Why do a 365 Project?

So you have joined the (post) new year photography party and decided to embark on a 365 Project. You’re not alone. It’s THE thing to do, right? But have you thought about why you are doing it?

Maybe your friends are doing it. Perhaps someone like me has told you it is the best thing you’ll ever do for your photography.

What do you hope to get out of it? Do you have a goal or a sense of purpose that will get you through the challenge? As with all New Year’s resolutions, I have a strong sense that it will help you to succeed if you do. This the first in a series of articles based on my observations after five consecutive years of Project 365. My 365 journey began on 1st January 2008, but I need to take you back nearly two years before then.

365 Beginnings – Why did I do it?

2006_401026 - Lenticular Wave Clouds over Sierra de Lujar

Lenticular Wave Clouds over Sierra de Lujar

It was March 2006 when I got ill during and after an epic mountaineering expedition in the Sierra Nevada of southern Spain.

I recovered from the illness but it took some time. And for a couple of years, mountaineering took a back seat.

I was making no new photographs and I needed to do something about it.

Although I had a diverse photographic portfolio, mountaineering had provided my primary motivation for photography for more than twenty five years. I realised just how dependent I had become on it as a photographic speciality.

Towards the end of the year, when I got an invitation from Sarah to join her in a 365 Group to make a picture a day through 2008  I jumped at the opportunity. This was exactly what I needed – a clear goal, a project to kicksart my enthusiasm. As with regular exercise, keeping fit is so much easier when you have a goal.

Deciding on a Project 365 Approach

Saying yes to Sarah’s invitation was the easy part. But I had no idea at first how I was going to approach it. There were several things I did know:

  • I couldn’t rely on my mountain landscape speciality because I couldn’t get to the mountains every day. Why do more of the same anyway? I wanted to diversify and to rediscover some creativity.
  • A picture a day. Every day. That’s tough. It would have to fit in with daily life, not be it.
  • I knew I could be organised and plan sometimes, but for the most part I would need to be spontaneous and responsive to everyday things. I did not want to produce my versions of images that everyone else makes, nor to do well in club competitions. I knew how to do that. This project had to be uniquely mine and about me.

To rediscover creativity. MY creativity. Diverse. Spontaneous. Unique. No pressure then … I will explore the links between spontaneity, flow and creativity in a later piece. But for the moment I knew that if I was to succeed then I would have free myself of all constraints and preconceived ideas about what makes a good photograph. I would have to switch off my ‘inner critic’ and go with the flow. If I was too demanding on myself, I would become more and more frustrated. I wanted through this project to stay mindful of the present moment and to notice what I was seeing. I would need to go with it without judgement.

About Practice

Sportspeople, musicians and performers practise regularly, if not every day. Why not photographers? I often ask camera clubs “how many people have made a photograph today?” Usually 10% or fewer stick their hands up. And they are the enthusiasts!

Practice! This was an important realisation for me. 365 is invaluable for practising techniques, improving your proficiency with a camera and broadening your repertoire. How much better we get at things when we do them all the time. For me it was more about practising seeing, about honing my observation and and finding self-expression that goes beyond proficiency. It stood to reason that if photography was very close to the forefront of my mind every day, I would become attuned to seeing things. And I would be prepared for opportunities when they arose. Sometimes practice does not go well. That was an important recognition. It meant I felt free to fail occasionally, to post an image that was not great. Nothing interesting ever was made without the many failures that went before it … But provided every image was meaningful to me in some way, that was OK.

The more I practise, the luckier I get … Gary Player

Other Approaches

This was just how I decided to go. You don’t need to be as undefined as I was. There are other alternatives.

  • Self-portraits Sarah made her 365 Project a year of self-portraits, an extraordinary, revealing, open and honest journey of self-discovery
  • Documentary What about a year observing the town you live in, what’s happening on the street. Or the first year of your baby’s life.
  • 31 Days / 52 Weeks If 365 days sounds too much, try it for a month. Or try a picture a week on different themes.

In Conclusion

My 365 Project began with one key guiding principle and reason for being: to rediscover my creativity and self-expression through daily practice. Everyday observation and self-discovery. One day at a time.

With hindsight, I realise how this is open-ended. I will never arrive at a defined goal. No wonder Project Infinity has emerged … Y

ou will have your reasons and motivations too. If you drift through your 365 Project without thought and a little application, you will probably begin to feel that it is all meaningless. And you’ll crawl to a stop. Maybe you’ll try again next year … and the same thing will happen. But with a goal and a purpose, especially if you make it a public statement by posting your pictures and sharing with a group, chances are you will succeed. You’ll get to the end of a year having grown as a confident photographer in every way.