You have your camera. You have your lenses. You have all the gear you need to take great photographs. So why aren’t you out there taking pictures?
The answer is probably quite simple. You don’t know what to photograph!
The remedy to this is also simple: start a personal photography project.
Olympus E1, Zuiko 18-180mm F/6.3
(from the personal project “Windowlight”)
Why a personal project?
Firstly, let’s be honest about ourselves as photographers. There are millions of us out there. Armed with smartphones, compacts, DSLRs and any other photographic tool you care to mention, they are out there taking billions of photographs. Billions. So, being brutally honest this time, the truth is nobody cares about your photography.
But you care about your photography, or you should do. If you don’t, why are you doing it? Your photography can keep you enthusiastic and interested in life. Your photography helps make you feel creative and inspired.
I have thought about this a lot lately. I have looked at my Flickr and Instagram sites and realise that creatively they actually don’t mean a thing. The people who like or comment on my pictures online almost certainly flip through so many on a day they are not really looking. My photographs probably mean nothing more to them other than a fleeting “Like” or heart motif.
My suggestion then is to start taking photographs for yourself. Get to the stage where you are looking at your processed pictures and saying to yourself, “I really like these, but most Flickr / Facebook / Instagram members probably won’t. But I think that’s okay.” Move away from where you need approbation from the outside world for all of your work. Do something for yourself that satisfies your inner vision.
A photographic tutor of mine once said that it is better to have work you have produced from your creative vision and that means something to you and to have that work liked and understood by only three people than to take yet another saturated sunrise photograph and have that liked by three hundred on the internet.
By doing a personal project you are rejecting what other people may or may not like about your work, you are doing it purely for yourself. Try a different style, a different medium, use only one lens or one camera or your phone. At the end, if you feel pleased with your work, then, by all means, show it someone, but what they say about it is not important, it is how you feel at the end of your journey.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm F/4.0
(From the personal project “Trees on the Edge”)
What to photograph?
Your project subject matter can be anything you want, but it should be something that interests you. If the subject does not repeatedly make you want to go out and take photographs, then over time your enthusiasm for it will wane. Always remember the purpose of this project is to photograph something you are interested in. It doesn’t matter if you believe other people will find it boring or uninteresting – it’s a personal project. Keep telling yourself that.
What about the title of your project? Very often people can get stuck on a title. It doesn’t need a fancy, clever one. The more simple and less pretentious title that you give your work, then generally the better focused your project will be. In the first instance, give it a working or in-progress title, you can always rename it later.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-120mm F/4.0
(from the personal project “Simulacrum”)
How long should the project last?
One of the more difficult questions to answer as you approach your project is just how long it should take. Some photographers believe that a project, even a personal one, should have a start and finish time. I don’t subscribe to this in terms of a personal project. I think that you should let the project speak for itself. If you are subscribing to the premise that this project is a purely personal journey, then it should be down to you and you alone to decide how long it will last. I have a project that I have been working on for five years entitled Windowlight, and I am still working on it seventy images later. I also have a monthly project in the form of a photozine called “A Sensored View”. I certainly intend to carry this on for some time yet. But, for example, I have a project that is now finished and self-published called “Simulacrum”.
The book, Simulacrum
Don’t feel that you need to rush along and finish the project. It might take a month, a year or even several years. Only you will know when it’s finished. Similarly, only you will know when and if you want to share the work. In Simulacrum, I knew that once I completed it, I would make a photobook from it. The book is on sale, but I’m not worried if anyone sees it or likes it. It was done for me. No one else.
Nikon D7100, Nikkor 35mm F/1.8
(from the personal project “Senescence”)
All of this discussion on personal projects is pointless unless we actually start one. So that should be your aim, during the next couple of weeks think about subjects that you may like to start photographing. Remember you must have an interest in them. Once you have a small list choose one to use as a subject for your project, and then start it in the new year.
Start taking photographs.