Having photography projects has endless benefits but they are indispensable tools in order to develop photography style. Shooting with purpose motivates, helps photographers figure out what to do next, and gives a clear view to see how work improves over time. Projects are also how audiences understand a photographer’s unique style and voice.
Whether it is an online gallery or a physical show, images are often presented as part of themed groups. Having specific projects provides goals that enable their creation and satisfy the audience’s craving for curated sets.
Getting off the beaten path
Projects direct photographers off the beaten path and give work focus. As I write, my top picture on 500px and Instagram are shots of Wildwood Recreation Site. This is a patch of public land most people only drive by on the way to Mount Hood. Those pictures outperformed the cliché shots of the Grand Canyon and Crater Lake.
If the decision had not been made to explore the lesser known places of Oregon, these unique shots would never have been obtained. Rather than visit popular attractions, I took a love of hiking and explored trails previously unknown to me.
Finding your unique perspective
Mount Hood against the blue sky is gorgeous. Many people take shots of the mountain or Timberline Lodge from the same couple viewpoints. Develop photography style by working against that tendency. Taking the same shot everyone else puts photographers in competition with thousands of professionals and enthusiasts who are likely to have better equipment.
Finding alternative perspective removes that competition and puts you on your own path. Lesser known views and unique perspective are generally more interesting. They also show knowledge of the area’s landscape or cityscape or whatever the subject matter. Some of the public land and hiking trails that my project led me aren’t even properly listed on Google Maps.
Your project’s shooting list is the candy everybody wants. Most people want lesser known locations that show you really know an area or topic. Everyone wants unique vision. On the local forums, people always ask for the ‘insider’s list’ in order to differentiate themselves. People want to add that knowledge to their portfolio.
Build understanding and focus
As you progress, a more complex understanding of the subject matter forms to develop photography style. This understanding shapes direction and develops a photographer’s voice. I have a lot of opinions on public land. You won’t likely figure them out by studying the images but those feelings inform composition. These landscape shots all relate to each other better than if those feelings did not have any influence.
I worked a project to shoot hiking trails looking as inviting as possible. Other photographers told me to keep the trails out of the images to make them appear mysterious. I decided that this did not fit my style and made the public land appear inviting and accessible. I want people to look at my shots and feel like they could go there. This makes them more interesting and fulfills a goal.
Creating inviting landscapes was a deliberate. The best way to get people to care is to get them out there or at least feel like they could go someday. ‘Helicoptered in’ is a look some photographers go for in landscapes. In reality, they are often only two steps from the car on the side of a highway. Those photographs are sometimes inspiring but I enjoy capturing and sharing the journey whenever possible to motivate others.
Structure to develop photography style
Another benefit to having projects is that structure also informs what not to shoot. You don’t need to rely on inspiration for the next shot; the project acts as a guide when additional ideas are needed. When I walk around the neighborhood or hike, a part of my brain is always looking out for a shot.
However, while at home or in a restaurant, I stop to focus on things other than photography. Always being on the lookout can frazzle and make one tired. Develop photography style by maintaining balance that provides healthy space.
My current projects are photographing public land on the way to Mount Hood, inviting forest paths, no trespassing signs, crossed broken bridges, and neighborhood cats. There are too many to list but the contrast between inviting nature shots and the less inviting or goofy is amusing. One project usually leads to another organically and there’ll be more than enough subject matter.
Develop photography style by focusing on what you know and love and incorporating it into your work. Having intentionality provides structure and prevents photographers from getting into ruts.
What is your photography style? What type of projects got you there? Let us know and share your experiences in the comments!