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Having personal photography projects keep you motivated and focused

Personal photography projects large and small keep photographers enthused and motivated and are a great way to focus your photography efforts.

A personal photography project is simply selecting a subject to shoot multiple times. It can be shooting a historic building in different light, a series of portraits of your children, a big tree in a nearby park or a creek at different times of year. It could just be improving a technique or getting to know your camera better.

I have at least one project in the works at all times, usually two or three. When I get a moment of free time to shoot, I don’t have to wonder what it is I should shoot, I jump right into one of my projects. Here are some things to think about when coming up with a project.

Have an objective, a goal in mind. Be clear on your outcome. I find it best to write it down, that makes it real and easy for my old mind to remember! The goal can be to master a new skill, to create a series of prints, or to make a calendar as a gift.

Make your project something you are passionate about. You are much more likely to keep the project going if you are loving what you are doing rather than something you “should” be doing. I really enjoy photographing older men with classic faces, if they have a big old beard, even better. So whenever I see a great face, I tell the guy he has a great face and ask if I can photograph him. I always give anyone I photograph my business card and tell them I’ll send them a photo if they email me.  

Be sure you can return multiple times. One of the main reasons to do a personal project is to make the best images you can of your subject. That rarely happens the first time you photograph something. Pro photographers return to the same subject many times so they get the right light in the best conditions possible. I’ve photographed this covered bridge in Vermont at least 30 times and have many really good shots but there is a better one there. If I keep working it, I’ll get it. I had a long discussion with a pro friend about how cool it would be if we could just walk up to a scene and make a great photo right away. The more we talked the more we realized how boring that would be, the creative process would be removed and we’d be photo robots. Working a scene is a challenge and is rewarding when that great shot is made.

Have a project that happens on a regular basis at a scheduled time or a place you can just show up and shoot anytime. It could be a flower garden, karate class, a monument you photograph at night or downtown at sunrise. I’m working on a project photographing five trees atop a hill 20 minutes from my house. Since they are to the west from the road I can shoot from, I decided to shoot them at sunset and the beautiful light that happens until the sky is pitch black. I’ve gone over 20 times since December and it amazing how different the sky looks each time. It is making a great series of photos and I’m bummed when I can’t go because of other commitments or bad weather conditions.

Try a subject with a learning goal, or end product in mind. You might want to learn more about light, or shooting in manual mode, or photographing people. Before digital I did some light painting using strobes, but it was very hard to do and I didn’t get too good at it. Now lighting painting is something I love to do because a made a personal project out of perfecting my technique. I have several size flashlights I use to add light to the scene. My big one is 18 million candle power down to using my iPhone as a light. This was just a little penlight during a 30 second exposure and a car streaking through

Choose a subject with a variety of visual possibilities. If your project is a rock in your front yard, so there only so many pictures you can make before you aren’t too excited to shoot it again. I have a large project going photographing trees and a couple of sub-projects that are tree based at the same time. I love the look of birch trees and found a grove 10 miles from my Vermont home. I go there whenever I can and it looks different each time. My five trees on a hilltop project sounds like there isn’t much variety but I’m really using the trees as a foreground object to see how different the sky looks.

Planning your project. I’m not naturally organized so I have to work hard to keep my life is some sort of order. I use Evernote to plan my projects in several ways. It lets me create notebooks that are subject based and I can put notes, photos or web pages in the folders and add searchable keywords. When I come across a location that will make a good photo, I take a picture of it with my cellphone through Evernote and add keywords like sunrise, winter, trees, or whatever. Evernote captures the GPS coordinates and address so I’m able to easily find it again. I have Evernote notebooks for nearly every place I’ve been or hope to go in the future. Costa Rica is on my list of places to go and whenever I run across an online article that is interesting I add it to the Costa Rica notebook. I mentioned I’m working on a big project about trees. My trees notebook is packed with info from all over the world.

Get feedback. One of the most important ways to improve anything is getting qualified feedback. I don’t mean posting a picture on a forum where someone says “great capture.” That doesn’t help at all. You need to know who is providing the feedback whether they are a friend, co-worker or member of a photo club or Meetup group. My New Jersey photography Meetup group (https://www.meetup.com/somerset_photography) has monthly critique nights and they are a great way to get feedback. I’ve seen people grow immensely since I started it several years ago. Having a mentor is also a great way to get guidance and coaching. I love working with other photographers through my photographer mentoring program.

How do you know when the project is over? It can be when you’re bored with the subject but it would be better to have the final output in mind when you start. I did a personal project where I decided for 90 days I was going to photograph what is good is my life and post a photo each day to Facebook. It was lots of fun and on the three days I missed people were asking where that day’s photo was. Here are some things you might do:

  • Post photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Create a photo book – either through a publisher or a one off
  • Do a slide show presentation for senior centers, libraries
  • Create an exhibit at gallery or places like senior centers or libraries
  • Create a website
  • Sell prints
  • Make a calendar

I’d love to hear what projects you come up with and how you plan on displaying your photos. Please leave a comment below.

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