How a 365 Project Crushed My Creativity

Mythical creatures are a part of every culture on Earth. From yetis, mermaids, satyrs, and centaurs, to fairies, nymphs, sirens, and krakens– all of them inhabit our literature and spur our imaginations. The Loch Ness Monster of the Scottish Highlands, the chupacabra of South America, and Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest have inspired pointless quests to prove their existence. Although I’m reasonably sure that vampires actually do walk the streets and back alleys of New Orleans, the rest shall remain a mystery.

There is one mythical creature, however, that I feel compelled to pursue. Although I don’t think I’ve ever crossed paths with someone who has actually completed a 365 Project, I’m told that such beings actually do roam among us.

The truth is out there.

In all seriousness, though, before I go any further I have to publicly applaud any photographer who has managed to complete what many consider to be the apex of all personal photography projects. If you are reading this and you are one of the precious few, please stand up and take a bow. I salute you.

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I’ve Tried.  I’ve Really Tried.

Every December, we are swamped with articles about how to get out of our creative rut and reinvigorate our photography in the coming year. It seems as if the 365 Project is almost always at the top of these lists. It sounds like it ought to be easy, right?  A picture a day. A snap. A click. Takes no time at all.  I’m a professional. This is what I do. I should be able to walk out my front door armed with nothing but a throw-away film camera and capture something meaningful, right? Absolutely. Sign me up.

The typical 365 Project usually revolves around a theme of some sort. Whether it’s “things that start with the letter Q,” “morning,” or “leading lines,” the goal of the project is to improve your photography while pushing your imagination and your boundaries. After all, one of the most popular pieces of photography advice– and the one I preach to my students all the time– is to simply “get out there and shoot.”

So, where could it possibly go wrong?

The simple truth is that we’re photographers. Artists. Sure, we can take snapshots, but we’d rather “create images.” If we’re not going to put in the effort, why bother? And effort, my friends, takes time. Planning it. Shooting it. Processing it. Posting it. At its most basic, those four steps actually take up a considerable amount of time. And time means pressure.

Between being a photographer, a business owner, a writer, a husband, father, friend, son, brother, and teacher, I’ve got a pretty full plate. Now you’re telling me that to elevate my photography I have to undertake a project that’s going to consume even more of the little free time I have left? Every day?

I’ve tried. One year it was cars. Then it was doors. Another it was “10 Minutes from Home.” “Purple Stuff”– that one was fun. For about a week. I’ve managed to (mostly) expel the other attempts from the recesses of my mind

365-projects-diyphotography-cars  
  “Cars”

So, What Went Wrong?

Combine being a bit of a perfectionist with the pressures of time constraints and you too can bear witness to the pile of my failed 365 attempts. Watch your step. It’s a precariously balanced pile.

The first week or two usually goes okay. I’d spend a good chunk of December planning ahead– giving the project the attention and thought that it both needs and deserves. If I’m lucky– and we’re talking VERY lucky– I somehow manage to make it to February with all 31 of January’s photos. By now, the pressures of the planning and the shooting and the processing and the posting are mounting. Daily. So, what’s the big deal if I skip today’s photo and just take two tomorrow? Nothing wrong with playing a little catch-up, right? Of course not.

Until…

By now we’re heading into March. If I’ve been VERY, VERY lucky it’s not a leap year and I have 59 days worth of photos. Who cares that I shot the entire last week of February on the March 1st? I can still get back on track. But now my wife’s birthday is right around the corner. Then my son’s. We’re heading into spring and wedding season is about to start. I need to critique 23 student photo essays and keep up with my writing schedule. My plate runneth over.

Time = Pressure. I’m usually okay with that when it’s for a client, art director, or editor. Basically for anyone other than myself. But by now it’s the middle of March and the pressure of coming up with yet another creative image of a clothes pin is starting to choke the joy out of this project. I’d be okay with that, but the crushing blow to my creativity starts spilling over into everything else. The band shows up for their photo shoot and I’m stumped. The author needs headshots for the cover of his new book and it’s like I’m doing this for the first time.

Time = Pressure = All-This-for-Some-Stupid-Project? Unfortunately, by now the damage is done. One more 365 Project for the pile.

365-projects-diyphotography-lights

   “Lights”

Are You Saying it Can’t Be Done?

