365 Project, Weekly Challenge and Monthly Themes

A long time ago, in 2010, when I was a member of a big, online photography forum, I joined a group who were running a 365 Project. The idea was that we had to take a photo every day for a year, and each one had to be inspired by a weekly theme.

It was a challenging project, but I completed it – more or less. I did fudge the rules a little by allowing myself to catch up another day if I missed a day’s photo. But I did take my 365 photos and they did (however tenuously) meet the weekly themes.

I would highly recommend this exercise as an excellent way to improve your photography skills. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have amazingly interesting subjects to photograph each day. I think of it as the equivalent of a musician playing scales. The aim is not to produce great art (lovely as that would be) but to practise your skills.

Once the year was over, I couldn’t face starting another 365 Project, but I didn’t want to give up. I decided on what I called a “52 Photos Project” – still with weekly themes, but this time only one photo per week was required. The following year, I did the same but called it a “Weekly Challenge”.

Since then I’ve had some sort of photography project most years. I’ve found that if I don’t have a project on the go, then I simply stop taking photographs for weeks at a time.

One wonderful side effect of these projects was that I ended up with many photographs of my young children. I’ve chosen not to share personal images showing my children’s faces here, but I’m sure you can appreciate how valuable it is to have photographs of the ordinary, everyday lives of your family.

As well encouraging me to exercise my basic photography skills, I’ve found that the daily / weekly projects have been a good way to experiment with techniques that I might otherwise have never tried. It doesn’t matter if the results aren’t great. These photos are not intended to be sold to clients or exhibited as art. They are just a fun way to learn and be a bit creative.

Not everyone finds photo themes useful, but I feel they make it easier for me to come up with an idea, and, in theory anyway, they help me to be more observant as I go about my daily life.

I’ve had a couple of “Gratitude Project” years where, rather than a weekly theme, I’ve concentrated on taking photos of things in my life that I’m thankful for. Some of these are clichés, but they are things for which I am genuinely grateful.

This may all sound annoyingly positive. In fact, each project I’ve tried has been a challenge and, if anything, it’s getting more difficult. As my skills (hopefully) improve, even though I tell myself that “snapshots are OK” I find it harder to come up with things to photograph.

For the original 365 Project, if the theme was, for example, “Blue” then I might just see a blue flower, take a photo, and cross it off the list for the day. As time has gone on, I’d hesitate and dismiss the potential image because the light was flat or the composition was boring.

I feel it’s still been worth doing though, and it’s the mundane photos that may actually have the most meaning for me in years to come. Without this project I wouldn’t have bothered to photograph my own hands, or the local shops, but these may turn out to mean more to me in the future than impersonal photographs of things such as lovely flowers or birds.

If you’d like to try a project of your own, then you can find some suggested themes in my photo scavenger hunt blog post.

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