Developing a Photographic Project

Bayou Lacombe estuary, before dawn. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Bayou Lacombe estuary, before dawn. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Do you have a photographic project? Something that you’re working on, long-term? A focus for your shooting that transcends any single day of shooting?


Having a photographic project is a great way to improve your photography. Working on something long-term will teach you many things about your current strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. Why?

Stay with me here for this idea: All of our past sensibilities, thoughts, understandings and emotions culminate in the specific point in time when you raise the camera and decide to press the shutter. In other words, all of what you currently are as a photographer—the current level of your ability and creativity—are  brought to bear in that moment. And, as creatures with the ability to learn and get better, what we’re capable of coming up with is constantly changing, too. So it’s possible for us to improve as we ‘walk the walk’.

It doesn’t matter what your subject matter is. This basic rule will work in virtually any circumstances.


You like to photograph the neighborhood soccer/football games on the local playground. Instead of simply going out each time and pointing your camera at the action, back up and analyze your approach. Find some examples of great soccer photography online to study. (Here are a couple: Soccer at Yahoo!SportsSports images at Getty.) What makes their images better than yours? Is it the perspective they find to shoot from? The lens choice? What else? Aside from the sheer athleticism of the players, what could you do differently to improve your results? (Notice how many of the best images are of reaction, not simply the action.)


You walk to work each day along the banks of the Thames River in London. You frequently carry a camera, and when something strikes your eye, you shoot it. Over time, you’ve assembled a decent, not great, collection of snaps from this activity. To turn this into a true project:

Look at the images you’ve shot. Are they all at the same time of day? (When you walk to work, or  back home.) What if you came an hour earlier, would the light be dramatically different or better? An hour later? What about your subject matter: could you pick one specific aspect of the river to concentrate upon? (This could be anything, but try to be specific.) Now spend a few days or weeks shooting only that aspect. The point here is to narrow your focus down to something more specific to concentrate upon.

Without the project, you don’t really learn, beyond the basic technical lessons of how to operate your equipment. Without the project, you’re constantly starting over at Square 1, always without any appreciation for the subtler aspects of your subject matter. Like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, you never improve.

Riprap #4, Mandeville, Louisiana. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Riprap #4, Mandeville, Louisiana. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)


So if you don’t currently have one, assign yourself a shooting project! Here are a few suggested ‘rules’ for your exploration:

  1. It must be multi-day; even better, multi-week. You’ll learn as you come back to your subject over and over.
  2. You must share your images with several people for feedback. This could be a Flickr group, but even better would be personal friends/acquaintances. See how they react to your imagery. Is it what you expected or not?
  3. Edit, then tone your 12 best images from the project.
  4. Now ask yourself: what’s missing? What else do I need for this group of photographs to be a success?
  5. Now go back and fill in any gaps, answering #4 above.

You may never finish your project. It may become something that you work on for months or years; it doesn’t matter. The point will be that you, as a photographer, have moved past the geeky-techno stage of this wonderful hobby/craft/profession and begun to be a photographic artist.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

6 Comments on "Developing a Photographic Project"

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  1. Greg says:

    My first and current project is my 365 project. I started it in August on my birthday to get myself interested in photography. I think it has worked really well so far. I haven’t missed a picture day yet, and today marks #249. I have taken many more pictures than just the one I use for that day, too. Sometimes an event or location becomes a mini project, and I get lots of pictures I like. The car show pictures on the website link are an example. I am not planning on doing another 365 when this is done. I am also waiting for the year to finish before I explore other photo projects.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Greg. The 365 project is a great first thing to take on, really does help get you ‘out the door,’ to paraphrase an earlier post. Do you have the project up on your Flickr page? I’ll have to look around for it…

  3. Greg says:

    Yes, I do. I just put up today’s from my visit to the dentist. It came out just like I envisioned it would when I thought of it.

  4. Enivea says:

    My ongoing project is along the lines of the theme of the movie ‘Smoke’. I regularly take shots of a local hill from my front road, and have it now over three years and all the seasons and at varying times of the day. I’ve yet to compile them all – a task for a wet winter’s day. Soon I’ll be leaving this area, and so the task has a double function and will be a visual memory of the time here.
    Over that time I’ve gradually gained in experience and upgraded cameras – each has been a step forward into a steep learning experience.
    This post is a good reminder to me to be even more aware when I move of how I shoot my local area. Thanks!

  5. Our most important piece of camera equipment, always, will be what’s between our ears…:)

  6. I’m so luck to go over your page. Tomorrow will be our practical application for our Photography subject and I am certain that I can do better by applying the tips you have listed above. Hope to see more articles like this.

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