Few things can be as rewarding as a personal project. A brief that you provide for yourself can introduce your own character, personality, interests and viewpoint to your imagery and allow you to highlight topics, issues or ideas that you feel should have a platform.
But where to begin? Without a brief being provided by a third party, the possibilities are endless. In order to help you generate ideas, I’ve put together 10 tips to get you started.
1. Observe your environment
Ideas come from somewhere, so you may require some method of thinking in new, open and creative ways. For example, when you’re taking a walk, start to observe and think about your environment. Your environment might incorporate a range of subject matter from landscapes, portraits, environmental or social issues.
2. Socialise outside your regular circles
Socialising with friends, colleagues and friends can very often spark ideas. We all have different experiences and these interactions can be the source of some great ideas and topics. However, your familiarity with these groups and individuals can sometimes be restrictive. Meeting and listening to new people (perhaps by overhearing a conversation at a bus stop, supermarket etc.), can offer new insights and perspectives.
Keep an eye out for passages, sentences or even words you read in newspapers, magazines, novels or online that might initiate new ideas. While you may often read about photography, as well as viewing other photographers’ work to inform your own, it could be that a song lyric, a poem or a news article sparks an idea.
4. Random internet browsing
Browsing the internet for subject matters unrelated to specific photography or visual arts sources allows you to step back and see what is going on all around you. Interesting themes can come from a whole host of sources, so there is no area of your life in which there is a scarcity of possibilities.
5. Your own life and environment
Your own personal interests and hobbies will often inform your work. People who undertake volunteer work, for example, find great project opportunities. Those with children often find their first “models” quite readily. Where you live, its history and scenery can be an amazing source of inspiration. Landmarks and obvious areas of historic attractions may have been photographed on numerous occasions but remember to shoot differently, shoot better and draw on your personal experiences. Your own uniqueness can play a critical role in the images you create.
6. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal, whether by using a notebook or your smartphone that syncs with your PC or Mac, is hugely beneficial. Having a journal always with you means you can easily keep your visual diary up-to-date. It’s also a useful tool for recording a phrase you heard or a location you saw which you can reference at a later date.
7. Tune out
We all lead busy lives with a great many distractions. It is useful to remember that it can be difficult to originate good ideas when our minds are busy. In the same way that taking a walk can clear our minds, any meditative pursuit can also be beneficial to help you tune out.
This is perhaps one of the most effective first steps to take in the idea generation process. While there is computer software to assist with brainstorming, a pen and paper is an easy way to start. Since you are not considering practicalities at this stage, write down every thought that comes to mind. Begin with a word and build on it as other thoughts arise. Use a mind map, post-it notes, highlighter pens or anything that assists you in this process.
9. Ask yourself questions
When you are generating ideas and developing them, keep asking yourself questions such as:
- What inspires me?
- What do I want to say?
- What do I want it to look like?
- What would be my approach?
- Where will my work reside and be viewed?
- What is the fundamental idea?
- Where do I want to take my audience?
- What do I want my audience to think and feel?
Pre-visualisation is part of this questioning phase as you develop your idea. How will you photograph your subject matter once you have decided on an idea? Seeing your image in your mind’s eye is critical. It will inform what camera settings you use, any additional equipment you might require, as well as issues around access etc.
Before you lift your camera to your eye, consider your approach and what it is you wish to convey.
10. Undertake a SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis is a list or table compiled with the following headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
To illustrate how you would use this, imagine you’re shooting a coffee mug on a kitchen table.
- Strengths: You can shoot the mug in your own home; you have the props, a coffee mug and a kitchen table; you can maintain some consistency with lighting.
- Weaknesses: You may not be confident in your lighting skills or a specific technique that is required to produce your pre-visualised image; you do not have a tablecloth or other props that might improve your shot.
- Opportunities: A local coffee shop are interested in your image; it could be the start of a series of images for a future project giving you the chance to practice your lighting and composition skills.
- Threats: The coffee will not stay hot which will make it look unappealing; you share your home with others and your equipment could pose potential health and safety hazards; you may run out of coffee and/or milk for the shoot; your kitchen table may not be available at certain times.
Adequate planning and a good SWOT analysis will provide you with an additional plan in case something does go wrong.
Structure your project
Once you’ve decided on the idea for your personal project, it’s good practice to set yourself deadlines and break your project down into specific phases such as:
- Idea generation
- Idea development
- Shooting and editing time
This will provide you with both a structure and a focus over the duration of your project.
Personal projects can take twists and turns and this forms part of their attraction. Your first shoot and test shots often dictate the path your project will take and yes, sometimes it runs into a dead end. But therein lies the beauty and reward. You decide where it’s going and how far to take it.
Have you any tips you could add to this list for working on personal projects?