How to Nail Every Personal Photography Project

How to Nail Every Personal Photography Project

Are you tired of always leaving your personal projects unfinished? Or do you lose your motivation halfway through? Here are some tips to see you from start to finish, whatever your project is about!

Even with the best intentions in the world, it's easy to leave images unedited and projects abandoned halfway through. Personal life quickly gets in the way, as do professional priorities. But how can we help ourselves stay on the track and take our projects from just an idea through to the final touches?

You Need to Figure Out What You Are Trying to Achieve

It seems obvious, but if you do not have very clear intentions on what you are trying to achieve with your photography project, it is unlikely it will ever be finished. It is not difficult to get random bursts of inspiration and start numerous projects as and when we feel like it, but if you do not have clear aims and step-by-step objectives on how to achieve them, then how will you ever know what your project is actually about and how to execute it? It's tempting to just jump straight into the fun bit of shooting and editing, but if you don't sit down and write down at least a title and several steps you need to take to complete the project, you will likely lose that inspiration and try to seek it elsewhere with something fresh, leaving your project unfinished.

A cat looking through a living room window.

I am currently working on a brief personal project about my lockdown experience.

Treat your photography project like any other professional venture or research. Write down a title, or at least brainstorm several ones that may change throughout the project. And, more importantly, note down achievable steps you need to take to get to the finish line. There is no need to create an elaborate and grand project that is impossible to achieve with your current schedule and resources. Instead, be realistic with what you are planning, and you will be more likely to get it done. Breaking down a creative project works the same way as any other project: you need actionable steps that will help you progress through. Use a method that works for you, whether it is a spreadsheet on your laptop or a good old handwritten to-do list.

What Is the Final Outcome?

When planning your to-dos for the project, consider what the final product is. Are you planning on creating a dedicated website for your project? This means setting time and resources aside for website design. Are you thinking of printing a set of portfolio images that are presented in a box? Or, what about a beautiful lay-flat photography book that allows you not only to display images but also add any text, such as the description of the project, image titles, quotes, poetry, or anything else that may be suitable? 

A photography book on a coffee table.

Take a look at how various photography books are designed and you can get inspired for your own project.

Once you know what the final destination is, that will help you when shooting, composing, editing, and exporting your images. For example, if you are planning on printing your images in a book, you will need to decide on the format of it. There are so many options available out there, from small pocket-size books to luxurious albums, but each one of them will suit different types of imagery, which should be considered before you finish shooting and editing all your images. The last thing you want is to realize half of your images don't fit in the type of book you have settled on!

You Need a Deadline 

Without a deadline, your project can go on forever, meaning it will never get done. As creatives, we can easily get lost in the artistic process, which can be a blessing but also a curse. You do not need to limit yourself by giving yourself a rushed project. A realistic deadline, which takes into consideration your personal and professional responsibilities will help you organize yourself. Actionable steps combined with a reasonable deadline are the main things you need to get from just an idea to proudly showcasing your project. 

A printed photograph in a black display on a windowsill.

You need a deadline to get to the point where you get to hold and enjoy that final print or book.

Each individual will have a varying degree of personal accountability but it's always better to have a slightly missed deadline than a never completed one. When mentoring others in personal photography, I make a note of treating your photography projects the same way you treat other tasks in your life. If you are committed to attending a regular weekend course in languages, arts, cooking, or anything else, then that's exactly how you treat your photography project. You specifically block out time in your diary for it and you give it a deadline because that is, I believe, the only way to truly watch yourself progress, whether it is a three-month long project or one that takes several years to complete.

Open Yourself to Changes

Things don't always unfold the way we intend, and the same applies to photography projects. It's possible that something you planned and visualized doesn't necessarily translate into what you had in mind, which can be hard for some of us to swallow. When you have put all your heart and soul into something and it's not progressing how you want it to, it is easy to become frustrated and give up. But sometimes, we have to let things go and change the course of action. Don't let situations like these bring you down and instead embrace the changes, because it is still a step closer to completing your project! 

There are many situations we have no control over: if you are basing your project around social photography, such as street photography, then the fate of your project is in the hands of your subjects. People are unpredictable, and many street photographers can go home empty-handed, having been looking for that one particular shot all day long. Do not beat yourself up if you have to slightly alter the course of your project mid-way through, because it is better to adapt than to keep pursuing the same things over and over again with no progress.

An older man smoking a cigarette in the street.

I love doing street photography but it's not always the easiest type of photography for projects, albeit it's very rewarding.

But, Don't Let Others Sway You

When there's an audience, there's always an opinion, wanted or unwanted. The beauty of personal photography projects is that you are the only person they need to please. There are no judges, critics, or masses to appeal to. It is likely that your friends, family members, or other photographers may be curious about what you are doing. If they offer friendly advice or criticism in regards to how you are pursuing your project, take it with a pinch of salt and only take on board advice that you find beneficial. If you are using your photography projects as a way to express yourself and create something that you are proud of, you do not need to alter your project every time someone gives unsolicited advice. Don't forget to truly enjoy the process of creating something personal that makes you excited and maintains that passion for photography, art, and learning something new. 

A couple sat on a bench by a lake.

I will never stop doing personal projects because the reward is so great. It gives me a reason and keeps me engaged, passionate, and excited about creating.

Although nowadays, almost everything we do has a digital footprint, don't feel obliged to post and share your project online. It's up to you to make that decision, but make sure that you do it first and foremost for yourself. Treat it like painting, writing poetry, or doing crafts; it's a safe space where you can be unapologetically yourself and enjoy being creative while leaving something tangible for yourself to look back on in years to come.

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4 Comments

Tom Reichner's picture

Thanks for a solid, original article.

With my personal photography projects, motivation, discipline, and sticktuitiveness are not the limiting factors. Money is.

I'll sacrifice just about anything in order to pursue a personal photography project. But the projects I'm most interested in involve travel, and in some years I simply don't earn enough money to do the travel that is necessary for the project.

The next significant project I have set as a goal is to create solid portraits and environmental portraits of all 9 of Arizona's rattlesnake species. I've done the research, and I've made the connections with herpetologists down in Arizona .....

..... but I still need a couple thousand extra dollars to take a month or two off and road trip to Arizona to search for, and find, all 9 species. Could be a few years before I am able to come up with the money needed, and therefore my project will be held up until I can earn that surplus cash.

Anete Lusina's picture

It sounds like you're on the right path, though. Good things take time (and effort, and money!). It's definitely worth dedicating a day or two going through possible financial assistance out there either for artists in your local area or for your specific project topic which could be conservation etc. I recently did a project on Europeans who moved to the UK (around the area where I live), and started looking for any financial assistance - I found a local grant for independents (artists of many kinds - visual, sound, theatre, etc). First time I submitted my submission with a different project they rejected it so I made an appointment with the team to see how I can steer this project in the direction that would more likely could receive a grant and totally unexpectedly I got it! Sometimes there are lots of requirements to qualify and how you need to present the work but it can be worth it - it's your idea, your project, and if it has human social/cultural/environmental/political interest, it's definitely worth pushing it!

Tom Reichner's picture

Looking for funding is a great idea, Anete!

I have applied for some grants over the past few years. I haven't been successful in being awarded any of those I've applied for, but I'm going to keep trying. I know I could be more successful in getting grants if I shifted the emphasis of my photography to conservation-specific matters, and focused on images that illustrate climate change and things like that. But that wouldn't be true to the artist within me ...... so maybe I'll have to make some compromises, and not cling so tightly to my ideals.

Aiden Jeffries's picture

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