Why I Think it’s OK to “Cheat” on Photography Projects (sometimes)…

February 24, 2010
f/3.5, 1/125 sec, 10mm, ISO 200

f/3.5, 1/125 sec, 10mm, ISO 200

You guys are all aware that I’m attempting three photography-related projects this year. Well, less than two full months into the project, I’m already cheating on one of them (my 52 photowalks). I started to feel guilty about this for about 2 second before I fully rationalized my decisions and decided, ya know what? It’s ok to cheat on our photography projects sometimes. I know the arbitrary rules of “a photo a day” or “a photowalk a week” are reasons why some people don’t do these projects at all (and if you’re dedicated and motivated enough to go out and use your camera creatively without a project – I salute you… I’m not one of those self-motivated people), but for those of you that are doing a project like mine, and have perhaps missed a 365 photo, or couldn’t make it on one of your 52 photowalks, I present you with my reason as to why it’s ok to cheat on your personal photography projects.

Meeting the Goals of Your Projects

When I did my 366 project (it was a leap year), I used to jump out of bed at 11:45 PM (scaring John who was sleeping next to me, of course), and start muttering something about not taking a photo, and end up with a lousy camera-on-auto, badly-lit, arms-length self portrait. Yes, I met the goal of taking my photo during that 24 hour period – but was that really the goal of my project? I started that project for three reasons:

  • To document a year of my life
  • To learn how to use my camera
  • To take more creative photos

One day during my 366 project, I realized I hadn't taken a photo of myself that day, but was relieved to find this photo of John's and my feet on my memory card for that day.  Very out of focus, but it still counted!

One day during my 366 project, I realized I hadn't taken a photo of myself that day, but was relieved to find this photo of John's and my feet on my memory card for that day. Very out of focus, but it still counted!

An arms length photo of me with bed head meets none of those goals. If I had forgotten to take that photo completely and took two the next day that documented what I was doing that day in a creative way (and not on Auto), that would have met my goals more. So why be so restrictive with the time deadline?

The same thing applies for whatever rule you broke, of course. Perhaps you’re doing a self-portrait 365 and forgot to take a photo of yourself on some day, but did take a really great photo without you in it. So? If your goals were similar to the ones I listed above, doesn’t that fantastic photo still apply?

Avoiding Risk to Yourself or Your Camera

This is a big one for me during this time of year when it’s snowing a lot. I’m actually terrified of snow when it comes to my camera. I’ve read all the articles online about how to protect your camera and lenses, but I still think the best way to protect your camera from snow is to not go outside when it’s snowing. Since I have to go outside for my photowalks, and I work during most of the daylight hours of the week, that really narrows down the amount of time I can find outside when it’s not snowing. I’d rather skip a week in my photowalk project than damage my camera or lens.

I’m also not going to risk my own health (do you like how I wrote about the dangers of risking my camera before risking myself? Does that say something about me?). I’ve been fortunate enough that this has never really been an issue for me, but there was one year (before I got into photography) that I was hospitalized for almost a week, and then essentially bed-ridden for the following week. I wouldn’t have had many options then if I were in the middle of some projects. I don’t think anyone would look down on me for putting my camera down for a week or two then.

Related, of course, is the health of your family. Once again, I think this is an obvious one, but if you have a loved one that is suffering, I’m not sure it’s really appropriate to say “hold on, honey, I see you’re in pain and all, but I really gotta go take some photos – be back in an hour or two!”

Level of Cheating

This is something that’s a personal choice for you, and is all going to depend on what the project means to you. For instance, last year was my first year doing 52 photowalks, and I would have been pretty devastated if I had missed a week completely (and I never did, actually). But as the only rules I ever gave myself were “leave the house once a week and take photos”, I suppose I was a bit flexible in my definition of a photowalk on some weeks. For instance:

  • The photo at the top of this entry? That was on one of my “photowalks” that was actually a bike ride I went on and stopped to take some photos at one point. This was probably the least “cheatingish” thing I did, but I still felt a little bit of guilt about it.
  • I spent Easter at my sister’s house, and took a lot of photos around her house (and of her kids). It was not a walk at all, and something I would have done project or not, but… I did leave my house, so I figured it counted.

