The Road to Making Better Photographs #1: The Personal Photo Project
Content and Images Contributed By: Richard Newman
Do you want to make your photographs better? Of course you do. Everyone wants to hear the “oohs” and “aahs” when you show them an image. It’s human nature to enjoy the fact that other people enjoy what you enjoy. There is no better way to improve your photography than to get started on a personal photographic project, or practice your craft.
Let’s start with the ground rules. First of all, we’re talking about a personal project here, and it begins with the premise that the only person you are trying to please is yourself. So, you must give yourself permission to make some bad images and to fail, and you must have the courage to not give up if you don’t make your “Moonrise Hernandez NM” on your first try.
If you want to be a great musician or dancer, common sense tells you that you have to practice. Why should image making be any different? Practicing your photography is exercising your eyes, brain and heart. If you want to be healthy, you have to exercise, and you have to make time for that exercise.
Here’s an example from my personal image-making path. During my time at the Ansel Adams Trust with Rod Dresser, I wasn’t paid in money but given Polaroid Type 55 4×5″ film, and I got cases of the stuff. This film was great because not only did it give me an instant print, it also gave me a very useable negative. When I look back, I can see that this film and process was very much like digital image making today. It was cheap and I got immediate feedback on my image.
When I returned from Carmel to my home in Southern California and went back to my television job, I felt a real desire to move my photography forward, but just couldn’t find the time after work for it when I was tired. Do those sound like familiar excuses? To solve this, I used my lunch hour. The sound stage I worked on was one block from my house, so everyday for lunch I resolved myself to make photographs. I’d set up my camera in my home office and leave it there so it was always ready. For my subject matter, I used flowers.
My workflow was simple. Because I was working in natural or low light and the film had an ISO of only 50, it meant that I had to make long time exposures. On my walk home, I would think about how I was going to compose the image, and when I walked through the door, I went straight to work on it. I’d set up the subject in front of the camera and start the 20-minute exposure while I made my lunch.
I made a picture of a different flower every day for six months until I got it right. Yes, I failed way more times than I succeeded, but I kept up my courage and resolve to keep trying and not give up. Here’s an example of this earlier work and an image that I created 15 years later by applying what I learned during that practice time.
I’d like to challenge you to start a personal project and share it with us here at Parallax. What are your ideas? Will your project be your family, your commute, your pets, friends or something that is uniquely you? In upcoming blog posts, I’ll give you more examples of my own failures and successes, and we look forward to you sharing your projects with us on Parallax.
Share Your Passion!
Let us know how you keep that creative spark alive by submitting your personal photo project to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include 300-500 words about how your project provided inspiration and what gear you used. Images should be jpeg files at least 200 dpi (750×500 pixels). If chosen, we will share your work as part of our Personal Photo Project Series.