Failure in Photography Projects

July 15, 2010
SP.06 - Just In Time

Project Fail.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about failure. Perhaps it’s because I’ve failed in pretty much all of my photography projects I was going to accomplish this year.

The weird thing, though, is that I’ve been thinking about it not because I’m mad at myself for failure, but actually because I’m not. Sure, I’m a little bummed, but why not so upset? In 2008 I did a year of daily self-portraits. In 2009, I did a photowalk a week. During both of those years I was extremely motivated to finish those projects and if I had missed a single day or a single week, goodness, I’d be so upset! (I did actually miss a day in the SP project. I actually cried. And I know others who have said the same thing, so at least I’m not alone!)

So, why I am a bit calmer about it this year? I think these are the three reasons:

Photography isn’t about Projects

I was already a member of flickr when I first “became a photographer” (I define that time period as when it first became a passion for me), as I was already using it as a place to store photos (mostly of my cats because, yes, I’m one of those people). When I suddenly found this passion, I turned to flickr for inspiration and I realized that most of the people that inspired me were doing some sort of project. Most of them were in the middle of a 365 Self Portrait project. And so, it’s not hard to see why I quickly associated passionate photography with such projects.

It’s really only this year that I realized that whenever I told someone I was into photography, none of them asked “oh, what project are you working on?” It was always one of three questions: “What kind of camera do you have?”, “What type of photos do you take?”, or “Where can I see your work?”. Now, granted, I don’t think just having a camera makes you a photographer, and while I question whether you can call yourself a photographer if you’re not sharing your work with anyone, even that one is debatable. But you can’t really get around the fact that people want to know what your passion is – what you like taking photos of, not what projects you’ve accomplished. In fact, when I tell people about my past projects, I mostly get a “ok. Well, that’s kind of crazy.” look from them!

Photography is about passion. And if you’re passionate about doing a project – like I was in the past – then GREAT! But I’m just not feeling it this year.

Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus Risotto. f/4.0; 1/60 sec; 60mm; ISO 800

There’s More to Life than Photography

Who knew, right? During 2008 and 2009, I defined myself (outside of work, at least) almost exclusively as A Hobbyist Photographer. That was who I was. That was what I did. And I don’t regret that. But this year I’ve realized there’s really more to me. I like to play geeky board games with my friends. I like pick up my CSA share and then plan and cook entire meals around them. I like to read books on my Nook. Heck, I even like to watch TV.

Maybe none of that is directly helping my photography (though the cooking has given me plenty of new meals to photograph), but being a bit more well-rounded has not only helped me deal with not accomplishing my photography goals, but I think it’s also indirectly making me a better photographer because I’m finding motivation in other things.


FIRE! f/4.0; 1/250 sec; 105mm; ISO 800

I’m Shooting What I Want

I really like taking photos of fire. I don’t think they’re amazing pictures. I don’t think it’s something anyone else couldn’t do with their point & shoot or iPhone. I just like it. During the warmer months, John and I spent a lot of nights sitting out our deck with a fire in the fire pit and/or a fire in our old, rusty charcoal grill. And every time I have to grab my camera and take some shots.

This isn’t some sort of goal of mine, and it doesn’t fit into any predefined project. I just have fun doing it and looking at the results. I’ve also been taking photos of the progress of the veggies in my garden. I’m not sure if this is something anyone other than me cares about looking at, but I like it. it makes me happy not only to see something I planted turn into something I eat, but I like making it look good in photos.

There were a few times last year that I really had to force myself to go on one of those photowalks, and I was only doing it because I didn’t want to fail. I’m still pretty proud that I accomplished my goal, but I also question why I went out and did things that I didn’t even want to do? I’m sure it’s no surprise, either, that on most of the “I don’t feel like doing this” walks, I didn’t get many good pictures. If I’m not feeling it, I’m not getting good photos.


I think my overall point of this entry is that what we individually define as failure isn’t necessarily actually failure. Yes, it’s true, there’s no real way for me to accomplish the goals I set forth at the beginning of the year. But that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It just means that my goals have changed.

I mentioned at the start of this entry that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this so-called concept of failure, so expect this entry to be the first a series.