Absolutely not. As much as it pains me to admit defeat, I’m saying it probably can’t be done by me. At least not in the way it deserves to be done. I think the best projects– of any kind– start very organically. I didn’t set out to photograph objects that look like the alphabet. One day I just realized that I’d been doing it. Without a time limit and the pressure of creating something every day, a few random images evolved into an idea, which turned into a project all on its own. Without the confines of a calendar-shaped box, I’m able to not only get the photos, but to also make sure they are of a higher quality than time-restrictive projects usually allow.

DIY Photography’s own Laya Gerlock took us through his 365 Project last month. Be sure to check it out if you missed it.

“That Tree” – The Best 365 Project Ever

Not only can it be done, but editorial and corporate photographer Mark Hirsch did it bigger, bolder, better, and more badass than anyone I’ve ever seen. When Mark got his first iPhone in 2012, a friend told him about all of the updated camera features. As many of us have at one point or another, Mark scoffed at the notion of using the camera on his phone for anything of any importance. During a January snow storm, though, Mark took his very first iPhone photo. His subject was a 163-year-old oak tree on the edge of a Wisconsin corn field about two miles from his home. Despite driving past the tree every day for almost 20 years, he’d yet to take its photo. The project would not officially launch until almost two months later, but a truly incredible 365 journey began that day.

that-tree-by-mark-hirsch

The end result of Mark’s project is a 192-page compilation of all 365 images (every one of which was taken with the iPhone), and a testament to one photographer’s “newfound vision, and appreciation for the fragility of our world and the interdependence of even the smallest of its creatures.” His project became a mission. He was personally and philosophically invested. I think that could be why I’ve never managed to complete a 365. For me, those 365 frames need to be about more than just the number.

Down But Not Out

The 365 Project has bested me time and time again. And yet, every December I can’t help but wonder if this is the year. Motivation, inspiration, and dedication all ebb and flow, conspiring against me with a variety of stumbling blocks, strategically placed between my lens and the December 31st finish line. Thankfully, crushed creativity is resilient and bounces back. I love personal projects. They are so important to developing and nurturing our creativity. If you are working on a 365, I wish you all the best. Tell us what you’re up to in the comments.

As for me…There’s always next year.

“That Tree” is available on Amazon.

 

  • VOJTa

    Woohoo! I am one of those who made it through… But also must say – never more (on the other hand “never say never”). And also – I made it myself much easier not setting any theme ;-)
    The gallery is available on Facebook:
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151614562194552.621987.351914644551&type=3

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s awesome. Good for you!

  • David Perez

    Pretty much my thoughts on a 365 day project: there’s just too much overhead to make a daily pic and to make it count. It doesn’t help that I’ve recently started using lightroom and have pulled my 50,000 images into it and am on a prune-and-rework-my-images-with-LR project…

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Cleaning up the catalog…no small task. Good luck!

  • Simon Halstead Photography

    I made it through mine too. I do identify with all of the problems you mention though. It starts out great but after a couple of weeks ideas start to dry up. I’m a perfectionist myself and my philosophy has always been if you can’t do it well why bother? I was constantly on the look out for that perfect picture. Snapshots of the cat or my dinner just wouldn’t do. I found myself getting snappy and irritable at times. I must admit I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when I finished (as did my family!) I don’t regret doing it though. Far from it. I’m very proud that I achieved it. And achieved it as it should be done. EVERY day. I would always recommend doing one to anyone who asks but I would certainly offer them a piece of advice that was never offered to me… it’ll drive you insane! See my finished project here: http://365project.org/farscapephotography/365

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    I guess there are two ways of approaching a 365 project. One, which is what you seem to have chosen, is to create a fully realized body of work. The other is more realistic, and that’s just to shoot something every day.

    I’ve tried it both ways. The most recent project, which is waaaaay behind schedule is the one I’m trying to get “keepers” out of. You’re right, its not easy to make a great photo every day which is why I’ve relaxed the rules a little bit and instead of taking 365 days its just going to take however long it takes. Here it is; http://photoscavenger.wordpress.com/

    The other one, which I actually finished was straight forward and simple. Just get a shot every day at 4:25pm. Some of them are brilliant, lots of them are boring, but I learned a lot and I have a completed project that I can be proud of. Here’s that one; http://photo1625.wordpress.com/

    So part of it is what expectations you have going in. If you’re a perfectionist its going to be hard, but if you’re willing to just consider it an experiment and an exercise its much easier.

