As a photographer, I’ve always loved working on projects. My first serious photographic project was probably my senior thesis in college—an editorial piece exploring the recreational uses of Lake Lanier. (Okay, so maybe that was just as much about wanting to spend time on the lake my last semester of college.) When I decided I wanted to pursue garden photography, I focused on building a portfolio of "magazine" photographs of gardens. And one year, I photographed trees of all kinds, in all different ways, in every season. Each of these projects, along with others, helped me grow as a book and magazine photographer.
Over the past eight years, I have worked on four separate photographic projects exploring Amelia Island—each from a more artistic than editorial perspective. They have actually changed my way of seeing the world around me, and through them I have honed my visual style. One of my current projects is photographing plants (their leaves, seeds, pods and flowers) in a decidedly non-garden and non-editorial kind of way.
There are many advantages to working on projects. Here are five of the most important ones that I’ve discovered:
1. It forces you to push beyond the surface of a subject. I could have photographed Amelia Island as a tourist. Instead, I chose to photograph the island over a series of years—exploring each habitat in depth, seeing the island in different light, and embracing the changing seasons. I have learned about the tides and the local wildlife, become more contemplative in my work, and discovered places to shoot that are off the beaten path.
2. It allows you to hone a new skill or technique. You master any skill through practice—whether it is photography, painting, cooking, writing or sewing. A project can give you that kind of hands-on, repetitive experience. You have an opportunity to try things many different ways until you find those that work best for you.
3. It gives focus to your work and helps you stay on track and productive. Whether you are working toward a specific goal (a painting a day, a book of photographs, a finished quilt) or simply taking a deep, exploratory dive in which you trust the process without knowing the outcome, a project forces you to focus your energy in a specific, productive direction.
4. It can both break a routine, which encourages creativity, and help you establish a new routine when necessary. While good habits can make us more productive, they often lead to creative ruts. It is said that something as simple as changing your route to work can open your eyes to new things and spur creativity. Just imagine what changing your focus or learning new skills can do!
5. It allows you to build a body of work—whether an exhibition, a book, a notable collection of stock images, or art you can market to retailers. As an artist, you need bodies of work to present to galleries, collectors, art directors and publishers. They are far more marketable than random pieces of work, and they demonstrate your ability to focus and produce.
In my next post, I’ll share a bit about my newest project. In the meantime, think about your own work: What projects have you completed and in what ways have they helped you grow? Are you working on a project now? What will your next project be? Can you get started today?