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A Project For This Year

Many photographers to start, like to record visits they make, or people they know, but after a while most of us want, at some point, to look at doing more with our photography, it may be leaning new skills,  or may be setting ourselves a project or two. Some photographers even like to set themselves an annual project.

The annual project gives enough time to experiment and develop the experience, to capture images around the year and to have enough time to achieve goals, but is short enough that the end of the tunnel is not out of sight and allows you to both monitor performance and see results. It also gets over the dreaded 'round-tuit' problem, of always putting off the photography you would like to do, as others have other things they would rather see you doing.

An annual project could be, to develop a new branch of photography, perhaps landscape, model work or a more specialist area like food photography, or it could be to concentrate on a topic for the year, perhaps photographing steam trains, windmills, or waterfalls.

The first objective of a project is to be definable, the second to have defined objectives, and third to be possible within your limits of time and budget. By this we mean that you don't want a project that's either too large or too vague, or that would be impossible to manage within your current budget.

The project approach, with a new project each year, can reduce costs considerably, for example if one year you decide its railway photography that is your main project then you get line side passes for several of the heritage railway lines and get a wide coverage of shots. Another year its a project on wetland birds, so you join the WWT and RSPB for a year, but let your line side passes lapse, while another year perhaps you want to look at historic houses so you have a years membership of the National Trust and perhaps several other historic property organisations, but then let your wildlife memberships lapse. Membership benefits of Organisations will link you to the relevant websites of these various organisations. You can also reduce travelling costs by targeting places in groups, for example all windmills within a county or a part of a county in a day. Cutting the Cost of Getting Your Photographs gives you more ways of how you might reduce your costs when visiting places within the UK, from Tesco Clubcard Deals to local tourist passes, like The London Pass, or concessionary rates on rail and buses as well as reducing accommodation costs if you need to stay away.

As its a project you also need to know what you are going to do with the photographs, is it to build a library collection, or to produce a photo book, or perhaps a calendar. This will have a baring on how many places you want to visit and the number of photos to take in each place. If for example you are building a wide collection of shots for a picture library, then you may want to get as many photos, with as much variation as possible, while if the project is a calendar then perhaps you need just 12 pictures at the end, but want to work out each image and visit the location a number of times to get the very best image you can, but don't in that case want to take vast numbers of photographs.

The best time to start planning a project is at the beginning of the year, with the aim of starting the project in the spring, it lines up with places opening, and means that over the spring, summer and autumn you get to take the photographs, with perhaps some in the winter, but have a selection of images by then, that can be edited, when you perhaps don't want to go out as much. Before the spring you can start the research, decide what you are going to do and gain any skills you will need, and some may like a rolling programme where one year they are doing the advance work for the next years project. The first years project, normally you want to get up and going as fast as you can, or it may never happen.

The project approach also has a tendency to widen your field of interest, as you naturally look at different types and opportunities considering if various topics would make a good project for the next year or one after that, and some projects you may decide should have a longer life than a year, and therefore sit alongside other projects or activities. But don't have one very long term project as it will never happen.

You will find that just about any project you start will turn out to be far larger than you thought if you have not been able to research it before, so while a geographical area may appear a possibility to start, once started you discover the possibilities and number of places make it impossible to do completely, and therefore you have to determine the sub set that you will do, or cut down the area. For example a few years ago we started a project to photograph all windmills in Britain, I didn't think there were many, but found that there are a very large number, but most don't have sails on, however so far we have identified 190 with sails, there are probably others for us still to identify. So far we have photographed about a third of the windmills with sails and some without. This project we decided was a long term project rather than a year project, but in practice we would have achieved more by now had we decided it was a year project.

Some projects, I have done on a year basis, for example I was a member of a railway preservation society and had a line pass for a year, taking every opportunity within that year to get railway photos. On another I set up some feeding stations around my house, we were in at the time, to feed wild birds for 18 months and built a good collection of British wildlife, over a year. Several other people I have helped to get projects going, helping them to define their objectives and talking through with them the purpose, requirements and what research that can be done.

Your photography naturally improves, adding more skills, getting more practice and being more critical yourself on the standards you want to achieve within a project. As you undertake more projects, each builds on the skills you already have. If you also involve a programme of experimentation, to try out different aspects, to see what else you could do, to look at the capabilities of your equipment, at lens perspective and a wide range of other issues, and build on this, likewise over the longer term, then your ability and specifically your ability to spot the unusual needs and deal with them effectively will improve.

As each project tends to need just a little more equipment, you get to expand your equipment in a way that allows you to get to use what you have, while not costing a great deal. Over a few projects the range of equipment and capability you have is expanded, and importantly you actually use the items rather than just carrying them.

The stages for a project normally are:

  1. define the overall concept of the project, i.e. topic area

  2. define your objectives, i.e. to produce a book

  3. check that this project is likely to be within your available resources, i.e. cash and time

  4. define what research you want to do before you get started, and get started on this

  5. define any training that you want, and skills you need to develop in order to undertake this

  6. list experiments you need to do

  7. put together a provisional programme of what you will do in each month, and highlight the items that have to be achieved (mileposts)

  8. list known cost, equipment, passes, travelling...   and estimate when each will occur

  9. get started as soon as possible

Over the year you won't manage to do everything when you had hoped and its likely that some of the plan will evolve, change and probably expand, but at least starting with a framework like this it will be easier and you will achieve the main milepost items.

Like many things in life, the largest reason for failure to arrive, meeting your objectives, is the failure to get started and then manage time and make sure you actually do what you have planned. While you could leave items from one month to the next, and catch up the following month, you can't do this indefinitely as the amount backed up is too great to achieve, and often the size of this will put you off.

Time is always the shortest commodity, and you need to manage it well. Busy people undertaking a great deal do this well and can always squeeze in another project, while many who have very little on cannot. Most are aware that you can tidy a cupboard and always find more space, but have difficulty realising that they can tidy their time commitment and planning and always get more done.

Since starting to write this article we have had a meeting here and sorted out a range of new projects for the year ahead, and in our case prioritising them so that different ones get started and run over different periods. Handled this way a lot of the items overlap, so work done is used many times, and a great deal more can be achieved, however as one item can easily hold up another the sequencing is particularly important. Some projects will definitely get done, some will have advanced work done and a few are on the back burner, with work done on them only if we have time left over. We also have to be able to continue existing projects and at the same time respond to changing needs, and more. We are looking forward to the new projects as well as continuing existing ones.

So think about the possibilities for you, and see if you feel this could help you to both achieve more and enjoy your photography to the full.

See Possible year projects for some ideas of possible projects you might consider.


By: Keith Park   Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: year_project Topic:   Preparation Last Updated: 12/2011

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