    I also think your subject/theme makes a huge difference. Pick something too difficult and you’ll kill yourself over it. That’s why 16:25 was so easy for me and the Photo Scavenger Hunt is proving so hard – people came up with ruthlessly difficult words.

    Good luck everyone!

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks for sharing your experience. 4:25 sounds like it was interesting.

  • aaronbrethorst

    I completed one in 2013. The trick for me was to not worry about the overall quality on a day-to-day basis, per se, and instead focus on ensuring that I took something every day. Some days I’d have a clear vision of what I wanted to do, some days I wouldn’t. Some days the photos would turn out spectacularly, some days they wouldn’t.

    But, the most important thing for me is that—if you compare the photos I shot at the beginning of the year with the ones at the end, there is a very clear improvement in the overall quality of the photos I produce.

    2013: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aaronbrethorst/sets/72157632426455084/

    2014 (in progress): http://www.flickr.com/photos/aaronbrethorst/sets/72157639290209595/

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks for the input, Aaron.

  • Morgan Glassco

    Today is day 43 of my project. Long ways to go but it is fun. I do sometimes regret limiting my project to a “selfie” picture, it is a lot harder to add yourself into every picture…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/moregone/sets/72157638668355155/

  • http://daveography.ca/ Dave Sutherland

    Pretty sure I could never get through a 365 project, but I’ve been doing well at a 52-week project so far (nearly 1/10 done already and not losing hope/sleep/hair/marriage). It helps that I’m doing it through the weekly Flickr Friday theme ( http://www.flickr.com/groups/flickrfriday/ ). That way I have a new challenge every week, am less likely to get stuck on what to shoot next, and can be as creative as I like trying to do something outside the box but that still fits the theme.

  • ctpicman

    I got 2/3s of the way through a 365 day shoot (self-portrait) when I got the flu — a very bad case of the flu that kept me down for three weeks. I was able to keep it up for the first few days of the flu and then (I felt so bad) I didn’t care anymore and quit. But it did tax my brain (and creativity) to shoot something new and different every day.

  • jamieoliver22

    I’ve just started mine this year, the first I have ever done. So far I am really enjoying it, and found that it has allowed me to be more creative and I have learnt a number of new styles and techniques. I have also found that I have been able to put some of the techniques that I have learnt on this website to good use.

    I have been following the CaptureYour365 list, which has given some structure to the project, with a nice mixture of topics each day. In addition, what has really helped me to feel motivated is that my fiancée has also started it, so we have been pushing each other and coming up with ideas together (plus it is a bit of a competition between us!). Also the positive comments from people about my photos has helped too, colleagues at work even suggested putting the photos up in our staff room, and they enjoy discussing and commenting on them.

    My photos are here, please feel free to have a look back: http://www.blipfoto.com/jamieoliver22 – or find them on my Flickr.

    • VOJTa

      After you will panic not having a shot at 11:45 PM several times, it won’t be such fun ;-)
      But I keep fingers crossed!
      And for me – I really like the 1/8/2014 Blue one ;-)

      • jamieoliver22

        Aha, thank you :)

        The “Where I Stand” photo (day 9) was actually taken at around 11pm at night – that was quite a fast turn around ;)

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s awesome! Keep it up!

  • http://www.thejustinhunt.com/ Justin

    I started mine in 2008, and am still going strong, with today being day 2000 for me! I found having a great community of people also doing it really helps, and if I hadn’t found ShutterCal.com, I’m not sure I would have finished the year.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Holy crap! 2000 days?!? Quite an accomplishment!

      • http://www.thejustinhunt.com/ Justin

        :) Thanks! There’s definitely been tough times. The first two years were all self portraits, and that especially can become real monotonous. But I gave up on that rule. I have fun ideas with it now and then, but overall I just shoot freely, and take my best pic from the day.

    • Andrew

      how much does that service cost? looks neat.

      • http://www.thejustinhunt.com/ Justin

        The site itself is free to use. They have a membership that has more features that’s like $3 a month, as well as offering monthly prints for $15 a month. They have a pretty cool box for storing a years worth of prints!

  • Kim

    I’ve been going strong since Jan 31, 2007 and I haven’t missed a day yet. I think a lot of the pitfalls come when people are too strict with their “rules”. My 365 is about my daily life, and frankly I have some completely boring days, which is reflected in my completely boring photos. And you know what? That’s ok!

