Why A Photo Project?
I have written before about the benefits of doing a photography project. In 2021, whilst back in London for some family business, I decided to try my hand at a photographic project. The end result was my “Glimpses of London” series, where I attempted to convey the iconic locations of the city without them actually being the main subject of the image.
Doing the project was inspiring, and more importantly, it lifted me from the photographic doldrums that I had been languishing in for some considerable time.
Projects can be incredibly beneficial to any photographer. They can help you change direction, shoot in a more focused way and, like me, boost your creativity. They can also be very good for your mental health.
You might think that creating a photography project requires a certain amount of preplanning. However, I don’t think that is always the case and today I want to show you why, using a couple of case studies.
You Will Need Some Luck
You will not be able to shoot a photography project every time you go out. Lady luck will be involved. You will need to be inspired by your location, lucky with the light and weather, and be in the right frame of mind creatively. If these three things combine, then there is a good chance of creating a photography project on the spot.
The other element that you are going to need is what I call the keystone. This is the theme that will hold the entire project together. It could be a mood, a feeling. It might be a color, an architectural detail, or perhaps even local people. Whatever the keystone of your project is, you will need to spot it early.
The secret to spotting the keystone is not to go looking for it. You will drive yourself crazy looking for a theme the moment you start shooting. In fact, you should not really go out of the frame of mind of shooting a project. This will put undue pressure on your creativity. Instead, plan a location, plan a time, and go to shoot. Don’t put too much emphasis on the weather. As you will see from my two case studies, the weather played an important role, but that was because it was not in prime shooting conditions.
To find that keystone, simply start shooting as you would normally. If there is a theme, it will become apparent fairly quickly. Once you have identified it, it will actually be quite hard to unsee it. That’s the beauty of a one-day photography project.
What Gear Will I Need For A One-Day Photo Project?
The good news is that there is one thing you will not necessarily have to worry about, and that’s your gear. You can develop your photographic project around the gear you have with you. It might be a smartphone; it may be a mirrorless camera; it may even be a medium-format film. Either way, you can tailor the types of images in your project to the gear you are carrying.
One thing that I think is important gear-wise is not to overburden yourself. Creativity and comfort and good bedfellows. The more relaxed and energetic you are, the greater your creativity will be. To that end, drop the big heavy lenses, drop the tripod and concentrate on a compact, lightweight kit that will allow you to shoot freely and easily.
Looking For The Summer – One Day In Nice
For the first of the case studies, I want to look at a one-day photography project I did in Nice many years ago. At the time, I was working on cruise ships, and we arrived in Nice at 9 am. It's a couple of kilometers walk from the dock to the Promenade Anglais, and it was during that walk that the theme came to me.
It was mid-September, and the tourist season was over. The weather had that mournful mid autumn feel with overcast skies and occasional breaks of sun. I was carrying my Nikon D3 with one lens, the 24-70mm.
As I wandered around the fishing port shooting, I was keenly aware of how quiet everything felt. The terraces of the cafes and bars were deserted, the pavements quiet. In my head, I had that wonderfully melancholy song “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, and that was my keystone. The project was Looking for the Summer, a look at Nice after the tourists went home.
Wandering the seafront in Nice was a visual smorgasbord of images that fitted the brief. There was a light drizzle that added to the feel. Tourists on the beach with umbrellas, the empty lifeguard towers, row upon row of empty sun loungers. The drizzle was not enough to discourage people from venturing out, their bright clothes contrasting the wonderfully muted pastel colours of a resort out of season. It’s fair to say it was one of the best day shoots I had ever done and well worthy of a photography project. As you can see, the inspiration for this came from many sources but was identified early and allowed me to turn the shoot into a project.
Winter In The North
The second case study is more recent. Those of you that have followed me for a while will know that my wife and I had to leave our home in Odesa, Ukraine. We eventually moved to the North East of England, close to a stunningly beautiful city called Durham. I had shot it in the summer, getting some really nice images, but this time we went for a walk in the heart of winter.
I was carrying my Fujifilm X-H2 with the 16-80mm lens. The weather was dull, flat overcast with a hint of mist. The sort of weather that often deters us from shooting. On this day, however, I was struck by the contrast of the remaining autumnal trees with the gray, the almost monotone color of the city. That was the keystone to making this a photography project.
The flat light, the mist, and the splashes of orange and yellow gave the whole project an almost gothic mood. I looked for ways to exploit that feeling, using shallow depth of field and exploring the muted colors against the mist.
One shot in particular really jumped out at me. I spotted a young woman walking the riverside path a couple of hundred meters ahead. Realizing how the path, railings, and river all led the eye to a splash of pastel color in the girl's clothes, I fired off a 5-shot bracket. It was a fleeting glimpse, and a second later, she was out of shot.
Although that was the money shot, I got numerous good images that day, all that had the feel and look that I was trying to achieve in the project.
At first glance, creating a photography project on the fly and shooting it in one day might seem to be mission impossible. However, if you keep an open mind and luck casts its spell on you, there is a very good chance that you will spot a keystone moment. Once you do, it’s full steam ahead for your photography project.
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