Shooting A Project

Shooting A Project

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 ( 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. 

Fine Art Photography Print

Fine Art Photography Print

Printing: A Growing Market

I just received my 24′ x 30″ print of the above image and am I blown away by the quality, depth and richness.  I get so excited to see my photographic art in print, but for a long time I thought I was crazy.  Almost no one I knew was printing their work.  Then I noticed recently an exciting, but counter-intuitive trend.  The fine art photography print is back!  It is a growing market.  Just consider the rise of Shutterfly’s popularity and digital print labs in Walgreen’s and Costco.  Yes, printing photos is back and growing.  Below are a couple of sources to substantiate this market trend.


From cell phones to fine art printing

But the data represented in these articles is really a reflection of the rise of cell phone cameras.  More photos equals more printing.  Yet, there is an undeniable increase in quality of ink jet printing, desktop printers, a broader range of archival museum quality papers and reduction in cost.  As a result, we are witnessing a re-emergence of printing fine art photography. I’ve been speaking with and judging for camera clubs in Minnesota for years.  My anecdotal experience says that print salons have come back in frequency on par with digital salons.  

Printing Options

Today, fine art photographers shooting with digital cameras can get stunning, rich archival quality prints and a great price.  And if you’re already printing your work, then you are using one of several options.  You either use a powerful desktop printing system, a local small custom digital print shop (First Edition Print), or someone like White House Custom Color. I use WHCC and am blown away by the quality, price and customer service. 

Because of these options, I’m printing my favorite photos for placement in a physical portfolio.  Yes, a traditional art portfolio.  You know what I’m talking about.  The fairly large bifold case in which an artist places large samples of artwork. I bought mine from Blick’s, but there are many choices out there.  Nonetheless, I still know too many photographers who never print any of their work.  Here are 3 reasons you should be printing all your best photography and carrying a portfolio.

1. Bigger Is Better

It is about viewer experience.  Our digital cameras are amazing at capturing detail, but a monitor is not as good as showing it as a photographic print.  And the larger the print, the better the experience with detail.  I don’t print anything for my portfolio smaller than 20″ x 24″.  I just love seeing the images in large print this way.  The emotional and physical experience with the image only increases in size, from an iPhone screen to a 30″ x 45″ print on a wall.  There are no amount of Facebook likes that every give you the same feeling as that large print. 

2. Its Your Art

More importantly, you’ll grow as an artist.  Its much easier to get critical feedback of your from a large physical print.  No one can argue with the print quality.  Its there or its not.  If there are problems with your technique, a monitor may hide them, but a print will reveal them.  Likewise, problems with resolution and tonal transition that are problematic on a monitor, may very well disappear in a print.  To become a better artist print your work and share it.  Your art is not finished until it is an acceptable quality large print.

3. Nostalgia

Nostalgia.  A yearning for the past.  Pre-Social Media.  Pre-Digital.  When all you had was a tiny negative or a print.  A time when critics were more likely to ask why an image was made, not how it was made.  Culturally, we yearn for a connection to the past.  For example, consider your cell phone photo app that has a plethora of filters to apply some nostalgic, print look and quality.  Therefore,  I’m right.  You want that connection.  So print those photos.  It gives you an important connection to the past, to your craft and art, and to your journey as an artist. 


Enter a Fine Art Photography Competition

Enter a Fine Art Photography Competition

If you’re insecure about your fine art photography, then join the group with the rest of us.  We all seek validation on many levels.  The artist in us is one of those levels. We love our own work, on most days, and we want others to do the same.  Love it.  Appreciate it. Share it on social media, buy it and brag about it to their friends.  We want strangers at camera clubs to come up and say, “Oh, that is yours? Wow.”  We want galleries to want us.  And why not?  We pour our hearts and souls in to our art and shouldn’t there be a payoff at the end, one that massages our ego? The biggest heart break and best form of validation is the Photography Competition.

The best way to grow as an artist of contemporary photography is to enter a national and international, juried fine art photography competition.  There are many, but I am a big fan of LensCulture. The have many calls for entries with a focus on fine art photography and contemporary photography.  In fact, I was just rejected in their most recent competition, “Black and White Photography Awards.”  It was painful; the opposite of the validation I sought, but I’m turning around and entering another one this week.  Why the self-abuse? Here are my top 3 reasons why you should be entering national and international juried fine art competitions.

1. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Its time to share your work, fail a few times and grow a thick skin.  Honest critique and feedback, even in the form of outright rejection, should push you to produce better work.  A photography competition brings out the best in all of us.

2. See What Others Are Doing

You don’t have to shoot what the winners shoot, but you should gain an awareness of where you stand in the context of contemporary photography.  This will serve you as well in spurring your creative juices and help you to move your work to another level.

3. You Might Win!

I recently enter the Praxis Photographic Arts Center International juried portrait competition and was shocked I was accepted as an exhibitor. This past summer I was accepted into the juried Minnesota State Fair Arts exhibition.  I’m getting some of the validation I seek, the kind of validation that motivates me to keep working harder yet as a contemporary photographer.