Does an Easter Egg Hunt count as a photowalk? Up to you!

Does an Easter Egg Hunt count as a photowalk? It's up to you!

This year, since I’ve already successfully completed a 52 photowalks project last year, I’m not so concerned about the one-a-week thing as I was last year. So I might stick with a goal of just doing 52 in a year, not necessarily one a week.

Another example – When I did my 366 self-portrait project, I insisted that I actually take every photo with my finger hitting the button, whereas I know other people are perfectly ok with allowing someone else to take the photo, as long as they themselves set up the entire shot. Like I said, it’s a matter of personal preference.

You have to draw the line somewhere, of course

Just because I’m justifying doing some cheating here and there on your project, don’t let it become a habit! If I had cheated on my 366 project and took 7 photos every Saturday instead of one every day, that’s no longer really documenting my daily life, is it? And I’m sure they wouldn’t be as creative, because I’d be rushing to get each of the 7 photos done in a day.

Besides, another main reason I do these projects is to be able to look back and think “look what I did, I really accomplished something”. If you cheat too much, you’ll lose that sense of pride.

Why I Cheated

In case you’re curious, since I mentioned above that I already cheated in my 52 photowalks, I thought I’d tell you what I’ve done. I consider my “weeks” to be Thursday-Wednesday. Today is Wednesday, and for various reasons (mostly travel and snow-related) I haven’t had a chance to go out and do a photowalk. Why am I not sweating it?

  • My goal was to continue to enjoy my photowalks that I had already been going on, learn more about my camera, and take less nature (and more urban) photos. If I go on two walks this upcoming week, is that hurting any of my goals? No.
  • The main reason I wasn’t able to go out this week is because I wasn’t home often when there was light out AND no snow. I don’t like taking my camera out when it’s snowing, and I’m not going to risk that just to get a photo before the end of the week
  • As far as my level of cheating? Last year, I’m not sure I would have let this slide. But because I’ve already finished one year of 52 photowalks, I’m a bit more relaxed about my “rules” this year. I’ll make up somehow, and if I don’t? Meh. then I’ll have done 51 photowalks in a year, and that ain’t bad, either.

So, if you’ve cheated on any of your projects and still kept going, I give you a pat on the back. Virtually, at least.

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  • Thanks for this post. I cheated this week on my 365. I had a migraine and could barely look through the viewfinder or stare at the computer screen. I posted a photo I had taken a couple weeks ago and did it as quickly as I could so I could go back to bed. But I'm okay with it. It was kind of liberating in a way. I don't plan to make it a habit, but it was kind of like saying what's the worst that could happen? I missed a day and the world didn't come to an end!

  • Ken

    I like this post, it shows a good attitude. I see too many people burn themselves with projects they force themselves to do.

    Don't worry about your camera so much. Mine have been rained on, snowed on, swiped by nosy toddlers, etc, and are trucking along just fine. I am not suggesting you entirely ignore the health of your gear, but it is very hardy stuff. It will hold up to a lot. Besides, there are nice pictures to be found out there in less than "ideal" weather!

    Thank you for the work you've done on this blog. I learned quite a bit from it over the last couple days.

  • Sue

    Good post. I'm attempting a Project 365 this year and it hasn't been that easy. I'm torn between wanting great shots and pics of my life (which aren't always the same thing). Add to that I'm shooting on a wee little red Sony W150 which doesn't handle inside light well. It has forced me at times to get more creative in what I take pics of though so it is good. I try and post them as a week in review on Sundays but if I'm away, I post them later. The project 365 is my hard goal, the weekly posting is the soft one (I like the titles Brian uses and will use them myself).


  • thanks for taking the stress out of it all! i have yet to do a project like that bc of the whole stress factor. do i really want to be miserable about not taking a picture one day? great advice and it's not cheating at all. it's called improvising. :)

  • great post. i haven't taken my 365 picture today. i'm just not feeling it. that doesn't mean i won't though.

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