Have you ever rolled your eyes when somebody’s said to you, ‘oh you must see this Ted Talk about xxxx?’ Well try and keep those eyes still a minute!
‘We need to first be limited, in order to become limitless’. This has really stuck with me since I saw the Ted Talk from Phil Hansen all about his creative journey. You can see the talk here (it really is good), but an abridged version is that he used to do very fine pointillism art work, until he developed a shake in his hand. He thought his artistic path was closed, and then a doctor told him to embrace the shake. From this, he started experimenting with art work he’d never thought about before, but found it most exciting when he limited himself within these projects. We talk about this on our retreats. It’s good to have those restrictions when you’re doing a series of shots, it makes it stronger. As we know from our own experience, personal projects feed into your work. We’ve realised that actually we should be giving these SO much more time and emphasis. If we ever come to a crossroads, or hit a bit of a slump, it’s good to have a few project ideas to kickstart your creativity and inspiration.
So next time you hit overwhelm with the possibilities of all the images you could or should take, these 5 project ideas might help you, or maybe spark an idea for you.
1. A Year Of Mornings. My friend Hannah bought me this gem of a book for my birthday a few years ago. It’s a beautiful collection of shots taken by friends Maria Alexandra Vettesse and Stephanie Congdon Barnes over the course of a year. 3191 miles separate them, in 2006 they started a visual conversation and took a photo a day to document their mornings, and did this for a year. There’s such a simplicity to the shots, and in this, so much beauty. So many of the images have such striking resemblances, a bond that defies the miles between them. Their blog and subsequent book were so popular, they have completed another 2 books since this one. If you feel you can’t commit to a year, maybe just do it for a week or a month and team up with one of your friends, or maybe some of your Instagram connections. Maybe take a photo at the same time every morning, with the same lens, or even with your phone. We set this at the end of our retreats for 7 days, and I love seeing themes cropping up or similar tones that a group of people are drawn to on the same day.
2. The word game. Team up with somebody else and come up with a series of words. I did this a few years ago with 2 photographer friends (one in Switzerland, the other in Scotland). We called it Three Photographers, Three Countries, Three Weeks. We limited ourselves to just take shots with our phones and gave ourselves a word a day. I loved seeing all our different interpretations, and also some of the similarities that happened too during our individual days. You can see our first week here on my now very old blog (complete with the old branding!). It’s making me want to try something like this again. Our first week of words were Light, Wild, Tree, Sky, Lines, Eat & Cosy. If you wanted to do this by yourself, I sometimes pick up a book, randomly pick up a page, and with my eyes closed, point at a word. I then try and take photos based around this word all day, or for the next hour when I go on a walk.
3. Shoot From The Hip. This is more of an exercise than a project, but it could lead to a series of hip shots! I do this if I feel a bit frustrated, and a bit stuck. It’s very freeing! Have your camera resting on your hip, held by the strap over your shoulder. And just press the shutter when you feel there’s something happening in front of you. You don’t look through the viewfinder, and that’s the comfort zone bit stretched. You’re not quite sure of the focus, although you can guess your distance away from the subject you’re taking with the aperture you’ve chosen. You can see a series of shots I did here on market day around Hebden Bridge a couple of years ago. And here’s a collection I took the other day down at The Piece Hall in Halifax. I was really drawn to the shadows and movement.
4. A 365 project, taking a photo a day for a year. This is quite a commitment. I did it a few years ago and some days were really hard! I guess with any project you decide to do, the key is to be gentle with yourself. Or maybe do a 52 project. Commit to take 1 photo a week (maybe at the same time every week) and think about how you might be present this after a year, maybe in a blog or book?
5. Take one object and think of 5 different ways to photograph it. So say it was a cup of tea (I know, I’m obsessed!), maybe take it from different angles. Take it from above, so a different perspective to maybe how you’d normally take it, frame something through the handle, shoot into the light and show the steam, maybe put the camera on self timer and get into the frame holding your cuppa? You could do this once a week over a period of time. You get my drift! Or maybe get in the frame yourself too? A few years ago now, I took a series of self portraits from inside domestic appliances…
At this point, I wanted to mention a few of our Instagram friends who are in the midst of projects at the moment and I’m sure, like us, you’ll find them inspiring too. Zoe Wittering is in the throes of a 365 project that she has hashtagged #before8h48. She’s 7 weeks into the project, taking a photo every day before this time. She’s posting them in her stories if you’d like to follow her journey. I was chatting with Zoe the other day and she told me she ran a course all about personal projects in January, and is hoping to run it again in the future.
Rachel from Little Robin Photography has just started her #adayaweek2019 project. She was craving to take more photos of her own family, so will be turning the camera on documenting her life for one day a week this year. We can’t wait to see the results! You can follow her on Instagram here and read all about her project in her blog post here.
Laura from Baby Picture This has just written about her project #weekofmoments (which turned into 2 weeks!) ‘Let's not look for the big moments or the amazing light or the picture perfect stuff, I said to myself, just pick up the damn camera when you can’. You can see Laura’s blog post about her project here.
Instagram has some great communities that offer weekly/monthly themes. Instagram itself has themes every weekend. One of our favourites is It’s My Week with its weekly themes and shares. Look out also for themes from Tales Of The Moment and Candid Childhood. Or if you’ve been following our Stories of the Everyday hashtag, we’re now doing monthly challenges too. March’s theme is GROWTH, to be interpreted how you’d like. #storiesoftheeveryday_growth.
Having a project or theme to work towards can really help take those icky overwhelm feelings out of the equation. Having a theme can often really help make that shift, get your finger on the shutter, and get you feeling creative.
I’m currently working on 2 projects and I’m excited about both of them, and once I start talking about it, it makes me accountable too. So you may have seen my Tea For Two project on Instagram where I sit down with a friend every week, have a brew and a chat, and take photos. The other project that I’ve been working on is called The Kitchen Table, as I’ve become fascinated how these spaces have become so much more than just a place to eat.
We love working with people to find their core, their essence as a photographer. From this, themes and projects can be developed and your style, and tone will shine. Now then, which project are you going to go for? Ours are just suggestions, we’d love to hear any you’ve done or are in the process of doing.