6 reasons why 365 projects are flawed

As always, if you have questions, objections, worries or praise, and especially if you found your picture and want it removed, feel free to contact me. I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can also read my full disclaimer, if you are interested.

 

And what you can do to make them better

365 projects are hugely popular, especially among photographers. If you search the web you will find heaps and heaps of blogs that show a picture a day. Immediately one thinks: Wow, what an amazing commitment! Wouldn’t it be great to be working on your photography every day? Imagine what you could achieve in one year! Well, in theory 365 projects are truly awesome. However, the dark side of 365 projects is that the web is full of such projects that were abandoned after a few days or 365 blog posts full of mediocre, boring and pointless pictures. You might say, wait a minute, who is this Lilly Schwartz person to be passing such harsh judgement? Well, I am someone who did one of those 365 projects and who posted a lot of mediocre, boring and pointless pictures back in 2011/2012! I am not passing judgement, I am just speaking from experience.

Well, before I tell you why 365 projects are flawed, let’s just look at their positive aspects first. I will also use the opportunity to show you some of the work I produced during the project.

 

Why 365 projects should be awesome

1. Commitment

Do you have a fancy DSLR, but don’t really know how to use it? Or do you know how to use it, but it still sits on the shelf for most of the time? Maybe a guitar that you don’t know how to play? A pair of skates or some watercolours? Don’t worry, we all have this stuff at home that mocks our lack of commitment. My personal favourites are my MIDI keyboard, some juggling balls and a set of acrylic paints. A 365 project should be a good way to change that sorry state of affairs and really commit to your neglected dreams and wishes.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

making the best of it | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

 

2. Accountability

If you silently tell yourself to start shooting every day you might forget about your promise to yourself after only a few days. One day you might feel tired, another you might be running from appointment to appointment and again another day it might be your daughter’s birthday. Excuses are always easy to find. That’s why we have all this neglected equipment in the first place. However, with a 365 project you make yourself accountable. You shout out to the world: I’m going to do this! And if one day you don’t do it, people will start to ask questions or notice gaps. Almost everyone tries to look good in front of others, so by making your plan public, you create external motivation. A 365 project should be good way to keep those promises to yourself!

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

bloodbath | © Lilly Schwartz 2012

 

3. Practice practice practice

If you think about art, be it photography, painting, music, dance or any other artistic venture, then a lot of it comes downs to one crucial problem: You need a lot of practice to become good at it. Professional musicians spend hours and hours practicing their instrument every day. Painters produce art on canvas after canvas sometimes even painting over old paintings due to budget problems. Professional photographers take sometimes hundreds of frames during one photo shoot and thousands of pictures over the year, 100,000s of pictures in a lifetime.

Now consider this quote from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

 

You see, practice really makes perfect! So, if you want to start out in any artistic venture the main thing you lack in the beginning is just that: practice, practice, practice! A 365 project should be good way to get a lot of practice and experience, learn from your mistakes and finally produce quality work.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

untitled | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

 

4. It gives your artistic efforts a platform

Do you know the Icelandic word “skúffuskáld”? Nope?

“[…] [T]here is this Icelandic word skúffuskáld, which means someone who’s secretly a poet. It literally means “drawer poet”, someone who writes poetry but chugs [sic] it all into his desk drawer instead of showing it to people.” (Icelandic Language Tumblr)

A lot of people are like that with their photography as well. They have tons of nice prints in some drawer or folder at home (or on their computer) and never show them to anyone. My favourite example is Vivian Maier, a hugely talented (drawer) street photographer whose archive of over 100,000 negatives was recently discovered. Her best work was presented to the public with huge success, which is amazing considering that she hid her passion for photography from just about everyone. Are you scared to show your work as well? A 365 project should definitely be able to break down your inhibitions. The first few days might be a bit rough if you have fears connected to that, but believe me, it gets easier every day!

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

in her own world | © Lilly Schwartz 2012

 

5. You will get some recognition

Do you ever feel like you don’t really know why you’re even taking pictures? Well, as we’ve already covered: Sometimes it’s not enough to produce your work for that nice dark drawer at home. You want other people to recognise your efforts and praise you a little bit. Else, what’s the point? When you’re doing a 365 project you put your work out there on a daily basis and this should before long create a bit of an audience (at least if you put it in the right place). Especially on blogs daily posting creates quite a bit of traffic and people will keep coming back as well. After a while of daily posting you should come to notice that your audience contributes a lot to your motivation. They will like/favourite/+1 your pictures and possibly even leave encouraging comments or suggestions. This little bit of encouragement and recognition is often enough to keep these nagging doubts at bay.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

untitled | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

 

6. It will make your progress visible

When you’re trying to improve your work it’s easy to get bogged down in detail and get discouraged by those annoying little failures. Sometimes when we come home and look at our pictures we get disappointed, because of really silly things. So, that one picture that you were totally excited about isn’t quite sharp, or the composition doesn’t work when you see it on the big screen or maybe what seemed totally interesting while you were in the flow, turned out to look utterly boring with a bit of distance. Something that I like to do when I get discouraged like that is to look at some of my work from a few months ago. Usually I see that I’ve actually improved since then. This usually makes me feel excited about all the things I have accomplished and look forward to what’s still to come, instead of dwelling on that one picture that didn’t work out. A 365 project could easily make it seem as if you’re progressing at light speed, because daily practice makes such a big difference!

