Many photographers attempt a 365 project—taking a photo every day for a year. Perhaps you are considering a 365 project, or perhaps you attempted and gave up. I am about halfway through my first 365 Project, and here are ten tips that have helped me make it this far. Whether you are currently in the middle of a 365 project or just thinking about starting a 365, I am sure these tips can help you as well.
1. Start in the Spring or Summer
Most people who attempt a 365 project start on January 1. In the Northern Hemisphere, that is in the dead of winter. Looking back, I would not choose to start a 365 project during that part of the year.
The days are very short. During January and, to an extent, February and March (until Daylight Saving Time), there simply wasn't enough daylight left after work to take an outdoor photograph using natural light. If you are facing that dilemma, you only have two options: take a camera with you during the day, or use flash. Even if you are able to go outside and photograph during the day, it's cold!
Any time you are committing to a new goal, you want to put as few obstacles as possible to keep you from accomplishing that goal. For my project, the lack of natural light was such an obstacle. I thought the first month was the toughest, mentally speaking. I often asked myself why I was doing it. What kept me going was the momentum of taking the photo each day. Having more light, and thus giving me more options, would have helped that momentum, and reduced that initial resistance.
As days grew longer, I have been able to explore more and find more things to photograph. For that reason, I would advise someone wanting to start a 365 project to start in late spring or early summer, especially if that person had a 9-5 job. That way, there is plenty of light after work hours for you to photograph outdoors or get some good window light for indoor photos.
Finding something to photograph each day can be difficult, to say the least. Going someplace new to you helps you come up with an idea. You will often see something novel that you think would look good as a photograph.
I have found some great scenes by taking back roads instead of the main highways. It does not take a lot of time to go exploring. If you do not have a lot of time during the day, pack your lunch and drive around during your lunch break. I often do this. I have to admit, living in a rural area helps, especially if you like to take photos of old country churches or mom-and-pop stores. Sometimes, though, you will find a real treasure like a chimney standing by itself in front of a pasture.
It seems like the best scenes, though, are always found by purposefully getting yourself lost. So, you may not want to try this unless you have a GPS app on your smartphone or a navigation system in your car. That way, you can find your way back to work in time.
Exploring does not have to mean going someplace you have never been before. Sometimes, all you have to do is use a new method to get there. You do not notice a lot of details when you drive by in your car, ride the bus, or what have you. Try to get out and walk and you will find a lot more interesting and inspiring things to photograph. While the slower speed allows you to notice more details, the height difference between sitting in a vehicle and walking can literally make you see things from a new perspective. Sometimes, that's all you need to spark your creativity.
3. Improve Your Skills
Many photographers start a 365 project with the idea that it will improve their photography skills. While that is definitely possible, simply pressing a shutter button is not going to cause your skills to improve, at least not as fast as you would like. Vince Lombardi is quoted, “Practice doesn't make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” If the purpose of practice is to get better at an activity, then you need to repeat that activity correctly.
Merely pressing the shutter button on your camera 365 times will not magically make you a better photographer. You have to work at it. Many people will have different “phases” during their 365 projects in which they concentrate on a specific genre or a photographic skill. Some common themes include:
- 50 Days, 50 Strangers – To help you get over shyness, you may want to take a picture of a stranger each day for 50 days. (Obviously, you want to be safe while doing this so use common sense.)
- Portrait Month – As the name implies, you take a portrait a day for a month.
- Black & White – Color can be distracting in a photo. Black & White photos depend much more on composition and contrast.
- One Lens – If you are the type of person who uses several, try limiting yourself to a single lens for a week or two. Similarly, if you usually use a zoom lens, limit yourself to a prime.
Another idea is to use the 365 project to complete the exercises from an instructional photography book. Some of the photos I have taken for my project are the exercises from Roberto Venezuela's Picture Perfect Practice.
Taking photos is fun. If we are honest, I think most of us would say what we truly like to do is show off our creations. There are several internet forums that focus on 365 projects and allow you to do just that. My personal favorites are Reddit's /r/365photoproject and 365project.org.
In addition to providing a place to show off, the forums provide much-needed community during your 365. You may not realize it, but a year is a long time, especially when you have to come up with 365 photo ideas. You will likely feel discouraged at some point in your 365 project. Having people who are facing the same challenge as you are really helps. They understand the stress and pressure the project can sometimes cause. More importantly, they can help remind you of the good times that are also part of the project.
Another great benefit of a community is they are good for inspiration. On any given day, there there will be some very talented photographers working on a 365 project. Flickr groups, 500px galleries and other sites allow you to see their work and draw inspiration from it. Even if you somehow manage to not be inspired by all the amazing photos you will see in such communities, most will also have periodic challenges that can provide not just inspiration, but the motivation you sometimes need to get out there and shoot some pictures.
Many of the 365 communities also feature prompts or challenges as sources of inspiration. A prompt is a word or short phrase that is intended to get your creative juices flowing. Something like “Spring has sprung” is a great prompt. You can interpret that literally—for example, you could photograph some old rusty springs. Alternatively, you could interpret it figuratively, and make a photo that reminds you of the season of Spring.
As I said earlier, a year is a long time. There are going to be many days where you absolutely cannot think of anything to photograph, and having a prompt or a challenge can sometimes instantly make an idea pop into your head. Many lists of prompts assign a prompt to a specific day, but there is nothing that says you have to attempt a prompt on that day.
