Take on a Long-Term Project

Day 17 (September 27th): Memories
Creative Commons License photo credit: blythe_d

I’ve spoken before about the benefits of shooting with purpose — taking on small themes or projects to keep your focus and sharpen your skills. So to expand on that topic, I’d like to talk about taking on a long-term project.

Not too long ago, friend and fellow film photographer Tom Webb wrote about his undertaking of a major project that would last for over 12 months. The idea being that he would focus on a single subject over a long period of time to create a substantial body of work. He chose to take on the Lithgow Blast Furnace as his topic. I fell in love with the idea and I began to look at my own photography in search of something that I could take on.

It hit me that I had already been focusing on beach town photography here in Southern California, and I started forming a plan that would take this concept a step further. I decided that I would make an effort to document the culture found in these beach towns near my home, and that I would stick with it for at least another year.

After some conversations with Tom, he talked me into a deadline of Winter, 2009. Between now and then, we would both pursue our project in creating this body of work. Once we approach that deadline, we’ll be working on presenting our work through various avenues. Some of the ideas he and I have had for this final presentation include gallery exhibitions, art shows, documentary films, photo flip-books, etc. So it’s kind of like a thesis in photography.

Why is it beneficial to take on something like this?

Focusing on a topic can give you extra inspiration and motivation. Short term projects are cool because you don’t have to commit for any substantial amount of time (in case you end up hating the topic). But long term projects can keep you running when you’re feeling all dried up and uninspired. These projects can be a great filler for the times when nothing else seems to be going on. Not only that, but if you stick with a project for any amount of time, the outcome of the project can be quite rewarding and a great source of pride in your own work.

So if you’re looking for a way to add some true meaning to your photography, consider picking up a long term project. Choose something that’s close to your heart and piques your interest. Stick with it, struggle with it, and turn it into something much greater than a single photo.

7 thoughts on “Take on a Long-Term Project

  1. Mattias Wirf

    Nice idea. Now to look for a subject… which seems a bit hard. You will have to be able to reach it all year (for me, on a bicycle or by walking), and it has to exist all year (to chose a kind of flower would be difficult to shoot in the winter). A bit hard for naturephotographer in Sweden ;) But an interesting idea, I will give it a try!

  2. the_wolf_brigade

    It also forces you to be creative. Something like I’m pursuing, a single site, has forced me out of the box already as there are only so many front on and side views that you can do.

    Shooting with film is allowing me to experiment with numerous techniques and types of films, though there is always the option of unique processing techniques with digital.

  3. laanba

    Mattias, you could document seasonal change in one area. I’ve seen a few single photos of that and it has always fascinated me. I imagine especially in Sweden things will vary greatly from summer to winter.

  4. Bryan

    That’s a really good idea for improving my skills. A long term project seems like a deeper, more focused way of seeing the beauty of a location that many others miss. All photography does this to a point, but focusing on one topic for a year or so would take it to the next level. By proximity, most of my pictures have been of the Sonoran desert region of Arizona. Maybe I can take a more structured approach to the subject.

  5. Rasmus

    Long term projects are arguably the truest test of one’s passion.

    I love the idea of introducing an element of competition by working in parallel with someone else. It adds a stick and a carrot in the form of comitting to a deadline, and the humility of defeat, if for whatever reason, you end up not giving the project the attention it requires. :)

  6. his4ever

    I think this is a great idea. I took a project of doing portraits or street photography once a week. Between having a baby and a two year old… I have not done very well… but I have learned so much and enjoyed taking pictures of people… which is one of my favorite subjects to take pictures of :D.

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