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Start a Personal Photography Project

A Guest Post by Neha Singh from ShutterMonks.com.

World’s Best Father Photo Courtesy: Dave Engledow

In 2010, Dave Engledow welcomed his newborn daughter Alice Bee. Over time, he started documenting his daughter’s life creatively, through a collection of photos, which she would treasure forever. He ended up executing a beautiful Personal Photography project. What started as a photography project in 2010, then turned into the ‘World’s Best Father’ Calendar. He sold all the copies printed for 2012. For 2013, he started a KickStarter project that has been successfully funded.

As Dave found out, a Personal Photography project can be quite an adventure.

A Personal Photography project is a way for a photographer to showcase their passion for something. Or it can just be a way to bring structure to one’s photography hobby. It can be a great way to challenge the limits of one’s skills. Or it can be a great way to bring focus to one’s photography efforts. For amateur photographers, it can be a unique way to build an awesome portfolio. For professional photographers, it can be a truly rejuvenating experience. Personal Photography projects can take you places and make an impact. Most of all, they can be a lot of fun. Fun really is the keyword. A personal photography project will be great only if the photographer is having fun.

A Personal Photography project is just a commitment to self (not very different than committing to jog for an hour everyday). There are no rules on how to go about it. You can choose any subject and define any rules for your photography project. With this article, my attempt is to inspire you with famous examples of Personal Photography projects and then provide a few best practices & guidelines you can use in your own project. I end with some ideas that I would love to see people out there execute.

Lets dive in and look at some famous Personal Photography projects.

1. The 365 days Project

I find this one of the most difficult projects. In this project, you click one photo daily for 1 full year. It might sound easy to begin with, but it truly is a test of dedication. For his project, Charlie Duncan, a photographer I know, took his camera into surgery with him when he was having skin cancer removed from his scalp. You can read about his 365 Day Photography Project for inspiration and tips.

Caption: Photo Courtesy: Charlie Duncan

2. The 52 Weeks Project

Similar to the 365 days project, this project requires you to click one photo per week. This is definitely easier than the 365 days project. If I had to choose between the two projects, I would take up this one. But, that is because I lack the discipline required for the 365 days Project. And also because I would put in more thought in each of these 52 photographs.

3. The A-Z project

If you are not thrilled by shooting on a daily/weekly schedule and are looking for a more creative inspiration, then this project is for you. There are two versions of this project, and both are quite fun! In one version, you click a photograph of an object/feeling starting with each alphabet. In the other version, you look for alphabets in real life and click. This project is shorter and is more driven by discovery.

The A-Z project - Alphabet V , Photo Courtesy: Raymond Larose

4. Single Object Challenge

Pick up a pack of cards and try to create 30 unique images from it. The idea is to push oneself. Pick up any object and create images from different angles. Use the object as a prop on different backgrounds and in different situations. Get Creative!

All of these are great projects for Photography beginners. When you are at a stage where you just like to click and have not yet defined your photography genre, when you are still discovering photography. Such projects keep you from falling behind. These help you avoid periods of lull, times when you don’t touch your camera just because you “don’t have the time”. These will give you the necessary push and inspiration. These will keep you out, clicking more!

However, even when you have figured out your genre and you know if you are into taking Portraits, Street Photography, Landscape, Food, Architecture or something else. Or, when you are a professional Photographer, making money by following your passion. If somehow, you have started limiting yourself to Professional Assignments. If you don’t carry your camera everywhere, like you used to. You do your assignments well, but if you don’t enjoy it like you used to. It is time to pick up a personal photography project! All of the above projects work equally well in reigniting that spark, making you a beginner once more.

These projects become all the more fun, when done in groups. Also, it is a good idea to post your pictures on a social platform or your blog to keep you going. A well known group on Google+ is the G+ 365 Project where people share their photographs they click everyday. There are many groups like these, where others can motivate you.

