It’s the start of a brand new year, and by now you’ve likely seen suggestions or commitments from other photographers to start a “Project 365” – a photo a day for a year. It happens every year, kind of like those resolutions you’re tempted to commit to as you turn the page into the New Year. A Project 365 is a public resolution too; you’re expected to share your daily experience in a personal blog or by posting your work to a social media site like Flickr and perhaps on Twitter. So, consider it a major commitment.
“Hey,” you think…”I’m up to it, I can do it! Besides, it’ll be good for me and I’ll learn and grow as a photographer. And who knows, I may find my niche and the photographic style that’s right for me!” Those are all good reasons to commit to a Project 365. But maybe you want to think just a little bit harder about whether you want to jump in. I’ve done these 365 projects before, so I’d like to offer my personal experience and lessons learned, including some things to consider before you make the same leap.
A year is a long time, 365 days. Think of your busiest, most hectic days over the past year. Do you think you could have committed to taking a photograph every day for the past year? You probably could have, but what priorities would have changed in your personal and professional daily life to do it? A Project 365 will become a daily obsession if you really commit to it.
You will begin to think about your daily photograph all day long, until you make it. Your mantra, will become, “What should I shoot today? Didn’t I do that last month? Hmm, I’m getting into a rut taking the same photographs every day; I need to change it up. Oh darn, it’s 9pm and I haven’t taken my photograph today, what can I find around the house that won’t make a ridiculous subject?” I’ve done all of that and you will too.
You need to think about what will motivate you every day. My obsession is to stick to it, not to be a quitter. I’m driven by guilt, to be seen as a quitter continually drives me to see it through. Especially as you get past 45 days. At that point it would be waste to quit, right? You’ve got too much invested in your project by then and how would you explain it to all your family and friends, your blog’s readers or your contacts on Flickr. They’d be asking awkward questions like, “Hey, (insert your name) what happened to your photo a day?” You don’t want to have to explain that you gave up, do you?
It’s Not Just YOUR Commitment
You’ll need lots of family support so get their buy-in before you decide this is for you. Whether you think so or not, this is a group effort and you will need support from family or friends to see it through. It’s funny, my wife asks me almost every day if I got my picture yet. Or, if I’ve completely procrastinated, she’ll listen to my worried whining lamenting the fact I don’t have my photograph yet, it’s dinner time and tell me it’s my own fault. I’m kidding of course, she doesn’t do that, she’s completely supportive and thought it was a great idea from the beginning. As we’ve gone through the year and I’ve fretted about what today’s photograph could be, my wife has asked me, “Why don’t you just use one of those other great pictures from yesterday.” My quick answer is always, “That would be cheating – can’t do it!” I think that’s one of the unwritten rules, you use a photograph taken that day and if you don’t you’ll be called out when someone looks at your EXIF data or you’ll fess up from the total guilt that builds up after a few days because you’re an honest person, right? For those of you who love it as a comfort food, chocolate is not a fix for this transgression, it’s that important!
Handle Your Critics With Love
A benefit that you’ll really need to nurture on your own is to solicit meaningful and honest feedback as you post your daily photograph. Of course, you’ll see the traditional blog and social comments that will make you feel good for a while. But you should really value and take to heart those few comments you’ll get that are truly intended to make you a better photographer. Those comments are jewels. Be sure you thank the critic no matter how biting the comment and think about how to put their advice to work the very next day. It’ll make you a better photographer.
Self-Doubt Becomes an Opportunity
As you get into the middle of the project-year, the inevitable question will come to you. What the heck (or some other meaningful and appropriate words) have I gotten myself into? Why did I do this? It’s not what I thought it would be. Trust me, these questions will inevitably enter your mind. My advice, forget them! Stick to it and enjoy the experience. By now your photography is improving in so many ways that you may not yet realize. You will find that even the most mundane subjects can still be wonderful photographs. Subjects that you think won’t work could become your best work. Turn your thinking around and the results can far surpass the negative thoughts.
