Have you ever thought about doing a photographic project and you don’t know where to start? When a person has been “trapped” in the photographic ocean for some time, after the initial fear, the first learning and the first frustrations and begins to feel comfortable with his camera, he starts to feel the itch to make his own project.
If you are one of these people who have already been bitten, either the bug or the blowfly 😉 , you are interested in staying, because today I’m going to tell you the steps you should take to carry out your first photographic project.
Before I launch into telling you how to carry out your first photographic project, I think I have to make a small digression to explain what it is and how to differentiate it from a series. A photographic project is a set of images that have a beginning and an end, dealing with a specific subject.
The images will be influenced by the personality, the culture and the way of understanding the world of the person who carries out the project, in this case you. It has to have a narrative and aesthetic coherence, and each image has to fulfill an objective within it. A photographic project involves effort, patience and dedication.
How is it different from a series? Well, in the complexity, in the preparation, in the message… A series is simply a set of photographs with the same theme. You can use photographs you had three years ago and the ones you will take in four years, for example.
You think of making a series of street lamps, so you collect your photos or every time you go out with your camera you dedicate yourself to photographing them. A project requires much more, planning, methodology, temporization…
But don’t get overwhelmed, I’ll tell you about it and you’ll see that it’s very easy to understand 😉
Steps to make a photographic project
When you feel you need to tell something, to share something. It is not about doing a project just for the sake of it, but because you need to carry it out. Also to use it as a practical exercise with the intention of improving your technique. To play around it is enough to start with a photographic series, that is to say, to choose a theme and take several photographs of the same subject following more or less a coherent aesthetic and format. A project requires involvement, time and effort, so you must be clear that you want to do it in order not to throw in the towel at the first attempt.
2. The idea
Maybe the idea of the project has been in your head for a while because you are thinking about a specific topic. If so, it is because that topic motivates you enough. If you have to start from scratch, the first and most important thing is that you find a topic that not only motivates you, but with which you want or need to get involved, that is something that touches your heart, that you want to defend, share or denounce, especially if it is a social project. But whatever the topic is, it has to move you inside so that you don’t get discouraged.
For the first project I recommend you start with something you have on hand. If you propose to photograph the way of life of the tribes of North Africa when you live in Spain and you don’t have a euro to travel, you will hardly achieve your purpose. Better start by photographing the life of your neighborhood or the urban tribes of your city 😉.
When it comes to practice, there are several well-known projects, such as 365 days, or 52 weeks. Especially the first one requires a lot of dedication. If it’s your time and it’s calling you… go ahead! If not, here are some other ideas. And if you feel like you need to tell something but don’t know what, maybe it helps to think about your favorite books, songs and/or movies, chances are you’ll find a recurring theme among them. Dig around 😉 You can make a project about anything that comes to mind and motivates you!
3. Documentation and research
You are not going to get rid of this part. A good photographic project requires that you research about it, that you go deep into the subject, that you document and know everything (or almost everything) about it. If you talk (even if it’s through your camera) about a subject, you will have to stick as much as possible to its reality, unless your photographic project is a fantasy project that you work out between your imagination and your favorite editing program 😉 In that case you will have to think if the project is for you or if you want to share it and arouse interest. If you are looking for the latter, before you go ahead, think about whether there will be a real audience for it.
If the subject is very close to you, such as a daily self-portrait, you don’t have to do much research, but if you want to show “A day in the life of a circus” or “Customs of village X”, to give two examples, you should do a little research.
Project script and planning
You already have the idea, what the theme of your project is about and what you want to tell. Now you have to script it, that is, give the project a title and organize the ideas, define how you are going to tell it, more or less in how many photographs, if the purpose is for an exhibition or a book (these details will mark the way of doing the work), what is the purpose of each photo or the work as a whole. It may help you to make some sketches, it is not necessary that you draw very well, just that it helps you to establish beforehand what and how you want to photograph it. For example, if you want to photograph a day in the life of a singer, it would be good to first spend a day with her, get to know her habits and then define with what scenes and how you want to tell “her day”.
You can also use a sketch of what position the sun will be in at different times of the day in a certain place, the postures you want your model to have or where in the scene you want to place the props you have prepared.
The planning is the most important thing in a project. Leaving things to chance can ruin your work just when you are about to finish it. Tie up all the details in this phase of the project.