When starting a Personal Photography Project…

…there are a few things to put some deep thought into -

a. Choosing a Subject – The subject of Photography Project is a very personal choice. It should be something which you really care about, or something which really excites you. Don’t choose a subject based on what others might like, or based on what your clients will appreciate.

b. Set a Timeline – Without a timeline your project runs the risk on never getting completed. Set a deadline for yourself. The time can be a month, 3 months, 12 months or even a week. Choose a time accounting for your work schedule.

c. Set a Goal – You need a goal to stay inspired. The goal will help you in moving forward. So decide what you are trying to achieve with your photography project. Do you want to print a calendar or a photo book? Do you want to document a story or want to print photos to hang on your wall? Do you want to display your work in an exhibition?

d. To Share, or not to Share – A lot of us when we start a project are confused on whether to share our photographs as we move forward, or to share the final product. It is your decision! But, you should decide your strategy beforehand. Personally I am a big fan of the power of Internet. Sharing my work gives me the much-desired push and direction.

Let me take an example of the ‘Humans of New York (HONY)’ Project. Photographer Brandon Stanton started this project in 2010. His idea was to construct a photographic census of New York City. He thought that it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants, so he set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map. What started as a Personal Photography Project has grown, and now boasts of 282,000+ followers on Facebook. This was an ambitious project and by sharing his work, Brandon got regular feedback and inspiration from his followers to keep going.

Photo Courtesy: Humans of New York Project

For some Inspiration

If you are now a believer in Personal Photography projects but are finding it hard to decide your subject, here is what can help:

Look for Photography Projects online – I love going through photography projects on Kickstarter. There is no dearth of imagination.

Look around in your city – Is your city unique in any way? Are there people with untold stories? Are there places that you would like us to visit? Are there streets, which you would like us to walk? Do you have culture/architecture, which speaks for itself?

Explore the People around you – The people around me have always intrigued me. We know so little about the people we meet in our daily lives. In the building I live, they have started a unique posting. Every week they put up a poster in our lift where they write one employee. I just found out that our technician is a wrestling champion who wrestled for 17 years, and speaks 7 different languages! Isn’t that awesome?
I know if I had started such a project while I was working at HP, I would have discovered many fascinating stories about my colleagues.

And what about me? Well, I have been shying away from a project because of the dedication required. But, now as I sit writing this in a downtown Seattle Cafe…I think I want to do a project on the Coffee Houses here or on the people who work from here. After all, Seattle is The Coffee city!

Your Turn

Did I convince you to finally start a personal project? Do you already have one which you would like to share with us? I will love to hear about it all. Share your personal projects, projects which have inspired you, projects which you are going to take up or just your project ideas…all in the comments section.

Let us start inspiring each other! It might be a struggle, but I am sure we will succeed!

World’s Best Father Photo Courtesy: Dave Engledow

Neha Singh is the founder of ShutterMonks.com, an online magazine about All Things Photography. She enjoys blogging and photography.

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  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve

    I decided a while ago to try a project to capture scenes that were within a 10 mile radius of where I lived. It proved very interesting as I discovered places that I did not know existed even though they were close by.

    I started walking the South Downs and took a series of photos of scenes from my walk:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery/South-Downs/G0000vwfzk31exQI/C00006idB3II8aC4

  • http://www.canonblogger.com Jason

    Great article on photo projects! I’ve found seasonal projects are also useful and inspirational to keep my mind and craft active and engaging. I’ve actually been in the process of assembling an eBook on seasonal photography that will help you focus your passion in different areas according to the season. For now, here’s a couple articles that will help keep your mind (and eye):

    http://www.canonblogger.com/2011/04/18/spring-photo-projects/
    http://www.canonblogger.com/2012/06/01/three-fun-summer-projects/

    Happy shooting!

    Jason Anderson

  • Brooklyn

    Its been a while since I’ve picked up Nikon dslr but this post has really inspired me to start a personal project. I can’t wait to begin!

