Photo Exercise: Something You Collect

There are numerous reasons why people collect objects. Some are interested in preserving memories and history, others are in search of the beautiful, odd and rare, and still others are motivated by value and investment. But despite the specifics, every collection tells a story about the collector and its contents, making collections fascinating subjects to photograph.

A photograph that reveals a frivolous habit or an obsession of sorts can be very intriguing. And who doesn’t love having a peek into someone else’s life, especially when they discover an eccentric edge, a secret, or an endearing fact?

For this exercise, assemble and shoot a collection of your own treasured items. If you do not have an obvious collection, you can gather some of your belongings based on a theme. For instance, you can group old photos, journals, letters, and books. Anything goes as long as it tells a story about you and your personality.

Exercise Instructions

  1. Arranging Your Objects. Photograph your collection either as an organized or a spontaneous arrangement. Experiment with styling to see what works best for your collection.
  2. Add Something Unexpected. If you are photographing multiple objects, throw in a surprise element, such as an item with an odd shape or a different color, to make your shot more interesting.
  3. Experiment With Perspective. Overhead shots are typically used for organized collections, but you might want to experiment with other approaches. Shoot straight on or at an angle.


  1. Watch For Glare. If your collectibles are stored inside plastic sleeves, avoid unwanted reflections by shooting without a flash. For even better results, remove the sleeves. The same applies if your collection is framed behind glass. Remove the glass from the frame to avoid reflections.
  2. Avoid “Hotspots.” When shooting reflective objects such as silver jewelry, items made from metal, or glass ornaments, shoot at an angle to avoid reflections.
  3. Support Your Camera. If possible, use a tripod to keep the camera in place while you style the shot. You will want to move objects around until you find the best balance within the frame.
  4. Check Your Focus. Make sure all the important elements are in focus, especially if you’re using a large aperture to blur the background with a shallow depth of field.

Shot Ideas

  • Photograph your shoes, hats, ties, belts, magazines, records, etc.
  • A collection doesn’t need to consist of one type of object. For instance, you could assemble and photograph an eclectic collection of favorite things: a book, a pin, a photograph, a postcard, and a feather.
  • Start and photograph your very first collection! All you need is a minimum of three interesting items grouped together.

Alessandra Cave is a commercial and editorial photographer living in San Francisco. She’s also a writer, a teacher and the author of  Shooting with Soul, an inspiration and technique book with 44 photography exercises exploring life, beauty and self-expression.

Excerpted with permission from Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave (Quarry Books, 2013),

Leave a Comment