My go-to site for prompts is CaptureYour365. That site has been providing prompts for 365 projects for several years. Each day has its own prompt, with there being a common theme to each week, such as a “technical week” or a “composition week.” Some other sites to consider are the photo challenges from photochallenge.org, or Reddit.
There's an App for That
And of course, there are apps for prompts. While it has an awkward name, Learn Photo365 Photography Assignment Generator is designed specifically for creating prompts for 365 projects (or 52-week projects).
I love OkDoThis, which has a web interface as well as its app. It calls its prompts “do's.” While OkDoThis is not designed specifically for 365 projects, the do's from OkDoThis as your photo prompts. OkDoThis also allows users to come up with, and submit, their own do's. It is especially fun to see how others have interpreted the do's you have submitted.
Don't limit prompts to just ideas for photographs. You can also use prompts to provide inspiration on how to edit a photograph. Maybe you took a photo you really like, but it is just missing a little something. Reviewing a list of prompts can sometimes make you realize just how you should post-process a photo to give it what it is missing.
(The apps I mentioned are for iOS. The Android version of OkDoThis is currently available in beta on Google Play. My search revealed similar, but not directly equivalent apps to the Learn Photo365 app).
Update: Thanks to Noel Chenier, the developer of Learn365, for letting me know that his app just launched for Android. The links to it are in his comment.
6. There Are No Rules
Whose project is it anyway? It's yours! So make your project whatever you want.
I have heard of some people who take every weekend off on their 365 project. Some people take a selfie a day. Some people take a photo of a child or a pet every day. You can do this however you want, and as long as you are not breaking any laws, no one cares!
7. Call a Do-Over
Remember playing sports as a child? Maybe you were playing kickball and you kicked a high lob that was easy to catch. Thinking quickly, you cried, “Do over!” and then an argument ensued over whether do-overs were allowed.
A similar situation will happen during your 365. You had the perfect picture in your head. This photograph would be your masterpiece. But despite all your editing and work in Photoshop, the photo cannot be manipulated to look like you imagined.
A 365 Project is ideal to make, and then learn from, mistakes such as this. Analyze your “bad” photo. Ask photographer friends and people online what you could have done better. The critique groups on Facebook and Flickr are especially useful for this purpose.
Then, use the lessons you have learned to try again. Mistakes are one of the best ways to learn. You should not waste the opportunities they present!
8. Missing a Few Days is Fine
A year is a long time. There will likely be some days when you will not take a photo. You may be sick, busy at work, or just too tired to take a photo. So what? You should not worry about it. No matter what routine we are talking about—taking pictures, medicine, going to the gym, changing your underwear—there are going to be days that you will miss for one reason or another.
Just because you miss a day or three is not a reason to quit. Just start taking pictures again. No one is going to criticize you because you took 362, 360, or even 350 photos in a year. If it really means that much to you, extend your year by the number of days you need to reach the magic number of 365.
Some photographers keeping track of their days, such as “day 49/365.” This would be a source of stress to me, so it's not a practice I use. I guess that is an advantage of having started on January 1—it can be very easy to figure out just where you are in your year in pictures.
Do you want to make up the days you missed and post several photos on a given day? Go ahead. This is your project. Nobody is going to stop you.
I know of some people currently working on a 365 project who take several photos per day and if they miss a day, they post one of their “keepers” just so they will have 365 photos at the end of the year. Again, this is your project. Do it however you want to do it (are you sensing a pattern?).
9. Keep a Notebook
You ever wonder how many great ideas have been lost for want of pen and paper? I had a teacher that used to say, “a short pencil is better than a long memory.” His point was the act of writing something down helps many people remember what they wrote. For this reason, notebooks are great for jotting down ideas for photographs as they come to you.
Personally, I carry a little notebook and a pen with me at all times. I do this because I find it easier to get the notebook out and write a reminder to myself than it is to enter a reminder in my phone. I prefer soft sided pocket-sized notebooks because they are so easy to carry. The Field Notes brand, in particular, is small and have flexible yet durable covers.
When something inspires me and gives me an idea for a photograph, I write it down in the notebook. Sometimes words do not adequately describe what you see in your mind's eye. A sketch or a drawing can better describe what you visualize. This is an advantage pen-and-paper have over smartphones in that it is much easier to draw in the notebook than it is on the screen of a smartphone.
If, despite this, you want to be all fancy and high-tech, you have many options. Evernote is a multi-platform note-taking app with great sync functionality. If you create a note on your computer, it will sync to your smartphone and tablet, and vice-versa. It integrates with your smartphone's camera, allowing you to use a photo as a note. This is great if you find a scenic view but want to remember its location so you can come back later with a better camera. Simply launch Evernote, choose “Photos,” and take your photo. Be sure to either create a tag to help you find all your 365 project-related notes or stash them in a dedicated notebook in Evernote.
10. Plan a Shoot
While you can spontaneously take a great photograph, I believe that 95% or more of the truly great photos are the result of planning. Whether it is looking up the times of sunrise or sunset for a landscape or perfecting the posing and lighting for a portrait, planning pays off in the end.
There is nothing that says a 365 project has to be all spontaneous photos. This is another great reason to keep a notebook. As you plan your photograph, you can make a list of the equipment you will need and commit other parts of your plan to paper.
Take It One Day at a Time
What I want you to take away from this is a 365 project should be fun. Yes, this project is challenging (or as challenging as you make it), but looking back, your sense of accomplishment should overshadow the times you were struggling. A 365 project can be a great way to spend an entire year doing something you love—photography.