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How To Finish the Photography Project You Started

It’s inevitable that, at some point, your motivation will lag on that photography project you started. Whether you’re working on a popular photography project, such as taking a photo every day for a year (the 365-day project), walking the streets shooting strangers (the 100-strangers project), or working on a custom project you dreamt up…no matter what, one day you can be sure that you’ll want to quit.

Photo by Ryan Pendleton

Photo by Ryan Pendleton

It usually happens after your initial excitement has faded, but before you’re more than halfway finished. Often, you’ll be hit hardest on a day when you think your photos stink. Or maybe when you stumble across a “better idea” for a project.  Then, that little voice in your head will do its best to convince you to ditch your project and move on.

If you listen closely, that voice probably has some good arguments too. Maybe there is a project that’s a better fit for you. Maybe you can learn more by doing something else. I’m not going to tell you that you must finish this project. In fact, maybe quitting it is the best thing for you.

Photo by AJ Adams

Photo by AJ Adams

But I will say that it’s inevitable to experience a lull in your motivation, when you’re working on something big. That excitement you felt at first always dies, and it doesn’t mean that you should quit…even if you don’t think you’re getting the most from your practice. In fact, learning skills often has a cumulative effect; doing a little bit every day will add up over time, even if you can’t see your progress now.

Taking photos regularly will feel like work. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing though, and in time, you may even come to enjoy that feeling of working on something important, even when you’re motivation isn’t strong. Hopefully, you’ll have some unbelievable images, too. 

But when you’re struggling it’s tough to see the end, so here are some tips to help you stay motivated and finish that photography project you started.

1. Understand Motivation

Photo by Cozmin Vasile

Photo by Cozmin Vasile

Professional photographers and artists aren’t always inspired. But to get the best work (and put food on the table), they know they have to work day in and day out. Lagging motivation is normal, and the best photographers learn to take photos anyways. In fact, when you are working is when you’ll gather more inspiration.

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” – Chuck Close, artist

2. Start the Right Project.

Photo by Knut Haberkant

Photo by Knut Haberkant

Maybe you should quit this project. It’s possible that you chose a project for the wrong reasons. Maybe you thought it would make you lots of money or catapult you to fame in a short period of time. Now, I’m not against either of those things, but if you want to stick to a big photography project, you’ll be more motivated if you are genuinely fascinated by the subject matter.

To start a photography project you’ll finish, you need to choose something that you love deeply.

3. Is Your Project Too Complicated?

Is it easy to complete your photography project? If you only focus on taking photos and neglect the other aspects of the process, then you might just hate a project that fascinates you.

Create a dead simple process that makes it ridiculously easy for you to complete each step of your project. Even if one part is complicated, it could put the entire project in jeopardy.

  • Is it easy to upload your photos?
  • Is your camera within reach?
  • Are you familiar with your editing software?

Look at each part of your process, and troubleshoot ways to make it as simple as possible. I recommend keeping your camera with you at all times, having a set system for uploading your photos, only making simple edits in a program you know well, and using fast wifi to upload your images. Finally, when you figure out your system, write it down, and keep it close by for reference.

4. Track Your Progress.

Photo by Brain Pirie

Photo By Brian Pirie

The writer-artist, Austin Kleon, uses check boxes in his Moleskine to finish a book. The comedian, Jerry Seinfield, recommends using a calendar and motivating yourself not to “break the chain.” Both are easy ways to keep track of your progress, so you know “someone’s” watching. Whether you put a calendar by your desk, on the wall of your room, or keep a log of your progress in a special notebook, this will help you stay on track.

5. Get Support From Like-Minded People.

Photo by Vanessa Kay

Photo by Vanessa Kay

Hang out with other photographers, preferably those who are also working on a big project. You could join a local photography group, interact on an online photography forum, or just spend time with some friends who are also into photography. Just like runners motivate each other to train for a coming race, photographers can do the same thing, and it will make shooting much easier.

6. Reward Yourself.

Photo by Nikita Chaplya

Photo By Nikita Chaplya

If you wanted to train your dog to get you a beer from the fridge (ahhh, a dream of mine ;), you wouldn’t just expect him to do this, right? No, you’d have to use a system of rewards to teach him each step, right? In a way, we’re not much different than dogs when it comes to learning things, even with this big brain of ours.

Motivating yourself with rewards can turn a boring project into a daily adventure.

I suggest using a small daily reward every time you finish a day’s work. For me, simply adding honey to my tea works and is a small treat for doing my project. But you’ll also want to add in bigger rewards about every two weeks.

Choose something you really want, for instance, a plate of succulent barbecued brisket gets my juices flowing and motivates me to complete two-week sections. Maybe you’ll want to plan an activity you love or give yourself some free time, although it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it excites you.

7. Stay Inspired by Photography

Photo by Julia S

Photo By Julia S

Keep photography books close by, subscribe to fascinating photography blogs, and keep your eyes out for inspiring images. The more you are surrounded by amazing photography, the more motivation you can soak up.

Ultimately, to finish your big photography project, you’ll have to show up every day, just like you would for a job. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing though; in fact, it can deepen your appreciation for this art form. Not to mention, you’ll learn the challenging skill of creating art, even though you don’t feel like it.

Plus, when you finish, you’ll feel the satisfaction of completing your project and hopefully have some gorgeous images to cherish. Then, you can build on this success with your next project. 

How about you? Is there a tip that helps you stay committed to your projects, even though you feel like quitting? If so, we’d love to hear from you, and you may even help out a budding photographer like yourself. Or ask us a question in the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer it personally.

Benjamin Jenks

Benjamin Jenks offers creative strategies to help you live, work, and travel, like an adventurer at AdventureSauce.com.
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