Unique fine art photography is not an accident. It takes work, focus and discipline. For two years I’ve been advising members of local camera clubs to “give yourself a project to shoot.” After all, that is what most accomplished fine art photographers do. It is how to create a meaningful body of fine art photography and a great photography portfolio. But, the suggestion is almost always met with suspicion. These folks are much more comfortable discussing technical issues or editing technique. Its safe. Critique of your editing style or camera settings is less risky to the ego, then say, your choices subject matter, composition and lighting. It is also why I see the same pedestrian work appear at camera clubs over and over. Very few members work with a focus, over time, on a specific subject or idea.
David DuChemin (https://davidduchemin.com/) writes frequently on how to find inspiration and methods to grow as an artist. And I have to say, he is pretty insightful. Taking his advice, I have spent the past 3 years shooting new projects to grow my fine art photography portfolio. And what I mean is that all 3 the projects have lasted at least 3 years. Here is one of them titled, “Comfort Food.” Why make this commitment? Because there are many qualities to projects that will improve your artistic vision and grow as an artist. Most importantly is developing body of work around a subject. This is more attractive for competitions like LensCulture and publications like Lenswork Magazine.
So, here is my advice on why you should be shooting more projects.
1. Projects give you permission
Artists frequently get stuck, go through highs and lows with their craft. Pressure mounts for the next image to be great, leading to a barrier to starting in the first place. But, A project is the result of time and focus, shooting many images of a subject or concepts, hence there is no pressure for any one image to succeed, and hence easier to begin. Projects are exploratory, a journey, with no one image bearing the pressure to succeed.
2. Projects Require Focus and Time, and these lead to Mastery
I have committed the last three years almost entirely to learning to light paint motorcycles, airplanes, tractors and people. Last night I gave a talk on the process and caught myself saying, “I’m about a third of the way through this learning process.” It feels like a Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours problem. Yet, those who regularly view the work frequently comment on how much the work is improving both in technical and artistic quality. I am acutely aware of the just how much I’ve grown in my technical and artistic approach to various subjects.
3. Set Goals (or Constraints)
I have another project I’m shooting around rodeos. I love the events for many reasons, but I don’t particularly like the treatment of animals and don’t need to shoot the 1,000,001 shot of a rider getting tossed off a bull. So I found myself one day shooting behind the scenes, where riders prepare. For 3 yrs I’ve been shooting this series, which is NOT done. But I have constrained this rodeo project to “Outside The Arena.” And I have a goal to get the series published in a magazine or in accepted into a juried competition exhibit.
4. Evolve with the Project
A project should be well defined, with your ideas, goals and concepts in place. Yet, sometimes this doesn’t emerge with perfect clarity until somewhere early in the project. You will pivot, but the basic subject and concepts should be in place. For example, I’ve been shooting a project for a couple of years based on our relationship with food. In the beginning I tested lighting, camera position and image design. Then I shot a set of diner tables just after guests left but before the tables were cleared. Then the work came into more focus as I went back into the studio with a clearer project definition, “Comfort Food,” and lighting and image design.
5. Be Patient
This is self explanatory. But I will say that you can develop your projects while still shooting all the other things you enjoy. While I’m light painting, I still take time for a trip to Lake Superior or the desert southwest to go play with black and white landscapes. Give you and your projects time. Don’t put pressure on them. Just keep working.