A new year brings thoughts of new beginnings and new opportunities. Resolutions are common this time of year. You undoubtedly have plans to join a gym this year, but why not also make a goal of working on a new photo project? There are several projects you might consider undertaking in 2023, ranging from those that require you to create something original each day to those that will be successful with a less frequent contribution on your part.
The classic project to undertake when you’re tired of seeing your expensive camera just sitting on the shelf day after day is the 365 Project. It can be defined in various ways, and a popular approach is to create and share a new photograph every day. You might add extra constraints, such as shooting the entire project on film. Perhaps your project involves taking only a single frame each day. You might use a particular brand of camera or even one specific lens for the entire project. You could also change the parameters of how you capture photographs with each passing month or season. The point of this project is to practice your craft daily. You should feel free to set or remove any constraint that feels restrictive rather than inspiring.
I was originally inspired to complete a 365 Project several years ago when I attended a talk by photographer Ruddy Roye. He asked the attendees: “How many of you carry a camera everywhere you go?” My hand didn’t go up, but his question inspired me to become that guy who always has a camera with him. In practice, this was difficult since my camera of choice is a rather heavy Leica rangefinder. You always know this camera is on your person, and you must be hyper-vigilant so that you don’t misplace it during the course of the day. I discussed some of the complications involved with doing a 365 Project in How to Succeed at Completing a 365 Project. It’s an undertaking that requires real commitment, but if you create 365 photographs in 2023 that you might not have taken otherwise, there is a good chance there will be images among the lot that you will treasure years from now.
Photographing family members is something you are probably already doing on a semi-regular basis. A photo project that you might consider is to be intentional about how you photograph your relatives and extended family members. Whenever a family member passes away, I am asked to search my archives for photographs of that person. In most cases, I can locate strong images that wind up in the funeral brochure. The family members are pleased with the photographs, but I am usually disappointed that I didn’t take more photographs of that person. If I have posed shots in my archive, I find myself wishing I had captured more candid images of that person having a genuine laugh at a family event. If there are candids, then I regret not having taken the time to get a clean portrait of that person with decent lighting and a clutter-free background. No matter how many photographs I have of a loved one who has passed, I always wish there were more.
We don’t know when our time is going to come, but today, if I am in the presence of a family member of advanced age, I make a point of creating the strongest image I can of that person. I am keenly aware that I have the ability to take what may very well be the best photograph this person has ever taken. Creating this image is well worth a few minutes of my time. Many people focus on the cute kids at family events, but I make a point of photographing the older adults. Your project in 2023 could be as simple as making a point to capture strong images of older family members whenever you have a get-together. Whether you focus on candids or posed shots, you can be confident that the photographs you create this day will be treasured by family members decades from now. You might have a theme in mind, such as photographing parents with their children. Or perhaps you photograph couples together. Maybe you create the family photographs in black and white so that your images stand out from color images being captured by other family members on their phones. You can set up a single ring light to create photographs that have a consistent look across all the different family events of the year. Documenting your family as a personal photo project is something that won’t feel overwhelming since you only need to work on it during the family events you attend each year. The number of events varies with each person but is probably in the range of 10-20 total events for most people.
Another project you might consider is revisiting the same location, subject, or person multiple times over the years. As a portrait photographer, I’m not very interested in places and things. However, I was impressed by the work of photographer Michael Pach, who photographed the same tree every day for a full year: Same Tree / Different Day. His approach to this project was to photograph the tree from the same location each day, but at different times. Your approach might have been to shoot the subject at different distances and various angles, using a variety of cameras and lenses. Either approach would give insight into the different statements we can make about a single object. If you were to undertake a project such as this, you could tell the story as you see fit. For Michael, that meant photographing the same tree each day. For you, it might mean taking photographs periodically on one city street as the seasons change throughout the year.
Photographer Frans Hofmeester created a project that is similar in concept but different with regard to the subject matter. He regularly photographed a portrait of his daughter using similar lighting and background for 21 consecutive years. The final images were assembled into a video that is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. Perhaps only a parent can understand, but the speed at which the years fly by in the video is the speed at which they seem to fly by in real life. It is worth noting that this project took little time to create and did not require any special camera or lighting gear. If you are a photographer, it’s hard to justify not doing something along these lines,especially if you have a new pet or child in your family. You have the camera, and if you look hard enough, you can probably find the subject matter as well, but do you have the dedication to see a project like this through to completion?
In 2023, I’ll be undertaking a 365 Project. For the past two years, I’ve begun the project on New Year’s Day and bailed on it before even reaching Valentine’s Day. But at this moment, I am inspired, and I hope you are too. If you have other ideas for personal projects, please share them in the comments.
I love this article. A few years ago, I wanted to get into sports photography and so for one year I did one (non-paid) shoot a month for a year in sports. The next year, I started booking paid clients from that portfolio. Now, 5 years later about 30% of my work is pretty high-profile sports contracts. It all started from these personal assignments.
I've seen a lot of photographers open doors through personal work. It hasn't worked out all that well for me, but I know for certain it has worked for a lot of photographers.
*yet. "It hasn't worked for me " *yet" :)
This also worked out for me as well, I started shooting nothing but fashion then child sports now I'm a broadcast Enginner/ Camera opp at the Mercedes Benz stadium, once they noticed my photoshop work along with how I deal with clients, I was instantly promoted. now I shoot all soccer games, all football and college play off games. everything happens so fast and you gain a lot by doing personal projects.
Sounds like a great gig.