Happy New Years Eve! Tonight is the night when so many of us make promises and resolutions to be ignored or forgotten tomorrow. I wonder how many books have actually been written, compared to the number of people who have said they’re going to write a book? The realities can be overwhelming when you’re actually staring at that blank page for the first time. Or standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up at the peak, for that matter.
For those photographers considering an ambitious new project in 2015, I can assure you that just like climbing a mountain, the easiest step is always the first step. The more difficult part is keeping that momentum going over time, especially during winter months when cold weather keeps us indoors and holidays provide so much distraction. Thankfully, you have MyPhotoCentral.com to play the cheerleader role and goad you on with a few project ideas and a little inspiration for the New Year…
GOALS, TIMELINES AND DELIVERABLE
Back in my computer programmer days, we had a little thing we called “Project Management” to make sure everyone did their jobs, and did them on time. For every project, we defined what the ultimate product would be, what steps were needed along the way, and when each of those steps should be completed. As photographers and artists, we don’t need to be so stuffy as to create flowcharts and spreadsheets to keep track of our projects. But it does help to start with a vision of where we’re heading, and set some timelines to make sure it happens.
The first step is always to get ideas out of your head and into reality. Write them down on a piece paper, or email yourself and print it out and hang that on a wall to remind yourself. Don’t just scribe your ideas and walk away, that’s a recipe for procrastination. Give your ideas timelines to be accomplished, and be as specific as possible. Even better: share your project with friends, family or co-workers. It’s much easier to keep things on schedule when other people are asking you about it or anxiously expecting to see results. It’s called peer pressure... and it works.
DO IT IN PUBLIC
Speaking of peer pressure: this is the age of Social Media. If you’re not posting your projects somewhere online then you might as well be tossing them into a deep, dark cave. Websites, Blogs, Facebook and Instagram are all great ways to share your work with the world and get feedback. Some of that feedback may not always be what you want to hear, but regular contributions to a public project sure does lure fans (old and new) back for more.
PHOTO A DAY / 365 / 52 PROJECTS
For the over-achievers out there (or the under-achievers seeking discipline) maybe it’s time to start a Photo a Day project? The rules are simple: take new pictures every single day for one year. Grab your favorite shot each day and post it to social media, your blog or website. Repeat 364 more times and you’re done.
Creating one picture a day really isn’t hard to do, if all you care about is shooting any random picture. The trick of course is to keep it interesting for yourself, and for anyone who might be checking back on your project. If you’ve watched other 365 projects develop over time, you’ll notice days when the photographer was obviously uninspired. But then there’s those little gems of awesomeness in-between that would probably never have occurred without the pressure of having to perform every day.
Don’t fill in the blanks with images that already exist. You’re only cheating yourself when you do that. Stick to it and when look back a year from now, you’ll be surprised at how things progressed.
Having a theme to your project isn’t necessary, but it might keep you motivated and create a little added interest for like-minded viewers. Maybe you love food and cooking, or flowers, or cars. Your kids and family are fair game as well. It’s much easier to keep going when you’re passionate about the subject matter.
If you just can’t commit to one new picture per day for an entire year, try one new picture per week. 52 images doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? Or one new picture per day for an entire month? Just make sure to stick to a regular schedule for these kinds of projects, and don’t slack off or the photography Gods will grow displeased with you.
And if you don’t like the idea of regular pressure, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with smaller projects to keep keep things fun and interesting, and always learning and improving your skills. Try these on for size…
NOW I KNOW MY ABC’S
The goal here is to find every letter in the alphabet and photograph them, one at a time. You can interpret this literally, walking around town and finding all the letters in different signs, posters, etc. It’s a good idea to set a few rules, like each letter needs to come from a different sign or location. It’s more fun if you tile all the resulting images together into a single composite of the alphabet.
Of course you can take a more artistic approach like visiting the zoo and photographing Alpacas, Baboons, Camels, and so on. Or change the alphabet to the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 or the colors of the rainbow and so on. There’s no hard and fast rules rules here and if nothing else, you just might find a cool new photo shoot location in the process.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
I use my 70-200mm lens at nearly every single photo shoot. It just feels right in my hands and I know it’s capabilities inside and out. But when I find myself in a photographic rut and producing predictable results, that’s when I pull my barely-used 50mm prime lens and shoot with only that for the day. Using a lens without any zoom reminds me that I can zoom with my feet instead of my hands, and forces me to compose images differently. Different is good.
