The new year is a great time to get experimental with your photography and try out some new things. For many photographer’s it can be a slow time that offers a moment to get your backups, your books, and your goals for the next year in order. All that time also makes it a great place to try your hand at photography normally outside your wheelhouse. These are some of our favorite projects to help you flex those creative muscles in the new year.

Use a reflector to make a subject’s eyes pop

Topcagic exposed for 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 100. The three settings are called “the exposure triangle” in her part of the world. Maja Topcagic

A reflector is one of the simplest lighting tools that a photographer can have in their kit—we think everyone should have one. It can work wonders when lighting conditions are just so-so. A basic white reflector can fill in shadows on a sunny day, a gold reflector will warm a subject up, while silver creates a bright and neutral fill on an overcast day. Aiming a silver reflector at your subjects eyes will give them a dramatic pop without ever having to touch Photoshop. Enlist a friend to help you hold the reflector.

Abstract architecture

broad building corner shot
The Broad Museum, Los Angeles. Swee Oh

If you live in an urban area there are plenty of architectural structures waiting for you. Photographing buildings may seem like a bore, but this is a great way to experiment with your camera. Buildings don’t move, they can look wildly different depending on the time of day that you are shooting, and most buildings have tiny hidden details that can be easy to miss. If you are just getting started with architecture photography, try to focus on one building and the smaller shapes within the structure. Focus on capturing the way that the negative and positive spaces interact with each other.

Smoke bomb portraits

A smoke bomb can add a level of mysterious beauty to a portrait shoot. Aaron and Whitney DuRall

Adding a bit of colorful smoke to your next portrait session is a simple way to add a whimsical feeling to your frames. Although the effect is certainly cool, if you are going to be working with smoke bombs be careful. Make sure you are shooting outdoors in a well-ventilated area far away from anything that might catch on fire. You’ll also want to make sure that you have water handy so you can safely extinguish the smoke bombs at the end of the shoot.

Treat your dog to a studio shoot

Self portrait of photographer Christian Vieler and his lab Lotte. Christian Vieler

Dogs make for great photographic subjects and with a little bit of lighting gear you can easily create an intriguing action shot of your pet at play. Check out Christian Vieler’s ongoing series of dogs catching treats to get inspired. Although Vieler chooses to stick to high-speed flash inside the controlled walls of a studio, there is no reason you can’t bring your lighting gear outside and capture your furry friend in a more natural environment.

Make a milk bath portrait

A baby in a milk bath. Tiffany Burke

Milk bath portraits have long been popular for maternity and boudoir shoots, and although the technique has a very specific feel to it, it’s pretty straightforward to execute. You’ll need a bathtub, some milk, pretty props to place on top of the milk, and a subject to place in the bath. If you are just getting started it’s probably best to work with an adult subject rather than a baby.

Boudoir photography

Lying on her back. Myla Gonzalez

Boudoir photography can be extremely intimidating if you are just getting started, but it doesn’t have to be. Like most forms of portrait photography they key to having a successful shoot comes down to good communication between the photographer and the model—of course things always feel a little more awkward when you remove clothing from the equation. The level of comfort and trust between the photographer and the subject is will often be readily evident in the final images.