This video is all about street photography projects: we look at why projects are important in street photography, how you approach them, where you get ideas from and what the end product can look like. If you’re serious about street photography, projects are the way to go! You can watch the video here:
One thing I often hear from students on my workshops is that people struggle to find good material to shoot and end up disappointed or disillusioned with street photography, but there is a better way – and that involves structuring your street photography around projects.
In this video we explore how projects can elevate your work and bring a sense of fulfillment to your shooting, so we’ll look at why projects are important, how you can get involved with them – and what the end result can look like.
WHAT IS A PROJECT?
So before we dig deeper, let’s look at ‘what is a project’? A project is a collection of images on a theme. Collectively they could tell a story, or perhaps they have a strong common aesthetic which makes them work together as a set. The important thing is to have a strong connection between the images – a sort of glue that binds them all together as a set.
Let’s go back to this person who is a bit disillusioned with their street photography. They are out there on the streets filled with enthusiasm and hoping to come across Henri Cartier Bresson’s ‘Decisive Moment’ around every corner.
But it rarely happens like that! If that’s what you rely on, you need to be honest with yourself and accept that you’re not going to get a great ‘hit-rate’, (and that might be fine for you). If I think about my own images that are not connected with projects, I’m lucky if I get a few strong keepers per month. But it needn’t be like that, and this is where projects come in.
I find that for me, when it comes to street photography, projects make me focused, more engaged and ultimately more fulfilled. I also find that the more projects I’m working on, the more productive I am.
So at any point in time I’m working on 4-5 projects – so when I walk out of the door I have a good idea of exactly what I’m looking for: material for my projects. It takes a lot of the luck out of it. And that doesn’t mean that you’re not also still looking out for those candid decisive moments as you’re hunting for project material – you will still find them and should see them as the bonus!
So, how long should a project take to complete? Don’t over-think this – It doesn’t really matter – it could take a day, it could take a month, a decade – or it could take a lifetime.
I was running workshops in Prague recently and noticed that in the Old Town Square early in the morning everyone was taking selfies, getting themselves into the strangest and most contorted ridiculous positions and I thought to myself, ‘there’s a project to be had here’. So over a period of just 48 hours I ended up with a collection of 20-30 images which I’m pretty sure I can do something with – this is a project.
In contrast, I’ve been working on a project about Soho for about 3 years and I’m guessing it will take at least another year before I have enough material that I’m happy with. I can see this project working as a book and hopefully an exhibition.
So as you can see there is a range there – from a project which is short, sharp, and fun to something that’s a lot more ambitious.
You might now be thinking – ‘how many pictures do I need to go into a project?’ Again, it doesn’t necessarily matter. A project could be made up of 8 images – it could be 80 – it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that common visual GLUE which holds them all together.
A guy who’s been on several of my workshops always does projects which are comprised of 9 images – no more, no less – that forms part of his personal style. In this guy’s dining room he’s painted the walls white so it looks like a contemporary gallery space. Each image is in a big black frame with a deep cream beveled mount with a black & white picture of around 8×8 inches. If you were to take one of those pictures off the wall and look at it in isolation, you’d think “that’s okay – it’s not a bad picture”. But then put it back on the wall and see it in context of the complete project there’s suddenly a wow factor – it takes on a whole different meaning. And that’s the power of projects.
WHERE DO PROJECT IDEAS COME FROM?
So where does the inspiration for a project come from? How do you come up with ideas?
Again, it needn’t be complicated and you can find inspiration ANYWHERE. Here are some of the ways we can find inspiration for our projects . . .
Firstly, when I’m looking through my archive of old images, I’ll see a shot I might have taken years ago and a light comes on. For example, a couple of years ago I took a picture of a dog in a car and when I looked at it recently it gave me the idea to shoot a project all about dogs in cars – not just any old dogs in cars, by the way – there needs to be something interesting about the subject. So this is more of a long-term project – you don’t see things like this very often and it could take 10 years before I have enough material to call it a finished project.
Then you should look at what goes on in your own life: do you do anything particularly interesting? Do you have special access to something which might give you a unique insight?
Maybe there’s something you feel passionate about – and this could stray into documentary street photography – here’s an example of a great project by another of my workshop students, Neil Goodwin, who is involved with a homeless charity called the Mustard Tree Project – this is very much a documentary project and it ended up as an exhibition in his town centre.
You could explore things that a part of your routine – such as the daily commute.
Maybe try focusing on a specific geographical location – there’s a street photographer in the north east who revisited the street he grew up in 40 years later and spent a year shooting life in that one street in the 21st century.
Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from other peoples work; don’t directly copy what others have done before you but maybe take a spark of an idea and tweak it to make it your own.
WHAT DOES A FINISHED PROJECT LOOK LIKE?
There are so many options – enough material for a future video! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
- A set of prints or postcards
- Framed prints in your own small exhibition
- A dedicated section on your website or blog
- Self-publish a book (using online tools such as Blurb.com)
- A self-published zine (now relatively inexpensive)
Sometimes, however, a project will have no physical manifestation: you benefit purely from the satisfaction of having com pleted it.
SO, WHAT NEXT?
I hope you found this a helpful introduction to how projects can help you become a better street photographer. The important thing is to just get out there and DO IT. You’ll find that the added focus and sense of purpose could be a real game-changer for your street photography.