  • http://www.appleledgephotography.com Robert Rosen

    What started out as regular street photography has turned out to be street portraits of homeless people with interviews. Sometimes a couple of weeks can pass between sessions. It is not the easiest project but I feel a need to continues. The results can be found in my website or at http://www.appleledgephotography.smugmug.com

  • Scottc

    Some inspiration in this article!

    These are from a flickr projectb group.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626199404744/

  • https://www.facebook.com/LenSpirations Maca Marijana

    It’s been a long time since I started thinking about photography projects – because I now have the time – just not the inspiration and dedication. I was thinking about starting that A-Z project which you mentioned in this article but I haven’t been ready. :) But today I think I will take my first photo (project related) .. starting with the letter A. My subject will be different for each photo with its first letter being appropriate. My goal is to gain back my creativity which I feel like I have been loosing lately and maybe in the end I will print the photos out and arrange them in a personal scrapbook. :)

    I decided to share my photos on my Facebook page and deviantArt.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    Terrific post. Projects can also be a huge confidence boost for newer photographers too since they provide some aims and objectives that they’re forced to work through. I love some of the ideas here (and the ones other readers have linked. They’re great)!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/sets/72157629554714000/

  • http://rafaelmarquezphotography.com/ Rafael Marquez

    I was working on a project of the planes that flew overhead of an office that I used to work at. I even captured Air Force One going over head! I no longer work there, so I need to find a new project to work on. Thank you for the post!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafaelmarquez/sets/72157630550092276/

  • http://twitter.com/MomPhotographer Mom Photographer

    I’m in the middle of the 365 self-portrait project. it is so much fun!

  • Tod

    A friend of mine did a 365 grateful project, every day for a year she photographed something she was grateful for. It was fun for her to do but it also helped with her mental health issues

  • http://luntiangrace.blogspot.com luntian grace

    i did a kit lens challenge for 30 days… just sharing what a kit lens can do. if you like to visits it’s at http://www.luntiangrace.blogspot.com

    and yes i got the idea after the kit lens post here at dps.

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    I took a photo a day of both of my kids. Where I went beyond what other do is I found a composer to compose original music to the photos. It was much more work than I ever imagined but it was worth it. Oh and no more kids for me… Too much work both with the kids and with the project. :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfCnYHLvhKI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyxUfY-EUk&feature=relmfu

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    I had 2 kids and did a 365 day project of their first year. I then found a writer to compose an original song. These were the 2 of the hardest projects to get done and for that reason I am not having a 3rd child. :)

    http://youtu.be/rvyxUfY-EUk

    http://youtu.be/jfCnYHLvhKI

  • http://www.focusfortworth.com Matt Jones

    This is very timely. I actually finished a 30-day project yesterday. Here are my results:
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.406468472747406.91876.390156561045264&type=3

  • http://bean-shoot.blogspot.com/ Michele Cummings

    I decided to do the 365 day project and it is indeed difficult!! I have missed a couple of days and today is day 105. This article came at a good time because I am starting to tire of it a little and was thinking I should pack it in. This is giving me the inspiration to forge on!! Thanks!

  • http://blog.deneytuazon.com Deney

    I think this would still count as a personal project since its non-funded and started by me and a good friend.
    It’s call The Malaya (means “free”) Project, highlights various members of the Filipino LGBTQ community.

    http://malayaproject.blogspot.com

  • http://shuttermonks.com/ Neha

    Such great project inspirations here. Thanks everyone for sharing your projects. I have noticed one thing which is common to all the projects that have been shared here – Each project holds great significance, it has been tough but everyone still remembers their project with a sense of pride. Kudos to everyone! And all the best to everyone who is starting a new project!

  • http://jlusardi.blogspot.com/ Jaclyn

    I’m currently working on a 52 Week Project. I am on Week 4. Basically I pick a different theme each week and share a couple of what I feel are my best shoots (or are my favorite) from the shot. Please check out my blog, http://jlusardi.blogspot.com/. It’s where I am posting my project, as well as, the other things I am working on. Please follow the blog if you like, and please comment with your feedback. Also, I am looking for suggestions for my themes.