By identifying our photographic weakness or ignoring our strengths to focus on other skill sets, it’s akin to an athlete who cross-trains in different sports. If you have no love of the great outdoors, or sports bore you to tears, then get yourself out of your comfort zone and try shooting them one day. There’s valuable lessons to be learned from the inevitable fumbling around that will follow. I’m always amazed how working with models and actors improved my food and product photography, and vice-versa.
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
The first three years of my professional photography career were based around this simple idea: work cheap, and work with whatever is within arm’s reach. I did this out of necessity to produce salable images with themes and concepts, and the cool thing about this approach is that it forces us to squeeze every creative nickle out of our environment and equipment.
That cup of pencils and pens on your desk? It’s just a boring old pencil cup… until you knock it over and make a big mess. Hmmm… why is the cup spilled over? I dunno, but now we’re beginning to tell some sort of story with our photography. How much of a story is up to you.
That old DVD in the drawer isn’t useless in today’s streaming music world… you can still use it to reflect interesting light colors and patterns onto other photography props. Or even photograph those props reflected in the DVD’s surface for an artsty-fartsy approach. And what about the old TV in your spare bedroom? You can tape a piece of paper with a funny picture or message over the screen and people will think you’re oh-so-ironic and hip.
These may not be the greatest photography ideas, but I literally made them up as I was looking around this room and typing. It’s that easy to come up with endless ideas, once you get into the regular habit of exercising your creative muscles. And there’s no need to spend a dime or travel far, since you’re already surrounded by so many fun things to play with.
10 RANDOM WORDS
Open a book, perform a Google search, read the ingredients off a soup can – I don’t care where the words come from. I just want you to find ten completely random words to inspire you for a photo shoot concept. Now here’s the good news: you don’t need to create ten different projects. I just want you to cherry-pick your favorite word from the list of ten and focus on that. If you’re the hippy-dippy, self-help book type, we’ll call this The Laws of Attraction in Action and you’ll be surprised to see that one of those ten random words is probably really good inspiration for your next photography subject or concept.
THE QUICK-AND-DIRTY LIST
This article has already gone on way to long for a Holiday post! We should all be out partying on New Years Eve, or at least taking pictures and not reading so much. So please do me this favor, and set your photographic intentions for the upcoming year and stick to them. To kick things off, I’ve provided a cheat-sheet list below of 100 random (and not-so-random) words, phrases and concepts to get you moving in the right direction. There’s got to be something in that list to stir your creativity. I hope we get to see the results… next year.
A Day in the Life, Abstract, Adventure, Anger, Babies, Backlit, Beach Blanket, Beards, Beauty of Decay, Below Ground, Black and White, Broken, Cardboard, Carnival
Cell Phone, Charity, Children Playing, Cloudscapes, Construction, Crowds, Dusk Till Dawn, Electricity, Evil, Extreme Close Ups, Falling Down, Fire, Floating, Flower Power, Football, Funny Faces, Generations, Glow in the Dark, Graffitti, Grainy, Grandpa, Guitar String, Hair Style, Hands and Feet, Historic, Holiday, Home, Ice Cream Cone, Insects, Jeans, Jigsaw Puzzle, Leaping, Light My Fire, Looking Away, Love, Makeup, Mirrors, Mist, Moonlight, Motion, Mud, Musical Instruments, National Park, Natural Disaster, Old Age, Out of Focus, Overexposed, Paint, Panorama, Playground, Politics, Pot Holes, Psychedelic, Rain, Rainbow, Recylcing, Reflections, Religion, Remote Control, Ripples, Roof tops, Sculpture, Self Portrait, Shapes, Shoes, Signs, Skyline, Smiling, Spy, Staircase, Stretching, Symmetry,Tatttoos, Technology, Texture, Tire Tracks, Unplugged, Unusual Angles, Vacation, Vegetarian, Wealth, Wide Angle, Window Panes, Winning Shot, Winter, Workout