Why I Don’t Like 365 Projects (But Am Doing One Anyway)

January 24, 2011
One of the photos from this year's 365 project.  It's tea, btw.

One of the photos from this year's 365 project. It's tea, btw.

I remember reading a friend’s blog when she mentioned she was doing this 365 thing. She was taking a picture of herself once a day for a year. I thought this sounded so cool, so with my trusty point-and-shoot in hand, I started on January 1, 2008. 366 days (of course I picked a leap year) and one camera upgrade later, I had a set of 366 self portraits on my flickr account. It felt great to finish, I was proud of my accomplishment, and I could see how much my photography skills had improved in just one year. And then I decided I never wanted to do that again.

Not quite ready to completely walk away, in 2009, I started a open topic (read: not self portrait) 365 project. I quit after 264 days. Why? well, pretty much all the reasons I’m about to list below. Keep on reading to the end, though, if you want to know why I’ve decided to try again in 2011.

No one should feel obligated to take a photo

Yoshi actually showed up in a lot of my 366 photos (18, if I counted correctly), most of similar to this - late at night, when I wasn't inspired by anything else

Yoshi actually showed up in a lot of my 366 photos (18, if I counted correctly), most of similar to this - late at night, when I wasn't inspired by anything else

This is probably the one thing that bothered me the most about my 365 project. I wanted to take photos because I wanted to take photos. I didn’t want to call myself a photographer because at 11:00 PM as I was falling asleep I suddenly remembered I didn’t take a photo and either jumped out of bed to get a quick photo of one of the cats or simply pulled out my cell phone and got a photo of me in bed (yes, I actually did that once – and with a horrible cell phone camera, too).

I took 2010 off from any sort of photo-a-day project (and, as those of you following along already know, I even quit the weekly projects I set up for myself, too), and sure, I took fewer photos that year than I have any year since I got my DSLR, but there was a higher percentage of photos that I loved. I was taking photos because I wanted to. I was enjoying my hobby, not just doing it because some rule I set up for myself that said I had to take a picture before the clock struck midnight.

Too much pressure/Just not good enough

Not exactly what I wanted...

Not exactly what I wanted...

I’ve seen some incredibly creative people do 365 projects where every photo just takes my breath away with the creativity and perfect execution. I will never be one of those people. But my problem was that I wanted to be, so I set myself up with all these high expectations and then would typically never be able to take or edit a shot like what I wanted, and would feel like a failure.

I don’t have a problem with taking a photo every day. I have a problem with being expected to take a good photo every day, and even if you tell yourself that’s not your goal, that it’s an accomplishment just to finish, I really wanted to take a good photo every day. I wanted to be this photography prodigy that stunned everyone with my ability to take your breath away with every photo I posted! …have I mentioned that I will never be that person? The frustration of not being good enough is healthy to deal with once a month or so, but almost every day was getting on my nerves.

For instance, the photo you see here, of me tangled up in the Christmas lights? It’s not a bad photo. But after multiple attempts, it wasn’t at all what I wanted. And maybe if I spent 3 hours a day prepping, shooting and editing, I could get some photos that met my expectations, but I have other things to do with my time, and maybe it speaks poorly of me and my dedication to photography, but 3 hours every day for a photo just isn’t worth it to me.

It takes time away from what I’d really like to be photographing

I have never been one to particular like to take photos of people, nor has it ever been a goal of mine to get really good at it (I wouldn’t complain about getting better, but it’s not high on my list of photography goals). When I first got my DSLR, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it, I just wanted to learn how to use it and take better photos. The more I got into photography, the more I realized that I loved taking photos outdoors, in natural light, of nature and landscapes – both man-made and not.

When I dropped my 365 project in 2009, it was because I started focusing more on the weekly photowalks I was doing. Those where the photos that inspired me. I wanted more time to prepare for them, take them, and edit them. I’ve always been a bit obsessed about my editing and refused to edit my photos out of order, but I remember being annoyed at having to edit the daily photos when there was a whole batch of photowalk photos just waiting to be pulled into UFRaw and Gimp.

A red leaf found on a walk in the fall

A red leaf found on a walk in the fall

So, why am I doing it all over again?

Despite all of the above things, I still enjoyed my 366 project.

I met so many other talented photographers through the 366 group I joined on flickr. Many of whom I’m still following today and consider to be the photographers that have inspired me and helped me turn into the photographer I am today. And I’m following a lot of you on flickr right now and see many of you doing your own 365 project and I’m ready to be inspired by all of you again.

