The Urban Alphabet: A Photography Project

An ‘Urban Alphabet’! What an idea! Your project this time is to see differently. This is a fun and challenging project to help you see objects around you creatively and to see possibilities where you didn’t think any existed. You need to imagine and sculpt the shapes of the English Alphabet from found objects in everyday scenes around you… This project is also called an Alphabet Photography Project, and we’re going to do it in an urban setting.

Why Choose An Urban Alphabet?

An alphabet photography project can draw from any group (or multiple groups) of objects, so you needn’t restrict yourself to urban scenes. But there are good reasons to do so…

A Gateway to Street Photography

However, by challenging yourself to go outside and look for interesting scenes, you are becoming more comfortable taking photos of found scenes in an urban setting… This is not very different from street photography. It’s one way to become less conscious of yourself as being part of the environment, and a way to allow yourself to focus on actually observing the scene unfolding around you.

Cities Are Beautiful

Cities provide us with a wonderful resource in juxtaposed objects. Magnificently textured drain covers from a different era, placed right next to modern paving and street markings, an ultra-modern skyscraper freshly sculpted out of the earth, yet forever posed against the immortal sky… these shapes and textures are all there for the taking. Put one against the other, and see what alphabets you can make out of them. Sounds challenging, yet easy. It is neither.

The Urban Alphabet Photography Project Challenge

This photography project intends to test your skill at seeing juxtapositions of foreground & background, shapes & shadows, angles & straights, and much more. Finding perfectly juxtaposed straight and curved edges are both more common, and uncommon at the same time.

Of course, taking photographs of letters found around the city is against the rules. You can only use objects, textures, patterns, and shapes that are not actually alphabets to craft your 26 alphabets, from A to Z.

Learn About Alphabet Photography

Alphabet photography is where the subject of the image is letters created by taking pictures of everyday objects that make up the shape of the letters, or by finding individual letters in the environment. For example, a photograph of a tree, a leaf, and a rock could create the letter “T.” It can also be done by taking pictures of signs or graffiti that contain letters, although I’m not in favor of taking this ‘easy’ way out. Alphabet photography can be used to create words, phrases, or even entire stories.

How To Create The Urban Alphabet?

The Urban Alphabet is all around you. Look around yourself as you move through your city. Your challenge is to see shapes that have meaning to us in the form of letters. You’ll look for them in shapes (objects) that are intended for other purposes, and reimagine them for photography. This takes a little bit of vision, imagination, and a lot of curiosity & observation skills.

To create the urban alphabet, you’ll have to make use of lines, outlines, textures, light & shade, parts of objects, and techniques that you can use with your camera (such as using depth of field to blur backgrounds). These skills will help you to find shapes that are not quite what you need, and to reshape them into the letters of the English alphabet when seen through your photography.

This is a great time to hone your skills of observation, and awareness of your surroundings, to see what others are likely to miss.

Some Tips For Better Alphabet Photography Ideas

This urban alphabet photography project is essentially an exercise in seeing creatively and using the photographic tools that you’ve learned about so far. However, you could always do it better with a few tips and hints, right? So here we go…

  • Look for unique and interesting compositions: Try to find interesting angles or perspectives to photograph your alphabet letters. This can be as simple as shooting from a high angle, or low angle, or looking for reflections in windows or other shiny surfaces.
  • Use light and shadows to your advantage: Look for ways to use light and shadows to create contrast and add interest to your photographs. For example, you could photograph a letter in front of a bright window, or use a flashlight to highlight a specific part of a letter.
  • Pay close attention to how shapes interact with each other, and also how they interact with the edge of your frame. Change your composition… move closer or further away to emphasize certain shapes in the objects that you choose, to form an alphabet shape.
  • Try to find a diverse range of found objects to work with. Variety makes the project more fun.
  • Don’t take photos of alphabets that already exist. While some people do it, it’s just too easy and doesn’t push your skills to the limit.
  • Clear the clutter: Shapes are more easily understood if they’re clearly seen against a strong background. Distracting elements in the background will make the shape weak and less easily seen.
  • Use macro lenses, landscape orientation, square crops, and diagonal frames.
  • You can move items around a little to make minor adjustments but don’t do it too much or too often
  • Don’t stop at one. Take more than a few photos of each of the alphabets when you see them. You won’t know which one works better till you compare them on the screen. Plus, you’ll want to use more than one image if the word you’re forming has alphabets repeated.
  • Set a defined start and end date to ensure that you progress consistently through the project and not keep putting it off for later.
  • Search for your alphabet photographs all the time, everywhere.
  • Don’t give up. Keep looking. Finish all the letters of the alphabet, but have fun!
  • Share your project results with us on the Beyond Photo Tips Flickr Group  or Facebook Page.

The idea is to see everyday objects in a new light.

Increase the Difficulty by Trying Found Object Alphabets

If you find alphabets in shapes easily, then it’s time to make the project more difficult. Change the rules so that you can’t touch any of the objects to reposition them, or even add light with a flash or reflector. You’re to take photographs of objects exactly as they’re found. This is called “Found Object Photography”, and combining it with your Alphabet Photography project will make it even more challenging.

Bringing it Together: Make Words

Once you have finished your project, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

  1. Open up your images, select the best, and delete the rest.
  2. Process these images so that you are happy with them. You could increase contrast, and brightness, or crop the images slightly differently. Finally choose whether the image should remain in color, or be converted to black and white. You can use a mix of the two.
  3. Finally, import them into an image editor of your choice, and paste them one by one into a larger document. .
  4. Now you can arrange them to form words and sentences.
  5. Print them out, and you’re done!

Alphabet Project Variants: Urban Numbers, Ransom Note Alphabet

You could also do variations of this photography project:

  • Create an urban alphabet out of interesting lettering (from different signs, etc.) that you see around you in the city. Imagine that you’re making a ransom note, except that instead of cutting out letters from different print sources, you’re taking photographs from sign boards all around your city. This is an easy project.
  • Create an Urban Number. Find shapes that look like numbers. See how many numbers you can get at the end of the project.

You can find more such projects on the Photo Project home page. If you have any suggestions for similar projects, or if you would like to share your work, do get in touch in the comments.

Featured Image: maloupictures

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Susheel Chandradhas
Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for Fstoppers.com, and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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5 Comments

  1. Wow, I think creating an entire alphabet would be super slick. I might have to start keeping my eyes peeled for those letters!

  2. I do like the idea ! actually I love it but when does it start end etc… ?
    I would also ask you if you would be interested in joining us at PhotoProjectsWiki.com it would be cool to have your projects there with the rest !

  3. Hi ADIDAP Dreamer…

    I’ve been visiting your site now and then for a while now… Thanks for stopping by at Beyond Phototips.

    These projects are not really put up as an organised event. They’re more in the order of Do-It-Yourself home projects. I’d love to see things change, and for the projects to turn into something really participatory. That will be up to the readers though… I’m hoping to see some comments come in before taking things further.

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