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Start a Personal Photography Project

A Guest Post by Neha Singh from ShutterMonks.com.

Image: World’s Best Father Photo Courtesy: Dave Engledow

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.

Image: Caption: Photo Courtesy: Charlie Duncan

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.

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

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.

Image: Photo Courtesy: Humans of New York Project

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!

Image: World’s Best Father Photo Courtesy: Dave Engledow

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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