Sunday Pontification . . . on Monday – Should You Have a Photography Project?

You may think that this is a dumb question, but it is an important one for the context of photographers – should you work on a photography project? Is it okay to walk around taking single photos or should there be some intentional connection between photos you make? Some insist that every photographer should be working on a project to keep them focused. The real question is, “What is your goal?” Today, I pontificate on these questions.

I have spend hundreds of hours watching lectures, tutorials, how-to videos, and read countless articles and blog posts about photography. I have been quasi-formally training in digital photography. The overwhelming thought is that photographers should be working on a photography project. The capstone for my training was to submit a photography project, which was a collection of wildlife photographs (they turned out pretty dang good, I might add).

But that is problematic because it really depends on the goal of the photographer.  In other words, what is the end result?  For example, is a photojournalist covering a professional football game for a news agency developing a photography project?  Is a wedding photographer technically creating a photography project? Is it a person record of a vacation to the Bahamas? Is is a collection of photos of waterfalls to print in a calendar?  What about a career retrospective of a professional baseball photographer? Do any of these count as a photography project?

Based on what I am finding, those on the “artistic” side of photography who describe themselves as “creatives” differentiate between portfolios and photography projects.  One the one hand, for them, portfolios are a collection of photos – “just a portfolio,” I heard one of these “creatives” say. They would insist that a portfolio does not have a cohesive “story,” “concept,” or “interpretive process.”

One the other hand, some of those who are commercial/editorial photographers scoff at “creatives” as process- and concept-driven. Their photos are not “pure” photography.

I hate to split hairs, but it really depends on the process you define “project.” Any time you “contemplated, devised, plan, or scheme” you have a photography project. So, the question is how does one photograph connect with another?

Let me add to the confusion.  Adam Marelli said that if a single photo does not tell the whole story, then you need a photography project. To be clear, he is not discounting the value of a single, powerful photo. He is suggesting that

So, let me synthesize all of this.  The “creatives” shouldn’t feel like they own the concept of the photography project.  If you are planning any type of photography endeavor, you are a “creative” because you are interpreting ahead of time what you want the outcome to be. If a photo editor tells a sideline photographer what she wants for her sports website, both the editor and the photographer are working on a photography project.

In my experience, whether working on a personal project or one that I wish to sell, I enjoy working on a photography project.  If I agree to make photos at a family reunion, I plan on the story I want to tell with my photos to give them some type of “center” or coherency. For example, I may want to focus on the season in which the reunion is held, or perhaps it is a family reunion to celebrate someone’s graduation.  Each of the photos can have a single, uniting them throughout that brings it to life for the viewer.

But there is also something to be said for single, powerful photographs. A single, strongly composed photograph has multiple layers. So, it is a picture within a picture. Each layer provides more information. The background gives information about the middle ground, and the middle ground gives information about the foreground.

So, whether you should be consciously working on a photography project or making single, stand-alone photos really depends on your goal.  That is where you need to start.  As Steven Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”


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