Steps to completing a long-term photography project

by Ian Marshall

There can be a lot of value in undertaking a long term photographic project. Recently I completed a research project for a Master of Visual Arts (Research) at the Australian National University. The project was a fresh look at the iconic Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme during its 65th year. These steps may help you to engage in a long term project as a way of further developing your photography. It is a different approach to trying to get that one photograph which wins competitions and makes you stand out. Along the way of a project you have an opportunity to explore a subject, but what you are really doing is exploring and defining your way of seeing.

  1. Choose a project which interests you and write down what it is that you are trying to say/do/achieve/discover.
  2. Do some preliminary research so that you can sketch out a plan of approach.
  3. Buy some new gear. Good, now that you have got that out of the way, can we concentrate on the photography?
  4. This is a creative project. Keep in mind that any creative exercise is playing. Playing is about discovery. Pick up your camera and go out to play.
  5. As this is a photography project, whenever you are uncertain about your progress, get out and make photographs. It is a sure antidote. Even if you take photographs which you don’t use – you have made progress because you have learnt what the project isn’t. That helps to clarify what the project is.
  6. Do a bit more research to see how other people have photographed the subject, some history about it, some insights from today.
  7. Unless you a doing a rephotography project – other photographs of the subject are just an aid. The project is about how you see the subject.
  8. Return to the subject. Make more photographs. Work on the photographs so that you see what you are achieving. Start to organise the keepers into files, folders, ratings etc.
  9. Repeat above steps, refining your initial statement, adjusting your plan according to what you have learned through photographic field trips.
  10. Did I say make more photographs?
  11. Collaborate. Seek advice of other people. You don’t have to do what they say – the advice can help you to decide what the project is not, or point out what it is that you have been doing with your photographs, what you have seen. You are getting closer to your vision of the subject.
  12. Start to think about how you final work will be presented. A book is different to an exhibition, is different to a slideshow, is different to an audio visual. This will help to focus your efforts on the type of photographs that you need and to determine what gaps you might have to fill.
  13. Make some more photographs. Have you finished yet?
  14. Start the editing, or choosing process. You know what you are doing by this stage. Choose more than you need, then put them into a slide show where you see them quickly and choose the keepers as they flick past. Or develop your own method.
  15. You will still have too many photographs. From all the work that you have done you might find that the photographs are ‘choosing themselves’.  You are finding out how you have seen the subject by choosing the keepers.
  16. The final choice will be how you put the photographs together for the final display. What theme or idea you are following. Is it logical, sequential, random, narrative, based on shape, colour, texture, light to dark, is it generational, relationships, chapters, linked to text, following contours of a landscape, alphabetical, numerical?
  17. Again there will be a process of choosing and putting together. This will involve leaving out some good, even great photographs. But instead of have just a couple of great photographs, you are going to have something of substance to be proud of. You also may have developed a confidence about how you make photographs. Not a bad result.

My final work was a photobook printed at A3 page size. The link below will take you to a preview.

2 comments on “Steps to completing a long-term photography project

  1. Helen McF says:

    Great article Ian: congrats on the book and the degree.


  2. Leo says:

    Well done Ian, a lot work here, and a great result.


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