    I keep my pics on ShutterCal.com, which is an online community of fellow 365ers, so there is plenty of motivation and camaraderie. If you feel like seeing what over 2500 daily photos looks like, check me out: http://shuttercal.com/calendar/amperes/

    • Natalie

      I agree with Kim! I’m just starting my third year of taking a picture per day and some days are just boring – and I have boring pictures! I think that just reflects how life is in general, though. Not every day can be amazing. It’s been like an amazing journal to be able to look back at every day for the past few years, though, and that was my main goal. http://www.thosetravelmonkeys.com

  • Ricky

    This article is making me feel good about myself: I generally don’t live up to my resolutions and have a pretty poor work ethic, but I was able to do my own 365 project. Finally… I’m better than someone else at something!

    Way back(!) in 2011, I decided to take a picture every day with my iphone. Eventually that warped into the idea that I would shoot video every day and turn the whole thing into a movie about my life and my struggle to overcome first world problems. I began on Dec. 20, 2011 and finished on June 30, 2013, and shot roughly 2,900 clips (not including the clips I rejected/deleted). I am currently editing it all together, while shooting some “confession booth” shots and narration bits.

  • Jayakumar Venkatesan

    I have just started. In my earlier two attempt I could not complete. Since lot of things motivates me , hope I can complete this time.
    Here is mine

    Site: http://www.jayvenkat.com/blog

    Flickr : http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayakumarv/

  • Kayla Hunt Currivan

    I’ve completed two different ones in the past five years, and both of those were years completely of self portraits, which was an extra challenge. Right now I’m halfway through a year of just pictures of anything and it’s going really well, but I also started and failed two times. I agree that it’s a huge challenge, and often made me feel terrible about myself as an artist and doing self portraits specifically often really ruined my self esteem and self image. What made it possible was to embrace the idea that it’s a journal, and that any bad picture days just represent days that you were busy. And the collection as a whole year doesn’t suffer in that respect. It is hard but it can be done. Of course, despite how many times I felt worthless and upset and frustrating, it felt so good to finish them that it was worth it. Right now I’m doing them using instagram because I have two jobs aside from photography and I just don’t have time to take real photos.

    Also I used Shuttercal.com to document it; the community is great and it’s a really fun way to organize your photos.

  • James Bryant

    http://www.jabryantphotography.com/blog/2014/1/project-365-tips-and-tricks

    I finished my 365 project last year!!! Some images where stronger than others but I think over all I learned a lot!!!

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s great, James!

  • Chris Bock

    My daily photo project started the day my first child was born. He is over two years old and the project continues. Today is day 857.

    Now I’ve got one going for my daughter, as well.

    I have the crazy hope that one of them might take over the project some day and that it will become a lifetime daily portrait collection.

    The thing that has kept it going for me is that the further I get the more disappointing it would be to stop. Plus, I love my subjects. It also helps that I keep the rules a little loose in that I only require that the picture be taken each day; the processing and posting can happen at anytime.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Chris– That is so very cool. That’s what I was talking about when I said it has to be more than just a calendar. Something meaningful. Thanks for sharing that.

  • VinceR_PDX

    Mine started January 1, 2000. A Y2K thing. I set aside an old Rolleiflex TLR and took one (and only one) photo per day for a year. The theme: my son, who was eight months old when I started. An uncalibrated antique camera with no light meter was a purposefully difficult choice. I sometimes used an old Weston light meter, but by the end of the year I could eyeball the light and generally get a printable negative. The project ended up going for SIX years and eventually included the my daughter when she was born in 2001.

    In the end, there were some lousy photos, a few pretty nice ones, and a record of my kids young lives that I hope they will someday appreciate. It was a labor of love to make all those contact sheets and print my favorites, but one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Vince– That is so awesome. That you did this with a vintage camera with subjects that carried such great meaning makes it all the more special. THAT’S the kind of project I can get behind. Well done.

    • http://www.diyphotography.net/ udi tirosh

      That is one amazing project! is it shared online anywhere? I would love to see :)

      Your choice of an old camera is pretty interesting. I am sure that when your son grows up (well, he is probably pretty big already :) he’ll really thank you for that.