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  • Bill Booz

    Jennifer, perfect post! As several others have said, "I've felt the same way." I'm trying to get through a 50mm a day project and finding that my motivation really goes up and down. I just returned from a great two-week trip in Germany and France and, though, I did this time mount my 50mm a few times and got some great, clear shots, but nothing for the '50-a-day' project. I find I am really motivated to take all sorts of shots when traveling, but not when I'm home. Good thing about the project is that it DOES give you a reason to pull the camera out of the bag every day, but, so what, if you're not inspired. You've expressed nicely, Jennifer, what I've been thinking and didn't really know it! Thanks.

  • Bill, Many times at home in the Poconos I am not motivated to go out and shoot. I would say it probably happened 60-70 mornings this year. I still went out! Some food for thought for you and anyone else who reads this post:

    If you are an outdoor photographer, a project can hold a person back by limiting the amount of time you get out and shoot. 3 key elements I used for shooting (especially this past year) that have yielded positive results for myself and our business:

    1. Know your equipment so you can confidently say you are an expert with the features and funtions of your camera and lens. There is MUCH more to your camera and lenses than looking through the view finder and know what aperture to set. This is important especially if you only have a minute or seconds to get that shot during that fleeting moment!

    2. Be willing to go out and shoot in any weather condition during any season possible. What I have done the past couple of years is made references to locations around my area that might be good locales to shoot. Some locations would only be good in early mornings on clear calm days while other locations would be good on overcast, rainy, foggy, etc... days. The more overcast the day was, the tighter my composition became (get rid of washed out sky). Same goes with wildlife and birds. The time of the year produced better chances for me to get the shots I had hoped for. Certain birds are in certain areas during spring while autumn produces different birds in other locales. This motto to follow gives a reason to get out and shoot at any time.

    3. Never limit your shooting because you are looking for that perfect shot during that perfect moment. Your mind and what it desires is a very small piece of the pie. Many of my photos over the years have done very well at art shows and galleries (and now our own gallery) not because they were unique one of the kind photographs but because THEY ARE PLEASING TO LOOK AT!!!!! Trust me when I say a 'been there done that' photograph will be very much desired aesthetically and monetarily if done right. People like nice things visually and there are enough people out there with different tastes to like everything.

    Dave Reinhard

  • I love this post. I also consider myself a Hobbyist Photographer. I used to feel guilty about not doing any "projects", but then I realized I really only love to take photos for myself. I really don't want to follow any type of theme and I honestly don't care if anyone else likes my work. I just love to take photos. And people seem so shocked that I don't want to do it professionally. But I certainly don't want my hobby to become a job because I will lose my love for it. :-)

  • misskeito

    Hi! I started a weekly photowalk project this year and failed, but truth is that I don't really care. It wasn't fun any more. Why do I have to keep something I'm not enjoying doing? I rather take photos when I want to, not when I have to :)

  • You always seem to have pretty good timing with your posts. Earlier this year I couldn't do a photowalk (52 photowalks) because I was sick for the whole week. I must admit it really brought me down, I thought I was failing at my project and so early on. Then a few days later you post about fudging the rules of the projects. That made me feel a lot better. Since then I've made up the photowalk and still have been doing good, although sometimes it takes more time for me to post the blog then I would like. I recently got caught up on posting and then I did another post reflecting on my first half of the photowalks. There are some photowalks where I got what I got and it worked for the photowalk and then there are others that I am really proud of and had a great time doing the photowalk. It's just like I tell my kids, life isn't always super exciting sometimes it's just life, that makes the other moments so much better. I think I even decided to make my photowalks project a little different next year. Instead of just being photowalks sometimes I would like to work on mini projects inside the photowalks. Instead of going on a walk, take the same time and try a specific technique around the house like lightwriting, portraits, etc... I don't have time to do those mini projects and a photowalk a week, plus edit and post about them and have a life and work. So to me it makes sense to change my project a little. The photowalks project has really met its goal this year, but I'm not done. It has gotten me out of the house to check out some of the cool places around me. I recently just signed up for the Worldwide Photowalk, and it happens to be in a place I was planning on taking a photowalk anyway so win-win. I don't think I could ever do a 365, I think it would be way too stressful to try to get that shot everyday. Thanks iffles, I love reading your posts.

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