Why 365 Projects fail and how to avoid the traps

Over five and a half years and 2000 consecutive days, I have seen many photographers start a 365 Project with enthusiasm, only to falter and stop short of that end of year target. So what gets in the way? What stops you? What excuses do you make?

The hints and tips for 365 success in the list below are all well-documented, but here I expand on why they are important and on the likely consequences of not following the advice.

1. I can’t find the time

Yes, the time trap. The most common excuse I hear either for stopping or for not even starting a 365 project. How long does it take to make a photograph? 1/125sec? I know; it’s the process of finding or seeing an image that takes too much time. Well you might try some of these time-creating ideas:

  • Adjust your diary – leave half an hour or a full hour earlier for appointments, giving yourself the opportunity to stop somewhere new and interesting on route
  • Adjust your thinking – most people divide their energy and application into the time available, and with it comes the feeling that they cannot do any one thing with 100% commitment. Why not multiply your energy instead? Go about everything with the same enthusiasm and joy. An amazing thing happens when you think about multiplying your energy into all the projects and tasks you have to accomplish through the day – time suddenly becomes available
  • Take a short walk – Five minutes at lunch time out of the office or in the evening at sunset or in the morning before breakfast is all you need.
  • Make opportunities out of routines – Take the camera on your way to the corner shop to buy milk. Something will catch your eye.
  • Your home is your oyster (or something like that) – Grab the camera around the house when you take a coffee break. What? You didn’t realise how many household objects you have …

2. I get to the end of the day and start to panic because I haven’t got a picture yet.

2013_365060 - Could it be Warm

This one is easy. Shoot something early in the day, within the first half hour of waking up. Even if it is just a fallback image, you will be amazed at how much pressure this releases. Sometimes the best images do emerge out of that end of day panic. I know I do my best work in the face of a looming deadline, but I don’t like the stress it brings …

3. It’s alright on days where I go somewhere interesting

This is the holiday thing isn’t it. You all make more pictures on holiday because it is fresh and exciting. And because all the everyday stuff is left at home, you have time as well.

How about thinking of your locality, even your living room, as somewhere you have never visited before. Just like you’re on holiday. My guess is that you don’t go to your local landmarks often because they are, well, just there all the time. How many things do you drive past every day that would capture the eyes of a tourist? Where would a visitor visit? Be on holiday all the time … a 365 gives you the excuse.

4. The weather is just awful

2013_365028 - 24hour

You know, expectation is the killer. I know that you would like the light to be just like the the judge at your camera club said it should be. But it ain’t. Instead of fretting on expectation and what others think, take a good look outside and think about these ideas:

  • If it is dreich and rainy, what is special about it? Can you portray just how miserable it is (if indeed you find dreich and raininess miserable!)
  • Choose subjects that fit the light: clear blue skies with high contrast – maybe an afternoon landscape; cloudy-bright or damp – choose a forest floor or flowers, where there will be saturated colours and no specular highlights to worry about.
  • If there really is no light at all – and often it feels like that – then there’s always a lamp. Make your own light …

Mantra: Love the light you have

5. I can’t think of anything to shoot

Don’t think. Just see. That sounds glib, so let me expand on this crucial idea. Working hard at a skill in order to improve is one thing. But think about something you do like playing a sport – perhaps tennis or cricket – or playing a musical instrument. You have the skills but sometimes it just doesn’t flow for whatever reason. So you practise harder, try to get through a patch of poor form. And guess what; it often gets worse. So you shrug off your frustration and say “oh to h*** with it”, and something happens. Suddenly you just get on and do it. You have got out of your own way. Stopped thinking about it. That sense of flow returns and it feels effortless again.

Mantra: The harder I look the less I see

I have a rule, which I apply routinely in 365 photography. If I see something, if something stops me, I always photograph it, making sure I reflect my original perception wherever possible. It has expanded my horizons as to what is possible, and convinced me that there is a picture in everything. You could also make a list of ideas, like the 365 group Treasure Hunt, so you have some ideas when you don’t have any ideas …

2013_365023 - At Speed

6. I’m feeling completely uninspired

You know what. That is the most normal thing for any artist. There are so many factors: tiredness, busyness, stress … I don’t need to tell you how to look after yourself in a daily, routine kind of way. The only thing to say is this: “Do it anyway”.

You might like to break at this point to consider this:

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

On almost every occasion someone has posted a 365 picture with a caption something to the effect of “I felt totally uninspired today, so I did this …”, the picture has been everything but uninspired. Doing it anyway you will often find something out of the desperation. If you don’t do it, that’s it. Your telling yourself that you feel uninspired has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oh and that’s the other thing. Try replacing the thought “I feel uninspired” with a positive affirmation like “I feel OK” or an acknowledgement of how you feel, like “I feel low today; what can I photograph that will reflect that feeling”

Mantra: Make Good Art

7. I’m just snapping; most of my pictures are meaningless

Do not judge your pictures. This feeling probably comes out of the “I feel uninspired” feeling, and leads you straight into the meaning trap. If you do it anyway, you will see things to photograph on your 365 project. And you will see them for a reason. In two or three weeks time, maybe more, when the feelings you had when you made the picture have passed, you will see it in a different light. I know; it looks altogether better doesn’t it.

And you may begin to see patterns emerging that reflect how you felt at the time. The patterns may be of subject matter or colour or design. Whatever they are, they will have meaning for you in hindsight. I believe that we rarely, if ever, know why we release the shutter to make a picture at the moment of making it. Can you say honestly, as you compose and line up your shot, that you are making this because it will have this meaning or that? Mostly, we are simply caught by a moment of perception and go on to make a visual exploration of the subject matter and a picture, hopefully a picture that says something. But it is only afterwards that we assign any real meaning to to the image.

8. It is becoming a chore

If things feel as if they are getting a bit flat, try a few assignments to inject freshness and a new spark of energy to your 365 project. Here are some ideas:

  • a week of people or street shots, or something you have never tried before
  • a month of monochrome
  • a longer term project such as “fifty friends” or “your locality”
  • a place you can visit on a monthly comparison shoot
  • colour assignments
  • texture or line assignments

It is important to keep it fresh to avoid falling into the uninspired or meaning traps.

9. There’s too much else going on in my life

2013_365002 - Harold at 86

You know you might have just hit on something. That “too much going on in your life” might be the very thing to photograph. What about a documentary of the stuff you go through ferrying the kids or visiting an elderly relative who is unwell or racing between business appointments? Neil Gaiman has already said what to do:

Mantra repeat: Make Good Art

If photography is just behind the forefront of your mind then it will begin to be a way of life, not just another thing to do.

10. My pictures are rubbish

Perhaps the most important thing of all. Who says so? And what does “good enough” mean?

For many it is the marks you get at the camera club that tell you how good your pictures are. And you know that you come away thinking that the judge just didn’t get it or only liked nature or had something against your flavour of street grunge …

If you do feel that way, why do it? Don’t ever do it for them; do it for you. If that is the way you see the world then who are they to argue? You will have failures, of course. Sports people, musicians, stage performers: all of them practise every day. Does that mean all of their practice pieces and performances are perfect? Of course not. Both are littered with abject failures. It is only by failing that you learn to improve. Remember that a 365 project is a photograph a day, not a masterpiece a day. Failure is fine, and sometimes you will even have happy accidents.

Mantra: Photograph for yourself. If someone else happens to like it, that’s a bonus

It is an old adage but a great one.

Other Articles in this Series

Intro – 1827 Days: Five Years of the 365 Project Project 365 Part 1 – Why Do It