Olaf is a photographer, writer, and educator living in London. He is also a founder of ‘The Leica Meet’ Facebook group. His interests in storytelling extend beyond photography and he has spoken on the art of using storytelling to improve business communications on various platforms. Olaf defines the art of a personal project as a series of images, which explore a central theme, express a point of view and, above all, tell a story.

For many of us, lock-down has meant that our busy lives have slowed right down. But perhaps for photographers, this could also be the start of a new beginning. What if there was a way to use this period of isolation to galvanise your creativity to have a lasting impact on your work? A common query in my workshops comes from people who want to develop their individual style or find their creative voice but don’t know how to go about it. Here are my top 4 tips on how to create a personal project at home:

1. Getting started.

Firstly, the key point is to get started! The secret is choosing a basic theme that excites and motivates you – positively or negatively. Then deciding what, when, where and how to shoot is relatively straightforward. Think of this process similar to the way the arc of the plot and the subtleties of the characters emerge in a well-written book. The element of time during COVID-19 is why this process is so valuable to photographers; it gives us the extra time to iterate our body of work. A luxury, really!

2. Choose your topic.

Next up, it’s time to choose your topic. Given the current circumstances, there may be a few restrictions as to what you can shoot but there is still plenty of choices. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Portraits with household members
  • Digitising family history
  • Local/garden wildlife and nature
  • Still-life or macro experiments
  • Abstracts

If you’ve exhausted the ideas above, then look at your existing images. I mean, really look at your images. Make sure you review a minimum of 100 splits across several locations and recent years. What do you see? The brain is a remarkable pattern detection device so don’t be surprised if you spot similarly constructed images taken across a variety of locations. It happens and it’s a clue to how you uniquely ‘see’.

Next, create a mood board with the most meaningful images. For example, if you photograph a lot of churches, does this show an interest in religion or architecture? Sometimes working like this reveals a larger long-term project. Use the internet to source similar images and establish a framework for your project.

3. Go even deeper.

Ask yourself, how might your images look in black-and-white? Or toned (warm vs cool)? Could you present these images in pairs or diptychs? Could a double exposure technique add anything? Then, shoot, edit and repeat.

4. What’s your story?

Here, we start to overlap with those who have already started to work on a project. If you’re in this category, take this as an opportunity to stand back, sense check where you’ve arrived on your journey and consider the following five questions:

  • How is your story organised? Is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Show the images to a friend and ask them to describe to you what is happening and how it makes them feel.
  • Look at the rise and fall of ‘energy’ in your sequencing of the images. Is it right? Have you grouped too many blockbuster shots together? Try alternatives.
  • Think of your images as punctuation. You’ll have some which serve as exclamation marks, others will be commas, which are pauses in the general flow. Do you have any question marks?
  • It is very likely that your topic has already been covered by someone else. How did they approach the topic and how does your work compare?
  • Finally, what could writing add to your image? Simply writing an artist’s statement about your work will shed new light. The principle is not to imitate but to use writing to help show you the bigger picture.

Your project might only last for the period of staying at home. Or it might become a long-lasting body of work. Either way, I believe you will find a personal project that will bring you closer to finding your light and sparking your creative voice. Good luck everyone.

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