  • Mike

    I did a Project365 of my 1st baby boy. I took at least 1 picture of him from birth to his 1st birthday. I posted the pictures on Facebook for our family in the Philippines and Michigan to see a picture of him everyday. It’s amazing how I can see the progress of my baby. After that I made a collage and planning on printing them in a big canvas. I didn’t get enough of the 1st 365 days, I am continuing it, but I named the project “countdown to my 2nd birthday. Hehehe

  • http://beverleysallisphotography.co.uk Beverley Sallis

    Caitlin Rose 52 project starts in 4 days – all to raise money for my serevely disabled granddaughter – next December will see all images auctioned off

  • Zoe

    This is not my project, but it’s been terrific to follow — 365 days of an old Oak tree in Southwest Wisconsin from every different angle/perspective you could think of. The photographer, Mark Hirsch named the project “That Tree” and it has gained quite a following! Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/photosofthattree

  • Jeison Orjuela

    Gracias !!

  • http://www.flickr.com/evbarneveld Erik van Barneveld

    I’m running a Tabletop Alphabet project and find it very rewarding.
    Beside the actual capturing, I really like the creativity of choosing subjects, composition and lighting. My bilingual requirement made it an even bigger challenge as it turns out to be quite difficult to find suitable subjects starting with the same letter in English and Dutch… See how I’m progressing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evbarneveld/sets/72157636514798723/

Some older comments

  • Zoe

    February 4, 2013 04:37 am

    This is not my project, but it's been terrific to follow -- 365 days of an old Oak tree in Southwest Wisconsin from every different angle/perspective you could think of. The photographer, Mark Hirsch named the project "That Tree" and it has gained quite a following! Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/photosofthattree

  • Beverley Sallis

    December 29, 2012 07:39 am

    Caitlin Rose 52 project starts in 4 days - all to raise money for my serevely disabled granddaughter - next December will see all images auctioned off

  • Mike

    October 6, 2012 09:40 am

    I did a Project365 of my 1st baby boy. I took at least 1 picture of him from birth to his 1st birthday. I posted the pictures on Facebook for our family in the Philippines and Michigan to see a picture of him everyday. It's amazing how I can see the progress of my baby. After that I made a collage and planning on printing them in a big canvas. I didn't get enough of the 1st 365 days, I am continuing it, but I named the project "countdown to my 2nd birthday. Hehehe

  • Jaclyn

    October 4, 2012 07:39 am

    I'm currently working on a 52 Week Project. I am on Week 4. Basically I pick a different theme each week and share a couple of what I feel are my best shoots (or are my favorite) from the shot. Please check out my blog, http://jlusardi.blogspot.com/. It's where I am posting my project, as well as, the other things I am working on. Please follow the blog if you like, and please comment with your feedback. Also, I am looking for suggestions for my themes.

  • Neha

    October 4, 2012 07:08 am

    Such great project inspirations here. Thanks everyone for sharing your projects. I have noticed one thing which is common to all the projects that have been shared here - Each project holds great significance, it has been tough but everyone still remembers their project with a sense of pride. Kudos to everyone! And all the best to everyone who is starting a new project!

  • Deney

    October 2, 2012 06:48 am

    I think this would still count as a personal project since its non-funded and started by me and a good friend.
    It's call The Malaya (means "free") Project, highlights various members of the Filipino LGBTQ community.

    http://malayaproject.blogspot.com

  • Michele Cummings

    October 2, 2012 05:56 am

    I decided to do the 365 day project and it is indeed difficult!! I have missed a couple of days and today is day 105. This article came at a good time because I am starting to tire of it a little and was thinking I should pack it in. This is giving me the inspiration to forge on!! Thanks!

