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Photography projects that make you feel alive

Malawi orphanage 2

We live in a new digital world of social media and computer games which makes it all too easy to keep the real world at arms-length.

Do you ever find yourself thinking you want to do more, feel more and live more, but comfortable familiarity and lack of confidence holds you back?

Think about why you love photography. For many of us it’s that we’re fascinated by the world we live in and want to share our vision of it. To create great photos you need to feel, but to feel more you may need to push yourself to do things that take you out of your comfort zone.

How to push your boundaries

On a Monday morning you probably daydream about doing something more exciting, yet when Friday comes around it ‘s easy to slip into your old routine. How do you break the monotony and start doing something that really excites you, without feeling overwhelmed?

Photography projects that make you feel alive

  1. Malaysia.jpgStart dreaming. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming. What kind of photography project would have you leaping out of bed each morning? What ideas haven’t been done before? What do you love? What do you aspire to?
  2. Plan it. Think about what’s stopping you and find solutions. Do you need to negotiate some free time away from your family? What are the steps you need to carry out to take you from where you are now to where you want to get to? Write it all down. Each time you think of a reason not to do it, think of how you might feel if you never gave it a try.
  3. Repetition breeds confidence. The first time is always the scariest, whether you’re photographing a wedding, or learning to scuba dive. Things that scare you can quickly become a breeze, if you’ll just try.
  4. Announce it to the world. If you tell your friends and family that you’re going to do something, it forces you to go through with it. It’s no longer a dream, it’s real.
  5. Start small. You can have the grandest idea in the world, but don’t think about the enormity of the project, just focus on what you need to do first. Once momentum gathers you’ll find that your early successes drive you onwards.

Malaysian child

Be a photojournalist

Do you have a boiling passion that longs to tell an untold story? Maybe it’s a great injustice that needs unearthing, an unsung hero who needs championing, or a wondrous event that deserves attention.

Do something that’s never been done before

The human race has an inherent desire for a sense of self respect, achievement, fulfilment and recognition. Any first year psychology student can tell you that. It’s called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.

By endeavouring to accomplish something that has never been tried before you’re satisfying the natural desires the modern world does such a good job of suppressing. To come to the twilight years of your life and be able to proudly state “I did that!” is one of the hallmarks of a life well lived.

“Get busy living, or get busy dying” Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

A great train of thought to start with when dreaming up this kind of project is “I’d like to photograph every (fill in the blank) in the world, or country”. Alternatively you could be the first person to ever photograph a “blank”.

Massage charity Labuan Bajo

An exhaustive study of a single subject

Most things in this world have been photographed at least once, but there are still many subjects that haven’t been studied photographically for an extended period. If you photographed a year in the life of a dementia care home or a homeless person it would be far more interesting than one passing photo.

A helpful project

If you have the nagging feeling that you want to do more with your life and your photography, then a project that helps others can help you find your mojo. There are many studies that show lasting happiness and fulfilment can be found through helping others. If you can combine helping people with your passion for photography then so much the better. This is the approach I took.

For two years I had an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. I kept putting it to the back of my mind as the idea seemed too big to handle. The idea was to do something nice for someone from every country on earth.

Finally I took the plunge. I followed my own advice by planning the idea, laying out the rules, and announcing it to the world through my website and social media. I could no longer back out.

A project like this encourages you to keep picking up your camera and exploring the world around you. You end up experiencing things and talking with people you would normally have overlooked. Without this project I never would have reached out to a local care home to create poignant family portraits for the residents. Now I have happy memories and this fabulous testimonial of how my photography touched people’s hearts:

Care home

“I treasure the lovely photos that you took of my mother, husband and me at Avery House back in February of this year. My mother became very ill shortly after those photos were taken with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She also broke her leg and had a partial hip replacement in August of this year, no mean feat at the age of 87. She had to be placed into nursing care at Wentworth Croft, as Avery House couldn’t meet her needs any more. Sadly she passed away on 19th November after seven weeks in nursing care. So you see those photos are priceless to me, everyone says how natural and professional they are and I always tell them who took them. So a BIG THANK YOU to you for a lasting memory of my mum.” Janice Osborne, Peterborough

Visiting and helping an orphanage in Kenya was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Far more fulfilling than wallowing by the pool like a drunken hippo.

Kenyan Orphanage 1

Kenyan orphanage

Throwing yourself into situations you’d never normally experience opens up a whole new world of photographic opportunities. Great photos often tell a story and projects like this naturally create the necessary environment and atmosphere to help you produce your best work.

What projects are you working on or dreaming of? When will you take the plunge and get started?

For more ideas on projects see:

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Dan Waters
Dan Waters

runs Get Pro Photo Club, where he shows dedicated students exactly how to become a full time photographer. He also practices what he preaches and is one of the leading wedding photographers in Peterborough and was voted one of the UK’s top 10 breakthrough wedding photographers by Hitched and Photo Professional magazine.