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Sometimes, fitting quality photography time into an already busy schedule is a challenge in itself. Even over weekends, pressing matters mean that photography is often left by the wayside. I know I’m guilty of relying on a camera phone to capture images – compromising image quality and control. One way to get back on the proverbial creative saddle is to embark on a photography project. And although starting a photo-a day project may seem a little daunting at first, committing even a minute each day to composing a photograph with a dedicated camera can go a long way.
There are no hard and fast rules for photo-a-day projects or challenges. You might even want to take a photo weekly or monthly instead. It’s the regularity and the plan that forms the basis of the challenge. Any other rules are those you set for yourself.
How often do you plan to take a photograph, daily, or weekly? Will you need to stock up on film or memory cards? Is there a certain time of day or location you want to capture images? Do you need a new camera bag? Setting out a clear plan before embarking on your challenge will help you keep motivated and shape the outcome of your final body of work.
Before starting out on your quest, consider what it is that you want to get from the photography project. Having a clear idea of your motivations will help guide you through your challenge more smoothly. Are you looking to expand on your technical skills? Or would you like to get to know your camera a little better? I find that writing down the desired outcome of a project is helpful. Plus, if your series does change course, it’s interesting to be able to look back at your notes and see how your project has grown.
Choosing a theme for your photo-a-day project can help create a cohesive series overall. If you are keen to hone your technical skills, try a theme that utilizes new photographic techniques. Or take on a subject which is different than what you usually shoot. If you want to make more time for photography, you’ll be surprised at what a few minutes a day can achieve. If you aren’t sure where to start, there are an abundance of websites that supply free-printable lists of plans, themes and tasks for each day, week, month, or year.
However, if you feel constrained by the idea of a hard-and-fast theme, remember that choosing not to have a clear theme is a choice in itself! Relying on subjects that catch your eye will expand your ability to decipher creativity and meaning in any given environment.
Next, consider a time frame for your project. Daily photographic challenges can last weeks, or even years. The time of day is a factor too – would you like to shoot your series during the day or the night? Maybe even both.
The time frame of the project relies on your goals and chosen theme. It also dictates the kind of equipment you’ll need. For example, documenting a landscape over the seasons requires a longer time frame than a series of self-contained photographs. Additionally, a project spanning over a longer time frame may only require a single photograph each week or per month, depending on the level of detail you prefer. If you want a consistent outcome from your series, consider using a tripod and a dedicated vantage point.
Selecting photographic equipment for the project will shape the aesthetic of the series and relate back to your initial goals and themes for the project. The beauty of daily or regular photography challenges is the opportunity to become more familiar with your photographic tools. It’s a perfect way to invest in developing your DSLR skills, or trying out a new lens. You may even want to use an analogue camera. Why not experiment with a different camera setting each day? Or focus on photography fundamentals such as shutter speed and aperture over the course of each week?
One of the requirements of taking on a photo-a-day challenge is keeping a camera on hand. This can be an issue in terms of additional carrying weight. Rather than resorting to the portability of a camera phone, pack your wallet, keys and phone into a camera bag instead. Your DPI will thank you later. And after a bit of adjustment, you’ll find that keeping your camera with you becomes so natural that you might feel naked without it.
Okay, so you have your goals set, your theme decided, your time frame sorted and your equipment at the ready… now what?
Start off simple by taking a few photographs around the house, or on your way to work. Keep in mind that not every image you take for the day will be perfect – and that’s okay! Sometimes it’s not the content that’s important, but the habit. Creative blocks are inevitable – just take a deep breath, snap a few photos for the day and come back to them later. The project is about learning and developing, not creating a masterpiece (although that is a possibility too!). Soon the exercise will become less of a chore, and more therapeutic.
Setting a reminder on a phone is a good way to remind yourself to take a photo – but don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day or two. A photo-a-day project is all about heightening your technical and creative skills -not shoving them down your own throat.
Having said that, there is a chance that over the course of the project you may begin to feel unmotivated or bored. You might even consider giving up. Making a blog, posting on Facebook, or creating a dedicated Instagram account to track your progress is a great way to stay on track. You’ll be able to easily view your own growth and share the results with others. An ongoing project helps you build up an online presence and a space to give and receive feedback from other photographers. Your friends might join in too.
Along with posting material from your project online at regular intervals, take some time to reflect on your work. Take note of the direction that your series has taken, and where it is headed. Doing a weekly or monthly check-in with your series will reveal interesting trends and techniques in your own photographic practice.
Having a long-term body of work, even over the course of a few weeks, provides a great opportunity to identify and remedy errors and bad habits. You may even discover hidden strengths in subject-selection and technical proficiency that you never knew you had!
Once you begin to actively seek out new photographic opportunities, you’ll see the world around you in a whole different light. Daily and regular photography projects reveal opportunities everywhere, even in the ordinary. Having a camera with you to capture those opportunities is a rewarding challenge. And although your daily efforts alone may seem insignificant, your series will gather momentum faster than you realize. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start your own photographic challenge!
Here are some images from my own project – please share yours in the comments below.