The Power of a Project

One of my earliest photo projects was to take pictures of a New Hampshire icon, Frye’s Measure Mill. I don’t know that I did such a good job with it since I only took 3 pictures (the goal was to cover the seasons from the same vantage point), but it was a start. Here are the two best –

They’re both from about 1991; the first is on Kodak 200 Gold film, the second is Ektachrome I think.

It would be 20 years before I did another. By that time I had a digital camera (my second) and decided on a subject literally at my door – lily of the valley.

Because it was digital I shot many more images. Over 30 made it into my album on flickr (click here to view the rest). Alongside just taking the photos, I also did a little research into these flowers and I learned a lot (I didn’t know they make little fruits!). After one year’s lifecycle I stopped. The goal was to show them from first sprout to wilting leaves and that was it.

Soon after I began another which has lasted for years – my Indian Pipe fascination. Originally I started it because the flowers interested me and I’d never managed a decent photo of one. Setting my sights on getting some good shots, I started to seek them out whenever I went walking in the woods. After a while, I got much better at photographing them and I still take a few images every year to add to my growing gallery. The latest photos are on top, the earliest at the bottom. The blog post is here. I like to think I’ve improved.

In the winter of 2011 I put together Tales from the Junk Drawer. It’s a small collection of macro and close up photos of stuff in a drawer in the house. Tiny robots, a radio, a busted cork, a yo-yo and these tiny firecrackers (they’re about 1 inch long each) –

When I lived in New Hampshire I had an ongoing series featuring Elusive Wildflowers. A couple of years ago it was vernal pools across the street in the woods. Just now I’ve got a project to photograph & study the Prairie River. I’m always shooting mushrooms and trying to ID them. Same with ferns…they always fascinate.

So where am I going with this? Only to say that photo projects can be an important component to your photography life. They have been for mine. Here are my top reasons to start your own photo project –

To discover

If you’re a curious nature photographer like I am, a photo study is a great way to get to know a species or ecosystem. I have a large collection of nature and field guides just so I can ID and learn about the things I photograph. A field, a river, a flower, a pond – heck, your dog! Anything that interests you can make for a good project.

To spend time with loved ones

Sure it could be family and friends, but also at a place you love or in conditions you love. It could be the main street in your town, a forest, a park. The fog, the snow, the rain. The beach. Anywhere you feel at your best.

For instant inspiration

Ever feel like you just don’t know what to do with yourself? Is your photography in a rut? Feel creatively drained? A project can keep you focused and give you a definitive subject and goal. You can spend less time dithering and more time behind the camera.

Build skills and try new things

A project can be a new skill or technique that you want to get better at – like panning, long exposures, sports or bird photography. Handling your new macro or telephoto lens. Using artificial light or a pop-up studio. Maybe you want to just play with deliberate camera motion because you’ve never done it before (guilty!!). How about double exposures? Time lapse?

It doesn’t just have to be taking photos either – a project can be based in post-processing, too. One thing I’ve always wanted to try is the art of the triptych – selecting and processing images for a set of three. That takes a certain eye. How about developing a personalized preset? Making composite images? There’s a lot to choose from.

Tell a Story

Watch your birdfeeder for a while and see what happens. Walk around the block every weekend and take pictures along the way and see how things change or stay the same. Follow the seasons at your favorite nature preserve. Photograph the covers and colophons of the books you read.

Photo projects have no boundaries other than the ones you set. You can make them long (years or decades) or short, just a few hours. They can be wide of scope (nature preserves in your state) or narrow (your coin collection). They can be object based or a particular effect or technique either in the field or in editing.

So don’t be shy…start a project and jump-start your photographic journey.

And hit the projects folder at the bottom to see anything else that falls into one of my project buckets!

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