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

spontaneous combustion | © Lilly Schwartz 2012

 

After all these positive aspects of 365 projects you’re probably wondering why I think 365 projects are flawed! Didn’t I just make them sound awesome? Shouldn’t 365 project give you tons of experience and bring you to a whole new level? Well, if only it were that simple!

Why 365 projects are flawed

After all those Pros, let’s look at why 365 projects often produce less than desirable outcomes. I will also overcome my embarrassment and share two of my less noteworthy shots from that year for your amusement.

1. Too much chance for failure

Just like New Year’s resolutions 365 projects are notoriously hard to follow through. How many times have we told ourselves to stop eating in front of the computer, to stop biting our nails or to finally stick to our exercise program? Well, not many people actually manage to stick to their resolutions. And a lot of people don’t follow their projects through either. My mum still has an unfinished knitted baby vest somewhere in her flat, while we kids moved out years ago. In 2012 NaNoWriMo – the awesome National Novel Writing Month project – had 341,375 participants, but “only” 38,438 reached their 50,000 word goal. Although an awesome number of novels were written, it still means that 302,937 of 341,375 people didn’t measure up to their goals (including me by the way)! People just lose momentum when it comes to their projects. And think about it: NaNoWriMo only lasts a month, not a year! There are so many more opportunities to quit during a one year period. Now, if you end up quitting your 365 project after half a year, you have done an awesome half year of practice – a really cool accomplishment -, but it will leave you with a bad feeling of “having failed” anyway. Quitting or failing usually discourages people. In fact I believe that people are much less likely to return to their art, if they “failed” at a huge project like this once. This is the case because the “failure” has given them an excuse to think that they don’t have what it takes. In the end starting a 365 project might actually discourage you from achieving your goals.

2. It’s one more thing on the list

People often have too many daily commitments already and that daily picture is just one more thing to add to your problems. Most people already juggle a busy job, commitments to their family and a few needy friends. As a result a lot of people don’t even have the time to eat right or get exercise, so how is another commitment going to impact an already full schedule? That 365 project might stress you out even more, be another strain on your already fragile health or even badly impact an already difficult marriage. Life is tough, so a lot of people should rather de-stress their every day life instead of adding one more opportunity to fail! And even if you manage to juggle your already stressful life and think you can pull it off anyway, it still means that you are setting yourself up for failure. On a lot of days you will end up with seriously bad pictures, because you just won’t have the time to work on them properly. Obviously bad pictures will discourage you from continuing your project as well.

3. Lack of inspiration

In any artistic effort you will have days when you feel just about as inspired and talented as a turnip. Those days are obviously the days when a sane person would just have an interim sofa day hoping for more inspiration the next day. Well, if you have that 365 project hanging over your head you will force yourself to do what needs to be done. The results will be appropriately dismal 99% of the time, unless you happen to be really lucky and get inspired halfway through. In my year of daily pictures this never happened. If I was having a bad day I would end up with a picture of a coffee cup or something equally sad.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

coffee | © Lilly Schwartz 2012

 

4. It turns something you enjoy into a chore

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to go out to shoot when I really want to go out and shoot. If I have to do it every day whether I feel like it or not, then before long I will feel like I need a break from it. That’s precisely what happened after I finished my 365 project. I just wanted to take a few days off and soon days became weeks, because it had been way too much before. Believe me, you don’t want to ruin the enjoyment in creating art by turning it into a chore. Creating art should be something that you want to do. Ideally of course it’s something that you have to do as well just out of an irresistible longing and drive, but you can’t artificially create this drive by sticking to a strict schedule. I myself have weeks and months where I shoot daily without any need to make it into something “official”. I also have times when I don’t feel like it and hardly ever pick up my camera at all. I believe that these uninspired times are just as important. We need these times to unwind, to get inspired again and to learn.

5. It forces you to publish mediocre work

Who would want to be forced to publish work that doesn’t measure up to certain standards? We all have bad days where nothing seems to work. Do we really want to expose those weaknesses for everyone to see? What about those unfortunate mishaps where you ended up shooting in the wrong camera setting the whole day or where you developed your film in the wrong dilution? Would you want to put these mishaps online for everyone to see if you had a choice? No, of course you wouldn’t! In a 365 project you are forced to do just that, because you made a commitment.

