season such as winter or summer, and shoot photos that encapsulate the unique qualities of that season.


This doesn’t just mean water; it could be shiny metal or mirrors, among other things.

Chip Phillips

Sky and Clouds

Skyscapes can be dramatic and stormy or light and beautiful.  Capture as big a variety as you can!

Purple Sunset - Tim Gilbreath
Purple Sunset – Tim Gilbreath


A challenging theme.  Try capturing nothing but the shadow of your subject.  This can be against a wall or on the ground, for example.


However uncomfortable it may be for many of us, self-portraits can be very helpful in opening up and exploring parts of photography we don’t normally find ourselves involved in.  Mix it up and be creative with your surroundings and emotion.


There are many shapes to be found in nature, as well as in the man-made world.  Try to collect as many as you can. You’ll be amazed to find how they’ve existed right in front of you all along.

Allard Schager


Shoot an entire set of photos from one perspective, such as low to the ground, as a child would see, or from up high.  The majority of our shots happen at eye level, and this is a great way to learn how to deviate from that.

Casey Key Beach
Casey Key Beach – Tim Gilbreath


Another challenging theme.  Ensure you have the proper settings in place (checking for proper ISO, and a large enough aperture to allow for the minimal light), and create a set of night images, using only artificial light around you.  Better yet, what can you capture in bright moonlight?

Lamp at Night
Lamp at Night – Tim Gilbreath


Historic buildings, famous landmarks, bridges, city skylines and old churches are all good places to start.

Light and Bridge - Tim Gilbreath
Light and Bridge – Tim Gilbreath


Create a theme based on your favorite holiday, be it Halloween, Christmas or something altogether different.

And to All a Good Night
And to All a Good Night – Tim Gilbreath


Once only frowned upon and instantly painted over, some graffiti artist have garnered national attention for their work and in some cities are revered for their talent.  There is usually no shortage of this material as long as you live close to an urban area.

Specific Architecture

Pick one part of a building and replicate it elsewhere: Doors, windows, fences and chimneys are all possibilities.

Barred Windows - Tim Gilbreath
Barred Windows – Tim Gilbreath

Tattoos and Piercings

Another street project if you don’t have enough friends and family sporting tattoos.  People with tattoos are often more than happy to talk to you about their origin and their meaning and usually don’t mind having them photographed.

Long Sien


Own a film camera?  If you don’t, you’re missing out on one of the truly joyous aspects of photography, which is experiencing the way it was done in the beginning.  If you haven’t already (and you really should have), you can pick up a very good SLR film camera for next to nothing.  Of course, these exposures can be converted to scans for posting online.


Here’s your chance to abandon your DSLR altogether…who said you have to use your primary camera to create a themed project?  Use your smartphone and Instagram or other mobile photo app to fade, vignette and colorize to your heart’s content.

Afternoon Nap - Tim Gilbreath
Afternoon Nap – Tim Gilbreath

Of course, this is only scratching the surface.  There are literally thousands of subjects available for creating a photo project; you’re only limited by your imagination, as anything can become the focus point for a memorable theme.

Do you have a theme you’ve completed that you’re especially proud of?  Thought of a crazy, off-the-wall theme idea we didn’t mention?  You know what to do…post it in the comments section below.  We’re waiting to see those awesome projects!

Since you are off to do some shooting, why not check out our recommended photography gear HERE.

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By Tim Gilbreath

In addition to being a regular contributor at Photodoto, Tim is a web developer, photographer, and musician. He's also a gamer and retro/pop culture aficionado, and spends his days on the sunny West Florida coast. He maintains his website at TimGilbreath.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, . @SarasotaTim


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