The project, it’s what I’ve been doing nearly since the moment I first picked up a camera. I’ve lost count how many I’ve done and know that I’m currently working on seven with only one due to finish in 2013 (and have a couple to start this year). I’m constantly asked about how one gets involved in a project, where does one start and how does one go about doing them? I wish there is a “play book” that covers all the possibilities, I could use it, but there is not. Are there some general tips that can help you start? I can only offer what little I’ve learned so far. Every project teaches me something new, but in this short forum, here are some words of encouragement to get you started.
All of our projects except a handful over the decades have been ones we initiated. This means they are projects I wanted to do and I think that is key! Why? I really feel the #1 requirement to taking on a project is that it is one you have a deep passion for! This is important for many reasons: personal commitment in the good and bad times (when you’re flush or thin), putting something of yourself into the project, convincing those you want to work with you are very serious about seeing it through and making a difference.
How do you find these projects? They come from your heart and imagination! They come from your life experiences and your own personal curiosity. They come from ideas of where you feel your photography can make a difference. You have to want to tackle a project that you have questions about and through your photography, you will find not only your own answers but answers you can share through your photography with others.
It is really important that you take note, being a great photographer is not part of this equation. Neither is being the owner of a ton of camera gear. If you think about it, if that were the case then no projects would ever start and surely never finish. When it comes to your photography, the only requirement I can think of is the ability to accept failure and be able to admit to it. There will be times when you will miss the key photograph, which is part of the whole process. No matter the reason, you simply gotta suck it up and admit the failure. That’s how you not only gain respect from those you are working with, but it’s how you learn so you can do better the next outing.
Many ask me how do you find the contacts for projects? When folks ask me that, I know they really shouldn’t be doing that project or projects in general. The key to success is doing your homework! This can be the boring, paper chasing, sometimes a dead end process you must wade through. You could think of it of your first test to whether you should be doing the project at all. It ain’t easy, it ain’t supposed to be. I always think of it as the natural weeding process. When you do your homework, finding the contact person will be self-evident and you will know exactly who to contact and where.
That homework provides much more than just a contact. It provides you the road map you need to figure out what you have to do photographically to be ready as best you can be for that first day. It prepares you for the questions you need to ask and answer with your camera. It prepares you for the exciting times and the snooze times. It will provide you with a game plan and the idea of what the end game might be.
I’m commonly asked about the money, how do you figure out how much you should charge for doing the project? I’m the wrong person to ask this question of, the vast majority of my projects are all self funded. If anything, I pay for the privilege to be a part of that project because I provide the folks images, free. The funding for any given project comes after that fact when that material is turned into an article and the like. The projects that end up paying you directly usually don’t come until you’ve paid your dues and done those without pay. Project work to be honest with you is not for the weak at heart. This is why the first requirement is, the first requirement.
With all of this said, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of working on projects, I can’t think of anything more productive, rewarding or worthwhile in photography! I can say that from doing them for over 30yrs and continuing to do them. The key to them is the sharing of your images! Not great images, not thousands of images, just sharing those that you have made that tells the story. In that sharing you learn so much and at the same time, pave the road for the next project. I don’t have a checklist I can provide that makes it easier. I can provide you a checklist of all the reasons why you should do them. At the top of the list is because your photographs can change the world!