6. Too little focus

Considering that photography is very versatile and full of different genres the rule of “one picture a day” is too broad to practice in any focussed way. Additionally every lens and camera requires you to compose differently. Zoom lenses are very different animals from primes, fast lenses different from slow ones, telephoto lenses different from wide angle lenses. New gear always means that you need to practice to master it and the same goes for any new genre you try. Considering these infinite possibilities you could end up shooting pictures for a year without improving all that much, especially if you shoot a wide variety of subjects and genres with very different gear. After all, if you dabble a bit in everything you end up knowing very little about many things. Not exactly the way to become an expert! Only if you focus you can truly improve.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

at home with the cats | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

 

How to get all the pros and none of the cons

You’re probably wondering now how you can profit from a 365 project and still avoid those pitfalls. Well, here’s a short guide on how to have your cake and eat it as well (with a couple of shots that are slightly unusual for me):

1. Instead of trying to shoot every day, try to maximise the number of days where you can go out to shoot. For some fortunate people the magic number is 353, for very busy people it might be 52, and some might lie somewhere in the middle. Every day I have an item on my to do list called “Shoot some pictures”. However, when I don’t feel like going out or seriously need a day of watching SciFi on the sofa then I ignore that item. This way you also don’t feel like giving up just because you missed a couple of days. It also allows you to be a bit less crazy about the whole thing, which might help your significant other not to get too mad at you for spending more time with your camera or your scanner. And of course it gets rid of the necessity to push through that horrific as-talented-as-a-turnip mood. Respect your moods. How much you shoot in the end will depend very much on yourself. Over the last few years I have worked this way and despite battling chronic illness that prevents me from shooting on some days I have generally produced more work than I can realistically hope to edit and post.

2. On days when you don’t feel like going out with your camera, still try to spend some time with photography. Look at a photography book, watch a documentary about a photographer, read a photography magazine, look at G+. It doesn’t need to be much, but just enough to keep photography on your mind and maybe you will find some inspiration. Looking at pictures that make you go “wow” is a perfect way to get inspired. Those are the ones that will make you want to pick up your camera and go out there. You can also use such days to edit the massive amounts of shots you will surely produce on the days when you’re out shooting.

 

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

japanese spider crab | © Lilly Schwartz 2012

 

3. Don’t publish work you don’t really want to publish. Quality, not quantity should be the aim. Of course, if that means you can’t find a single picture to publish after taking 300 frames, it’s a sign that you’re maybe being too critical. Even a very poor photographer gets a lucky shot in this many frames! In this case I suggest that you publish at least one picture for every 100 frames you take. Not everything you post needs to be good enough to go into your portfolio. After all, a lot of photographers actually think that they are lucky when they produce more than one amazing shot a year! Don’t live in the extremes – being too critical is just as bad as being forced to show mediocre work.

4. The magic word is: focus. Set yourself goals independent of the “shoot as much as possible” rule. This could be using a certain camera, a certain lens or a specific subject/genre for a limited amount of time. I found a week or two of using a specific prime lens or camera to be very helpful. For quite a while now I’ve also been limiting my genre considerably by mostly shooting street photography. I will take the occasional picture of landscapes or urban details, but 98% of the time I shoot my favourite subject: human behaviour. You should try to identify your favourite subject/genre as well and focus on that. It will help you improve much faster.

 

19_what-happened-to-babe

what happened to babe | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

 

Conclusions

There is nothing quite as amazing as seeing the progress made by daily work on your art and 365 projects can be a good way of showing this kind of commitment. However, the best way of doing a 365 project isn’t necessarily to shoot and publish a picture every day. Rather work on your photography in whatever way that fits into your life with all its other commitments. Doing a little bit of work related to photography every day – looking at photography, reading about it, writing about it, scanning or editing pictures – can be just as useful as shooting daily. Of course, go out and shoot as often as possible, but don’t make it another chore on the list. This way you will get all the benefits of engaging with your art every day while dodging the part where you feel like throwing the camera out of the window after taking another picture of your shoes.

Comments

  • Thanks, Lilly, I found this article to be quite motivating. It is very well thought out and written. Over time, I am noticing that your writing – already good – is improving day by day… quantity vs quality as per the pots example above ! Wish you all success, luck and a great time with your film photography !

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Subroto, that’s nice of you to say! I guess I did have a lot of practice writing and it is definitely paying off. I was working on this one for quite a while already and only finished it today. Thanks also for your wishes 🙂

  • Great post, Lilly.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Richard! 🙂

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