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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Working In Projects

No question about it, it’s great to make a fantastic photograph…..that ‘greatest hit’ image that goes up on the wall. But working in ‘photographic projects’ carries a different sort of appeal. It allows you to take the time to interpret something in real depth. Once you make the obvious photos you have to really work to understand ‘how else’ you can see, portray, and transmit the feel of your subject. I certainly don’t intend to write a treatise on working in projects, but I thought I would write about why I enjoy projects and how I approach them in the hope that, perhaps, some part of that might resonate with readers.

You can build a project around almost anything. You most likely have a project already completely photographed in your Lightroom (or whatever other processing software you use) library, though you may not even know it. A project can focus on just about anything - places, inanimate objects, living things, people, ideas, colors, weather, feelings, and, well, almost any subject or idea that catches your fancy. The challenge is to have a very clear idea about what the project is about, so that you can draw associations between the images thereby allowing them to work together as a topic.

In order to transmit real emotion with your images, the project should be about something that you love or at least have a strong interest in. As they say, ‘shoot what you love’, because, if you don’t, you likely won’t come up with a cohesive body of work. It can most definitely be difficult to ‘keep going’ when the subject doesn’t move you.

 
From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

 

But, personally, I do have some difficulty with projects. I love working in projects but, while I start many of them, I often either don’t finish them or they go on for…..well, quite a long time. That isn’t to say that I never finish them. In fact, I am quite happy with my Carrie Furnace, Cathy, and Empathy projects. But I have started many more that have not come to completion. So I have done some introspection about this and have put together several thoughts, ideas, and recommendations to help myself bring more projects to completion. These are ideas that pertain to me, but I thought they were nonetheless worth writing in a post in case others might find some of them useful, as I suspect that I’m not the only person to struggle with this issue.

I believe that one of the most important things that keep me from completing projects is fear! Fear that the work I’m doing isn’t ‘good enough’ or that ‘it’s been done already’ or that ‘people will think it’s dumb’. It’s easy to say ‘just ignore that feeling’ or that ‘nobody will do it just the way you’re doing it’ but that just doesn’t seem to work for me. Here are some things that I have started trying that I believe do help:

 
From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

 

1) Define the project size from the start - how many images do I think I will need to complete the project? This gives me a goal to work towards. And it can certainly be revisited. If I start by planning for a project consisting of ten images and I get there rapidly and easily and find myself wanting to make more photographs for the project then the goal can be expanded. If I get to the initial goal and feel like I have said most of what I want to say then I have a complete project. If I get stuck after three images that I think are good and can’t make more, well, then maybe it isn’t a topic or idea that I have enough interest in. Move on. Nothing wrong with recognizing that the interest just isn’t there. Who knows, maybe I will come back to it one day.

2) Define how the project will be presented - wall display, magazine submission. PDF, folio, web display? All of these? By defining what the end result of the project will be I get a sense of purpose and I know what I am working towards. These endpoints can be re-examined and changed depending on how the project proceeds.

3) I don’t consider an image ‘done’ or work towards ‘completely finishing’ an image before moving on to the next one in the project. For a project to be cohesive there needs to be some consistency in style. Therefore, when I reach the goal number of images, I plan to review them, see which ones work together, and finish editing the images together as a group to ensure there is some type of consistency and visual flow among them.

4) When the images are completed, processed, and edited in terms of which ones I will include in the project, I plan to actually put them together into whatever the plan was for their final presentation. That takes work, be it printing, posting, learning to make a PDF etc, but if it is worth doing the project then it’s worth assembling the final presentation. I won’t consider the project complete until the planned presentation method is completed.

5) Deadlines - I plan to give myself a deadline to reach that initial number of images so that the project doesn’t drag on. Don’t get me wrong, if things are going well and revisiting the project size leads to a desire for a larger project, that’s a good thing. Then I can make a new deadline for the expansion. There are some projects that are short term projects and some that may take longer periods of time. All good, as long as there is actually work being done towards a goal and the expansion also has a deadline.

As an example, the images in this post are from a project that I had started but never finished. I have now resumed it with all the recommendations I made above. The project consists of photographing a pair of statuettes that were meaningful to my mother, who passed away recently. They were one of her prized possessions, and I decided to put together a project photographing them. My initial goal is for the project to have a dozen images and to have the photographing and processing completed by the end of October. I would like to have, as a finished presentation, a folio and a PDF which I can work on (I will determine a deadline for each) once the images are completed.

Do you have any ideas that motivate or push you to complete projects. If so, please share them in the comments. I would love to hear them.