  • Richard Henderson

    Completed mine 2013 – but the highlight for me was not the completion, but the personal meeting of some of the people involved. https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos?pid=5971610534546635890&oid=116907396629005511240

  • http://www.benspark.com BenSpark

    I started on my 31st Birthday, April 9, 2005. I have never missed a day. 3213 photos and counting. No specific theme, just all sorts of photos. I post my photos to Shuttercal.com. It was not around when I started and my biggest challenge now is going back and posting all my photos to the site. They’re all up on my blog, though.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    A friend of mine emailed me this link earlier today. Too late to mention in the article, but check out what this kid did for his 365, using stop motion. Enjoy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uag7kjgpc8g&feature=plcp

  • Derek Souter

    I’m easing in to it – I’m doing a 52 project – one picture every week. next year I might try a 365 project – but only if I manage to get 52 up this year :D much respect to anyone that manages to post a picture a day for even one year – never mind years.

  • Iain

    A couple of years ago I tried a 365. There was no theme other than to take an interesting picture. I made it to around day 240 without ‘back-filling’ many days. The damage I did was post day 240 I could barely face picking up the camera any more. It took me the best part of a year before I would randomly start picking up my camera and composing shots around the house.

    Today my camera is rarely far from my hand when at home. I never fully regained the enthusiasm I used to have for photography and have to specifically think about taking the camera out anywhere rather than carrying it everywhere like I once did.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Thanks for sharing your story, Lain. Hopefully you’ll get the spark back.

  • Keri

    I’m in the middle of my 4th full year of 365, and one of those years I did two at the same time, all at ShutterCal.com. The community at ShutterCal has always helped provide inspiration and support throughout those years. Many of my friends and family have told me how my photography and creativity has grown leaps and bounds since the beginning. I’ve always loved photography but I never took any formal training, so practicing photography every day has been a great training tool for me to express my creativity…

  • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

    Just some thoughts…

    * If you’re going to do a *theme*, I’d suggest limiting each theme to a month

    * I once attempted a “365 bokeh” project which lasted about 56 days. By that time, I realized I knew everything I ever wanted to know about bokeh, depth of field, and a bunch of other related subjects.

    * I think these are mainly meant for hobbyists who’ve lost their spark, a way to keep them engaged; I don’t think 365s are meant for paid shooting pros.

    * Before I had kids, I often had trouble finding stuff to photograph. Now I photograph my kids every day.

  • Craig Colvin

    I tried a 365 project 5 years ago. I made it to day 37 and it too killed my creativity and interest in photography. I ended up not taking photos for another 6 months. I love to shoot projects and series, but now do it at my own pace.

  • Deborah P

    I’m playing catchup every other day with mine. But at least I’m still very early in the game to not fall too far behind. I’m simply taking a photo, either with my phone or my Nikon, but after finding out about That Tree, I think I want to fine-tune how I do it.

  • Paul Steinke

    I have completed a 365 project 3 times, and am on my 4th attempt taking a photo a day of my son for his first year of life. I have to say that in the three completions I sometimes “created” images and sometimes I just used snapshots. It is incredibly difficult and at times painful to always be creative, and I found that the constraints of life made it impossible for me to create something special each day. But what I did find, after finishing a year, be it with created images or snapshots, I was thankful I stuck with it. It was amazing to look back at the different moments, the photos, the memories, the random “I forgot a picture today clicks of the shoe I was wearing” photos. It has been easier with my son because he is consuming my life, which is what a 365 project almost needs to do.

  • Lisbeth Felida Aabjørnsrød

    I have done it in 2013 :-)

    http://felidadaily.blogspot.no/

  • http://google.com/+TanjaPetri Tanja Petri

    I came across this article a few days before I took my last picture. Even though I was still shooting at the time, it already sounded very familiar. By now, five days have passed since the last picture, and I figured it was time to admit defeat.

    I find it amazing how many people in the comments have completed one of those project, and you all have my respect.

    For me, personally, I realized it’s not the right thing to do. I’d rather not pick up my camera for the sole reason of getting a shot so that I don’t miss. If I publish a picture with my name on it, I want to be able to fully stand behind it. Otherwise it seems a waste of energy and time to me. I’m glad I decided to admit defeat (which I did on a long blog post on my project website) since it frees me to concentrate on the stuff I really want to do.

  • Alecio J Evangelista

    “How a 365 Project Crushed My Creativity” Once you were so honest about your experience I have to tell you, if a 365 project crushed you creativity is was because you had no creativity to begin with….. I have seem many people finishing and redoing a 365 project. I think a 365 project should be less about perfection, ego, and it should be more about your relationship with photography.