Mini Photo Projects - This Can Improve Your Photography!

I have not talked about doing photography projects much, but have been meaning to. Most people I have met in real life, or participants who attended my photography workshops will remember me bashing in the concept of doing projects to take photography to the next level. All higher level photography - large exhibitions, photography books or any other established and published photography work all come in one form of project or the other. Therefore it is beneficial to understand the concept of photo projects and how to apply it to our own photography. 

I made a video for those of you who prefer to hear me speak and let the video run in the background while doing other things. Here it is (click for video). 

Photography projects can be a long term endeavour but let's not complicate things - I encourage you to start with mini projects. Any photography outing, even a short one hour photowalk in the streets downtown can be a good playing ground of a mini photo project. The main reason I highly suggest any photographer who take their work seriously to do mini-projects is to start thinking in series. I see too many photographers take wonderful images which stand out beautifully individually, but fail to form a larger meaningful body of work. Photography as a form of visual story-telling needs to be presented in a series of work, not just any one hit wonder that too many social media photographers aim for today. You have to start to think beyond what one photograph can do, and how a series can come together to tell a more complete and compelling story. 

Before I dive deeper into the concept of mini projects, let me demonstrate one which I did very recently. I went on a shutter therapy session with a group of friends to Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. In mind, I wanted to take this 2-3 hours photowalk as a mini project, with a series of 10 images in mind. I shall share how I plan the shoot, before and during execution of the images, as well as how I curated, arranged and sequenced the images to fit into the final mini project form. 

Images were all shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens. 

The opening image is a teaser image - it shows a prominent landmark in Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Twin Towers and also hinted that the location of shoot is very close to the city center. The opening image can be playful, it does not have to be linked into the main story immediately, and serves as an appetizer to start the meal. If you examine this image closely, you will also see the bit of Malaysian flag that clearly indicated this place inside Malaysia, and parts of a wooden house, typical scene of a village here locally in the background of the image. Within this single teaser, you know you are in Malaysia, not far from the city, in a village environment. 
The transition from the first teaser image to this second establishing shot is quite obvious - the Twin Towers in the background. Now you clearly see the wooden village style residential buildings, a common sight here in Kampung Baru. The defining look of this location is the contrast between old styled, wooden built homes with hulking concrete and steel skyscrapers in the background.  

Another establishing shot, showing more of the Kampung Baru environment. This time, besides the road, the greens in the background and some parts of the buildings, you also see some residents. I chose this shot because of the playful nature of the shot - the motorcycle rider has a friendly smile, a common kind nature of villagers here, and she had her kid in the cart she was carrying with the motorbike. 

We cannot talk about a location without it's residents. People make the place. The link between the previous shot and this one, is the resident of Kampung Baru. In this image, the man was making a very popular breakfast for Malaysians - Roti Canai. This type of flat bread was made fresh, hand-tossed, pulled and fried on the pan. While executing this shot, I patiently waited for the man to pull the bread and had the bread stretched out - building up energy for the coming shots. 

Still in the same theme of village residents - now we are amping up the energy a few notches up. I found this man riding his bicycle, another frequent type of transportation among the people here, and I chose to shoot him in motion. To express the movement I adopted the panning technique, slowing down the shutter speed to create the background motion blur. This movement energy peaks at the mid of the series of images I am showing, much like watching a movie, the climax or most dramatic part happens in the middle or toward the end of the movie. 

Riding on the same energy from the previous shot, and still on the same theme of residents, I had a shot of a jumping cat. Cats are residents to Malay villages, mainly because dogs are prohibited and considered unclean by Muslim religion practised here locally. Therefore, cats become the default go to pets for the villagers, and you will see a lot of pet cats roaming around. I found this cat on the tree and managed to capture the cat in mid jump - the high energy transition from the previous panning shot. And the green background showed some environment of this village that I wanted to portray as well. 

My set of images will never be complete without a close up portrait of a cat. And I found the perfect way to showcase a cat headshot and still stay on course with this mini project's story-telling. As I mentioned earlier, cats are residents here as well, and the collar tag showed that this cat was a pet belonging to a family nearby. I shot this image wide open at F1.2 to soften the background, and tone down the mood of the image, diffusing the energy, as we are coming to the end of the series very soon. 

Staying on the green theme, this image was important and I had a lot to say here - road safety in Malaysia needs a lot of work. You have a road sign covered by overgrowth of grass and bush, something which was not supposed to be allowed to happen. 

The final shot before my closing image - another image with important safety message I want to say out loud. Residents riding a motorcycle without wearing helmets, something that should be taken more seriously. Especially they had 5 people (though mostly kids) on one singular bike!

My closing image was quite a simple one, but it forms a circle to complete this mini project. This is the same shot as the opening image, but instead of having the twin towers in the reflection of the mirror, this time it was me, the photographer. 

From the captions I hope you can see how I curated and sequenced my images to form a series of images that make sense. 

A mini project allows you to focus your effort into a tangible final output. A mini project has an end-product which you can finally close, and move on, or continue to expand on another project should you choose to do an extension. There is a beginning, and an end to this journey, and you get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of this mini-project. 

I highly suggest limiting the numbers to begin with, there is no point going out on a photography shooting and then show a series of 500 images, that is pointless. It is not the quantity, but the quality that matters when it comes to photography, and having a mini project in mind, it guides you to find images that fit the topic or theme you have decided. Instead of running around shooting at random things, you have a mission and purpose - you are gathering pieces to be fit together to form a proper body of work. Sometimes, less is more, and finding the right image to fit the theme is the main challenge. I'd say for a short walk of 1-2 hours session, anything from 5-10 images for the mini project would be ideal. Anything more will be redundant and unnecessary. Of course if you are doing a one year project or documentary then you may curate your images to 50 or even 100 images in your set. 

What separates a great photographer from others? Curation. A great photographer only shows his best of the best, and knows how to hide his sub-par work. Approaching mini project, a critical component to work at is curation - how you select, cull, arrange and finally sequence your images into the final set of images for the mini project. I have shared my thoughts in the captions and I hope they do make sense and help you to understand curation a little better! How to learn curation? Go to exhibitions, read photography books! 

The great thing is - anyone can do a mini project, you can start yours now, and it does not cost you anything. It will change the way you think about your photography, it will push you to fight harder for your images while shooting and it will improve your approach to photography, and how you see photographs at the end of the day. Photography is not just about great visuals and shooting beautiful things, you can take your photography further by having something to say, expressing your ideas, emotions and message through your mini project. Your photography is your story!

So what are you waiting for? Start mini photography project now!

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1 comment:

  1. I have found photobooks to be quite nice ways of getting familiar with curation, choosing images that need to work alongside other images, and they can also make nice presents, too.

    However, it is a shame that a lot of photobook services only offer weird Web interfaces with restrictive templates that need to be reworked, or even require proprietary software to be downloaded in order to prepare the book for printing.

    Many few years ago, I might have approached a photobook project as a full-on publishing endeavour, but despite technology supposedly getting better since those simpler times, it would probably be just as annoying to jump through the necessary hoops in order to get it done, albeit in rather different ways to back then.

    Still, at the risk of sounding like a spammer but without anything to promote, I can recommend photobooks and albums as generally nice things with that added educational or self-improving benefit of requiring the photographer to consider their images in context.