There will be distractions and you do have competing life priorities that change from day to day. Get those out of the way if they’re that important or restructure part of your day for your project. Whatever you do, make time for that day’s shoot. Remember the best light is always around sunrise or sunset. Those time slots can be great opportunities for your best work. But you have all day to use what’s available to you and so many subjects in new environments that you might never have considered before.
Are you a perfectionist with your photography? Are you willing to go public with imperfect work on your own blog that’s hurried and maybe not your best because of everything else going on in your life that day? Or how about the inevitable day when you’re sick and can’t even get out of bed. How good could that ceiling really look as your daily photo! My words of advice, get over it, there will be a day (maybe a few) where you look back on your work and wonder what you were thinking. It could be that bad. I have a photograph on my Flickr stream for my Project 365 that’s just awful. The composition is terrible and the white balance is ridiculously off. But, I’m not going to take it down. That was my day’s decision and I’ll stick with it, good or bad. Now that I’ve said it, hopefully that one stands out to you and you don’t pick more than a few that are really bad!
Believe it or not, a published photograph on the social networks is going to increase your presence. Others who relate to your photographs, your style and overall good work will find you and start following you on G+, Flickr and Twitter. Or they’ll find your blog and subscribe. Your social circle will expand. Your friends will come to know that you’re focused on your photography much more than you were before you started your project and show a keener interest in your photographs. How could they not take note when you’re so focused on your photography every day?
Are You With Me?
If you’ve continued reading this article up to this point, you must really be thinking really hard about committing – good for you! So here are the payoffs and why you should go for it:
- Photography is your passion, you love to take photographs. A Project 365 is a great way to express your love for photography while providing some structure and incentive to stick to it. You know how easy it is to blow off a day when it doesn’t matter. With a Project 365, you can’t do that, it does matter. You’ve made a personal commitment, remember?
- Here’s where I have to be a bit careful. You may “find yourself” through your Project 365. There’s no guarantee, but you may discover your true style and preference for subject matter. Your photographs may start to convey your own personal signature style, look and feel that sets you apart from the crowd. You could be the next Ansel Adams…who knows, it could happen!You’ll also discover how good you can be as an artist. Not every day’s photo will be one that you’ll look back on as your best work but there will be a few gems making it all worthwhile. As you go forward, you’ll learn how to use your camera and to slow down and take your time. The repetition of using your equipment every day will make you a better photographer as you become more intimately familiar with your camera’s capabilities. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll start to repeat and reinforce the good lessons and avoid the repetitive mistakes.
- Your new found social media friends will stay with you long after your project is finished. They’ll be a major source of feedback and learning to help you continue to grow in your skills. They’ll also give you great benefit through their support and affirmation when you need some motivation. Trust me; they’ll miss you if you disappear for any length of time.
So, when you see the inevitable invitation to consider doing a Project 365, I hope you’ll consider what you’ve read here. I’ve found it to be a ton of fun and personally rewarding. Overall, my photography has absolutely improved. I’ve certainly learned much more about what I like and my equipment is second nature to me now. When my camera delivers a photo that’s unexpected, I can almost instantly figure out what settings caused it to perform the way it did. But in reality, I now know what settings on my equipment will give me the absolute best result.
I honestly don’t know that I’ve found my photographic style yet; I think that’s probably something to continue to work towards. I see the great work of others and aspire to those levels of excellence, I think I always will. But knowing that I should have my own personal goals, I’ve discovered subjects I really enjoy taking around my local shooting environments. San Diego has been a source of continuing inspiration. My social circle and photography friends are now a big part of my life and a source of continual encouragement and inspiration. There are some amazingly talented people in my life now that I never knew before beginning this journey. Use the social links in my profile below to let me know if you start your own Project 365. I’d love to support your adventure!
All photographs included in this article are Copyright © and courtesy of Bill McCarroll.