My Pet Topics
During my workshops I’m known for banging on about certain pet topics, in a lighthearted way of course! These include Expose To The Right, taking ownership of image processing, connection with your subject (nature) and personal projects. It’s the latter that I want to briefly explore in this post, the other three can wait their turn.
Over thirty years as an editorial photographer has taught me the value of focus, of having a set outcome in mind when out shooting. Magazine and book shoots ensured I always had a brief to shoot to, boundaries to contain my creativity and a deadline (usually tight) to deliver to. Both of these in tandem have a certain ability to bring about a result and the simple fact is that if this result is not delivered I don’t get to pay my bills!
Usually, the more specific the brief and the more unmovable the deadline, the better I work. Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect this is the same for a lot of creatives.
Self Imposed Deadlines
Over the past couple of years I’ve been applying the same principle in my personal work and have enjoyed a step change in my productivity as a result. Even self imposed deadlines can have that ability to motivate me to get out when I’m not really in the mood. To be honest I’m finding that the ‘not in the mood’ ‘no inspiration’ excuses don’t cut it any more. I go out regardless when I have a project to work on and an end goal in mind.
Of course the big problem can be choosing your project. I mean, it’s a big world out there and the overwhelm can lead to a lack of inspiration. I find the trick is to be very specific. Narrow that niche right down, then the project will become manageable. For instance, rather than set yourself a broad project of photographing the dragonflies of Britain narrow it down to one area and cover it in depth. Dragonflies of the fens for instance, although I suggest keeping it reasonably local. The rest of the country’s dragonflies will wait their turn!
Most photography projects will by their very nature be about something other than photography and I suggest you choose a topic that excites you, something you’ll enjoy researching and deepening into. Be prepared to study your chosen subject in great details and allow it to ‘claim’ you.
My first major project since largely moving away from editorial shooting was #outland. In November 2014 I found I needed a challenge and this was been just the project to help raise my game. I committed to spending time at least every two weeks shooting the coast from the Welsh to the Scottish border. I would pick a day a week in advance and do the work regardless of the weather. I reached the marshland near Gretna in late February 2016.
I had an exhibition up to the half way point in a local gallery and now that the project is complete I’m taking it on the road.
One project isn’t enough for me. I find working on three concurrently to be my best motivator, this way I can have something to shoot whenever I can create an opportunity. Moss Erotica and Homestead are quietly bubbling away, both totally fine for family viewing!
The Importance of The End Point
I cannot stress enough the importance of having an end point. A project that just runs and runs won’t keep your juices flowing as you’ll miss that all important big pay off when you have the final work in your hands. Choose an outcome too. Make it real. It doesn’t have to be costly either. Online companies exist that can transform your work into a book, hardback or softback. Give Blurb or Lulu a try for this. what about creating a calendar of the work, especially if it’s seasonal. Another option is to create a set of prints to sell, give away or hang on your walls. You may even offer the body of work for publication.
In a nutshell, try to follow a definite procedure. I suggest writing down various possibilities and then refining the one which most floats your boat. Research this subject deeply until you find yourself becoming an authority. Write out a picture list to work with and then commit to shoot and finish by a certain time. It can help to stagger your projects, mixing long, medium and short term goals together. Early on in the life of the project try to get an idea of what the final outcome will be as this will inform your shooting process.
Above all else, commit to getting your camera out on a regular basis, pushing your boundaries and honing your vision.