  • Matt Jones

    October 2, 2012 03:21 am

    This is very timely. I actually finished a 30-day project yesterday. Here are my results:
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.406468472747406.91876.390156561045264&type=3

  • Jai Catalano

    October 2, 2012 02:19 am

    I had 2 kids and did a 365 day project of their first year. I then found a writer to compose an original song. These were the 2 of the hardest projects to get done and for that reason I am not having a 3rd child. :)

    http://youtu.be/rvyxUfY-EUk

    http://youtu.be/jfCnYHLvhKI

  • Jai Catalano

    October 2, 2012 02:17 am

    I took a photo a day of both of my kids. Where I went beyond what other do is I found a composer to compose original music to the photos. It was much more work than I ever imagined but it was worth it. Oh and no more kids for me... Too much work both with the kids and with the project. :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfCnYHLvhKI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyxUfY-EUk&feature=relmfu

  • luntian grace

    October 1, 2012 09:05 pm

    i did a kit lens challenge for 30 days... just sharing what a kit lens can do. if you like to visits it's at www.luntiangrace.blogspot.com

    and yes i got the idea after the kit lens post here at dps.

  • Tod

    October 1, 2012 08:58 pm

    A friend of mine did a 365 grateful project, every day for a year she photographed something she was grateful for. It was fun for her to do but it also helped with her mental health issues

  • Mom Photographer

    October 1, 2012 04:55 pm

    I'm in the middle of the 365 self-portrait project. it is so much fun!

  • Rafael Marquez

    October 1, 2012 01:53 pm

    I was working on a project of the planes that flew overhead of an office that I used to work at. I even captured Air Force One going over head! I no longer work there, so I need to find a new project to work on. Thank you for the post!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafaelmarquez/sets/72157630550092276/

  • Guigphotography

    October 1, 2012 04:25 am

    Terrific post. Projects can also be a huge confidence boost for newer photographers too since they provide some aims and objectives that they're forced to work through. I love some of the ideas here (and the ones other readers have linked. They're great)!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/sets/72157629554714000/

  • Maca Marijana

    October 1, 2012 12:32 am

    It's been a long time since I started thinking about photography projects - because I now have the time - just not the inspiration and dedication. I was thinking about starting that A-Z project which you mentioned in this article but I haven't been ready. :) But today I think I will take my first photo (project related) .. starting with the letter A. My subject will be different for each photo with its first letter being appropriate. My goal is to gain back my creativity which I feel like I have been loosing lately and maybe in the end I will print the photos out and arrange them in a personal scrapbook. :)

    I decided to share my photos on my Facebook page and deviantArt.

  • Scottc

    September 30, 2012 09:50 pm

    Some inspiration in this article!

    These are from a flickr projectb group.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157626199404744/

  • Robert Rosen

    September 30, 2012 12:09 pm

    What started out as regular street photography has turned out to be street portraits of homeless people with interviews. Sometimes a couple of weeks can pass between sessions. It is not the easiest project but I feel a need to continues. The results can be found in my website or at www.appleledgephotography.smugmug.com

  • Brooklyn

    September 30, 2012 08:34 am

    Its been a while since I've picked up Nikon dslr but this post has really inspired me to start a personal project. I can't wait to begin!

  • Jason

    September 30, 2012 03:46 am

    Great article on photo projects! I've found seasonal projects are also useful and inspirational to keep my mind and craft active and engaging. I've actually been in the process of assembling an eBook on seasonal photography that will help you focus your passion in different areas according to the season. For now, here's a couple articles that will help keep your mind (and eye):

    http://www.canonblogger.com/2011/04/18/spring-photo-projects/
    http://www.canonblogger.com/2012/06/01/three-fun-summer-projects/

    Happy shooting!

    Jason Anderson

  • Steve

    September 30, 2012 03:28 am

    I decided a while ago to try a project to capture scenes that were within a 10 mile radius of where I lived. It proved very interesting as I discovered places that I did not know existed even though they were close by.

    I started walking the South Downs and took a series of photos of scenes from my walk:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery/South-Downs/G0000vwfzk31exQI/C00006idB3II8aC4

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