Another of the most important aspects, which is why I have left it to the end, is the temporalization. You must define how long this project will take you. Be careful not to embark on projects too long in the first few times, ideally 1-3 months because the energy ends up being lost and you get discouraged. Gradually you can plan more ambitious projects, some people embark on projects that last almost a lifetime! But as I said, it is not the most advisable to start 😉.
You already have the idea, the script of what you want to tell and the plan of how you are going to execute it. With this information, you must decide what equipment you need apart from your camera: lenses, lighting, tripod, etcetera. If you lack some material for what you need to transmit and your economy allows it, take the opportunity to acquire it. If this is not the case, you can try renting, borrowing or readjusting your plan and think about how you can carry it out with the equipment you have. The last thing you should do is to realize all this at the moment you shoot a photo. You must have planned ahead. Remember that it is not an isolated photo with which you have a wide margin of improvisation, that image is part of a whole, a piece of the puzzle that must fit perfectly with the rest, otherwise it will be incomplete or even worse, with a misplaced piece 😉.
Depending on how ambitious your project is, it is likely that you will have to draw on certain resources such as models, props, transportation… This is not something that should stop you, however, for a first experience, I recommend that you simplify as much as possible. Once you get started, once you know what it’s all about and find your own mistakes to correct them, you can set more complex goals. One step at a time, the roads are better built 😉.
7. Capture the idea
Now comes the most exciting part of the project, the one that excites us most as photography lovers. Shooting, capturing the idea that you have in mind and that you have captured on paper. Surely this is the part you enjoy the most, especially if you have done the previous planning work. Otherwise, setbacks can spoil the party 😉.
8. Selection and editing
This part is usually quite tedious which does not mean that it is less important. In fact, a bad selection can turn what would be a brilliant project into a job that goes unnoticed. It is very important to select the images that best tell the idea, that have a unita continuity. Imagine a novel, beautifully written, fluid, with wonderful descriptions and engaging prose, and yet, as a whole, meaningless. The images of the project have to follow a narrative thread, and at the same time they have to have enough strength and history by themselves. All of them must fit perfectly, if any of them doesn’t and you are tempted because you particularly like it, don’t take the risk. And, if you have doubts, you can always ask for an external opinion. Sometimes we are so immersed that it is difficult to see objectively.
As for the editionSince all the images are part of a set, it is better to edit them all at the same time so that they are the most homogeneous possible.
And after all this effort, it’s time to show your work! Maybe the project was born with a clear idea of how it was going to be shown, or maybe it’s something you’ve decided along the way. If you haven’t done it yet, think about how it will look best and where. If you want to edit a book, publish them in an online gallery or mount an exhibition, for example. In this last case you also have to think in which support and size you want to print them to show them. You can also make a video with it, as this man did with his daily self-portraits between 1987-2010:
Are you up for it?
Ideas for photographic project
Come on… so that you have no excuses, here are 13 different ideas to create your first photographic project.
1. One a day for a year
This is a classic. And I think it is the most complicated because it can be too long in time and maintaining motivation is not always easy. If you are one of those who throw in the towel at the drop of a hat or get tired soon because you need something new, maybe this is not your best project. It is if you are constant and you like big challenges. Although it requires constancy, it is a brutal exercise, every day you have to exercise the creative “muscle”. Do you have time? Then go ahead!
2. One a week for a year
This one is somewhat softer and lighter than the previous one. It is also long in time and requires consistency but you have a whole week to make your photo. It is more relaxed but also exercises creativity and keeps you active. You can set yourself one day a week so you don’t get carried away, even if you then have leeway.
3. Photograph the same landscape throughout the different hours of the day.
An excellent exercise to learn to understand light, to check its differences, observe its different nuances and see how it influences a scenery. An interesting project and a great practical exercise. My advice is to find a nice setting and at some point the sun rises or sets at a point in the frame. Make a mark at the exact spot where you place the tripod, note well (and point out) the height at which you put it and note the focal length. This way the landscape will be exactly the same, only will change the light. You’ll be amazed at what that “just”.