It felt really good to finish such a project, too. Sure, half the photos really sucked, but what an accomplishment. Not too many people can say that they managed to do something for 365 days in a row. And it feels darn good to do it. And I’ve quit projects for 2 years in a row (not every project, I did complete the 52 photowalks in 2009), and despite justifying it all to myself – and others – I’m ready to actually finish something again.

I took photos that I never would have otherwise… and some of them were actually good. Yes, I know, I just said that I didn’t like the fact that the 365 projects were taking me away from the photography I loved, but, maybe it’s good to step out of my comfort zone every once and a while. If I hadn’t been doing a 366 project in 2008, I never would have taken this photo:

Flickr claims this is my most interesting photo.

Flickr claims this is my most interesting photo.

To this day, it is still one of my favorite photos, and definitely my most popular on flickr.

And so, yes, I’m doing it again. Here’s to 365 photos in 2011! If you want to follow along, you can find me on flickr and see the set of photos for this project here.

On a side note, I purchased 365: A Daily Creativity Journal to help prompt me when I’m stumped for ideas. I’m not following the prompt for each day – and when I do, I’m just getting inspired, not taking them literally, as it’s more of a book for making something every day than taking a photo, but it is nice to have. So keep it in mind if you’re already starting to wonder where your ideas are going to come from for the rest of the year.

Haven’t started a 365 project this year? It’s never too late to start if you want to! No one says they have to start on January 1!

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  • Geneil (team.breeze)

    Having completed a 365 in 2010 I agree with everything you said here. I barely made it to the end... I was crawling and limping and clawing my way to the finish. I was so relieved to be finished at first, but then I felt really lost without it. I'm doing a 52 week project this year, but it's not the same. And i find myself procrastinating taking any pictures for the week... We'll see how it goes. I'm not sure what the perfect solution is. Good luck!

  • I like that you've started again and I share some of your conclusions about doing a 365 project. On the flip side though, having to take a shot every day made me carry my camera with me and as a result I got in more shooting than I may have done otherwise. Like you I found it very difficult that I was unable to consistently produce great shots (though you manage more than me!!), and although towards the end there I did have the luxury of a few months off work creativity is difficult to force and I'm just not a creative genius. The best bit for me is that I can now pick up my camera, point it at someone and get an image I like out at the end. It's now been a month and I think I've only picked my camera up four or five times to go out and shoot, which I have regrets about, but like Claire suspect that every other year might be the way forward because by half-way I was just finding it all such a chore. I might need to invent some new projects for myself which balance the positive motivation elements against the fact that sometimes rules are just things we use to give ourselves a hard time. I have been meaning to start the 100 strangers project but just can't be bothered right now! If I get a holiday in somewhere nice I might try and do it all in 2 weeks!

  • I like that you've started again and I share some of your conclusions about doing a 365 project. On the flip side though, having to take a shot every day made me carry my camera with me and as a result I got in more shooting than I may have done otherwise. Like you I found it very difficult that I was unable to consistently produce great shots (though you manage more than me!!), and although towards the end there I did have the luxury of a few months off work creativity is difficult to force and I'm just not a creative genius. The best bit for me is that I can now pick up my camera, point it at someone and get an image I like out at the end. It's now been a month and I think I've only picked my camera up four or five times to go out and shoot, which I have regrets about, but like Claire suspect that every other year might be the way forward because by half-way I was just finding it all such a chore. I might need to invent some new projects for myself which balance the positive motivation elements against the fact that sometimes rules are just things we use to give ourselves a hard time. I have been meaning to start the 100 strangers project but just can't be bothered right now! If I get a holiday in somewhere nice I might try and do it all in 2 weeks!

  • I tried a 365 in August, but dropped it about 24 photos in. Trying again right now, and am enjoying it so far. As a relatively new photographer, it's nice to force myself to really think about the photos I'm taking every day, but I can easily see myself getting exhausted. Not something I'd want to do in perpetuity, but it'll be a nice exercise every couple of years. My photos are at http://will365.org.

  • shirley319

    I totally agree with your top two points. After two straight years of taking two pictures a day (because one picture was to represent something from my day and could be a "snapshot" and the other one had to be "perfect" and "arty"), I stopped this year. You know what? I'm still taking pictures and I am happier not to be under so much stress about it.
    Glad to see you are doing another one this year - I'll have to check out the links.

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