Photo projects always sound like a lot of fun, but there are times when the weight of a project eventually becomes too much to bear. This is particularly true of 365 projects. While making a photo everyday for a year can be fun and educational and tremendously rewarding, it can also grow burdensome and not everyone who starts down this path will arrive at their intended destination. The reasons are varied, from personal and professional commitments and their associated time constraints, to a loss of motivation for such a lengthy undertaking. None of this means that you’re forever left to stand on the outside looking in at the fun everyone else is having as they start and finish their photo projects. You just need a photo project more suited to your personality, one less taxing on your precious time.
Photo by Jason Devaun
There has to be some sort of photography project that won’t tie you down for an extended period — not 365 days, not 52 weeks. Something that you could even, in theory, complete in one day. There are actually several projects that fit this bill, but today we’ll take a quick look at the photo essay.
A photo essay consists of a series of images related specifically to a topic or subject that interests you; you photograph with the sole intent of telling a story (either narratively or thematically) that takes shape over a number of shots. Whether you want to include text (captions, background info) is entirely up to you, but in any case you should try to make sure your photos are strong enough to stand alone.
Photo by Jason Devaun
If you think a photo essay is something you might want to try, here are a few ideas to hopefully get you going.
Capture a Day in the Life of…
This could be absolutely anyone. Even someone you perceive to lead the most mundane life might present more than a few surprises once you’ve spent a day with them. Or you could go a more traditional route and document the day of someone you feel has an interesting job — a firefighter, personal trainer, chef, teacher, attorney, stand up comedian, lifeguard, nurse…there are really no bad choices here and the end result will be captivating.
This photo essay by Chia Loy Chuan captures Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers enjoying a day off.
A photo essay is an excellent way to raise awareness of an important cause. In all likelihood, any not-for-profit organization near you will be happy to have you bring attention their work. Show the staff members’s daily routine, with special emphasis on who (if possible) or what they are dedicated to helping and why it is important.
When people have strong feelings about a cause, they will often go to any length to support it — even so far as dressing up in panda suits, as portrayed in this photo essay about conservationists.
Go to a Local Event
Whether you live in a big city or a small town, there’s probably some local event worth photographing. It could be a food festival or a parade or a 10k run. One way to approaching shooting an event is to capture scenes before, during, and after; get there early to shoot setup and preparations, then put yourself in the midst of the action once the event officially commences. Finally, stick around for post-event happenings: clean up, disassembly, participants departing, etc.
Here is a brilliant and fun example of how to cover a “fun run” — specifically a 5k zombie run.
Follow the Change
Change is one of life’s inevitabilities and lends itself to a photo essay. While an essay covering change or transformation could certainly take place over an extended period of months or years — think of documenting a pregnancy or a construction project — it doesn’t require a daily commitment like a 365 project does.
From 2005 to 2010, Romain Meffre and Yves Marchand periodically visited Detroit to document the once thriving city’s “fall from grace.”
It's not that photo essays don't require your time and dedication, but some photographers find them to be less demanding since, depending on the topic, they can be completed in a day or two. If you're looking for a project that doesn't have to drag on for too long, a photo essay may be perfect for you.
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