4. Same landscape in different seasons.
This is a project that can look beautiful. It will also help you to observe the light, as it not only changes throughout the day, but also between the different seasons. Including a tree in the frame or making it the protagonist can be a good idea, as the seasons are perfectly reflected in them, with their falling leaves, fruits, etcetera. You can see an example here o here. In this last one you did not shoot from exactly the same place, do you see the importance of marking the place from where you shoot 😉 .
5. Recreate paintings by your favorite painter.
It can be something complex (depending on your favorite painter) but if you work well and put a lot of passion into it, it will bring you great satisfaction. You can see as an example the work of Desiree Dolron who inspires her photographs on Flemish painters of the 17th century. She plays mainly with lighting and retouching.
Another option is to make a remake of painting classics, as he did, for example, Annie Leibovitz for Vogue.
And who says paintings also says movies, songs or novels. What inspires you the most besides photography? Well that, that’s what you can pursue, to combine two of your passions 😉
6. Reinterpret (not copy) your favorite photographer.
Surely you have some (or some) favorite photographer, someone you follow especially, who really inspires you. Well, the idea is to reinterpret their work, which is not the same as copying. Let me explain. Analyze their photographs, what do you like about them, what attracts you the most, the lines, the light, the message… Whatever it is that inspires you, when you have it clear, try to make your own photos working that aspect that attracts you so much. They will be your photos, with your stamp but with the essence that you like of that author.
7. Portray all the members of your family.
Although taking a portrait may seem easy, in reality it is not. Here the easy thing is that being your family you have two advantages: physical proximity (if you live far from them you will surely see them at some point and if not you focus on the ones you are closest to) and that you know them. A real portrait, one that immediately catches the public’s attention, is one that captures more than just the face. Tell your audience what your family is like with images alone.
Another project that can be interesting is to make a meteorological series, that is to say, to photograph the different meteorological phenomena: rain, wind, storm, fog, clouds, tornado, etcetera. In this article you can see different photographs taken at different meteorological moments, so you can see the charm of each of them. Of course, I recommend that you protect your equipment (not hide it 😉 ).
9. Photographing the moon for several months in different scenarios.
For the lunatic, romantic or nocturnal (or all together) I bring this idea. It is about capturing the moon from different locations. The moon, whether full or crescent, alone in an image does not have as much charm as if you frame it in an interesting place, in fact it can be very boring, as an exercise is fine, but if you want something more, do not leave it alone ;).
Look for different scenarios and let them embrace it. Each month a different scenario, the months you decide, six, twelve, twenty-four… 😉 Here are 13 tips for photographing the moon, if you are attracted to this project do not miss them!
10. Photographing different sports
If you are a sports lover this may be the project for you. Select a series of sports, for example, risk sports, or ball sports, or gymnastics. Try to make them similar so that the project has a greater coherence and focus on one aspect of the sport, which can be sacrifice, companionship, self-improvement or whatever interests you or attracts you the most in sports in general or in those in particular.
11. Portray pets and their owners
Maybe you’re not into sports but you’re crazy about animals. Well, here’s another idea, ask all your family and friends to take pictures of themselves and their pets. Maybe you can prove that every pet ends up looking like its owner, or is it the other way around?
12. Before and after
Do you really like your city, and do you know how it has really changed in the last fifty or hundred years? Look for old photographs of your city and recreate the same angle to reflect the passage of time. You can play with including the old image inside the frame and make a forced perspective or just recreate as accurate as possible the shooting angle and show your image next to the old one.
13. Self-portrait yourself once a week for a year.
Have you ever taken a picture of yourself beyond the selfie-selfie-taking-with-your-mobile? Well, if you really like photography you should try it. Self-portraiture is a great exercise and you always have yourself handy. If you have a tripod (or can get one), you might want to try this challenge. This way you can also see how you change over a year, how your mood can be reflected in your look or your expression. It will be a practical and probably emotional exercise 😉.
You can always choose the same framing or you can find different ways and places to portray yourself. Depending on what you are looking for with your project and what you feel like playing or creating.
And if you don’t have a tripod and want to play with reflections is also another possibility.
I think you already have a few ideas to start with. Or maybe one of these thirteen has suggested a different one that appeals to you more 😉.
Would you like to tell us what your next project is going to be? Are you going to do any of these? We want to know! And if you found this reading useful, feel free to share it. Let the muses fly to as many readers as possible 😉 Thanks for joining me here.