Creative projects as a way to train your eye - a review

Last year I wrote a short entry on how to use creative projects to train your eyes and stay creative. I also mentioned in that entry, that I had plans on taking part in a 52 week creative project where one had to create one image each week for a theme. This entry then is to review this challenge, to tell you what I liked about it and what I became increasingly sceptical about - and why, in consequence I won't do a 52 week challenge this year.


I had consciously already decided against a 366 project, where I'd have to take an image every day. I did not want to focus on quantity, but on quality in my images - and I just know myself and my life well enough. Sometimes it gets so busy that I would not find the time to really think about CREATING an image. In those situations I'd rather just snap one, hastily, just to have photographed that way. I thought this would neither increase my creativity nor would it train my eye. Worse enough, I thought, it might make photography a chore - taking much of the fun I have with it out of it. That is why I engaged in the 52 week project -one image a project, different theme each week. This was a community project

The Positive:

With this kind of set up I was forced to think about themes I usually do not shoot. I have my favorite subjects, and engaging in a themed challenged I was forced to think and interpret different themes. So this got me to diversify in my photography. I had never photographed much "technology" before, but "Evolution" was my contribution to that theme.

But I did not only diversify the WHAT I photographed, but also the how. With photographing "so much" I also iwanted to learn new techniques, that help me transforming ideas into images.

The image "Pro-American" is an example of it. The theme was "Red,white and blue" taking place around July 4th. I wanted an image that expressed "national pride"/ Patriotism*. I had this image in mind, but using a new editing technique that I had learned during the year,helped me getting it to where I wanted.

The group aspect also allowed to see how others interpreted the same theme, which gave motivation to keep shooting, but also to see what others did and create inspiration, new perspectives.

The Negative:

The weekly set up would still interfere with the rest of my life. In fall, when things get really busy in my life (every year!) I found myself not being able to keep up. I had ideas for images, but could not find the time to put them into images. So I played catch up at the end of the year. I finished the challenge. I finished the project. Finished it with images I feel good about. So far so good. But I haven't had much of a desire to use my camera since. I felt I needed a little bit of a break. I feel it was the date-driven part of the challenge that put a bit of stress on it.

I also felt that the challenge inhibited my experimentation at times. At times I wanted to go more in depth with trying out new techniques (like off shoe flash), but could not, because I had another project already waiting. Or I wanted to shoot more for one theme, because I had several ideas for one theme, but could not, because I needed to find an interpretation of a new theme.

Also other projects I had wanted to do ended up taking a backseat.


From the experiences I made I have two suggestions:

Create a project that challenges you to try new things, but also fits around your life. Make it challenging enough for it to be a challenge, but customize it so it allows you to have fun and remain creative. Maybe less is more.

Keep a notebook. When I found I could not put ideas into images right away, putting them down into a note book will help me remember them later and maybe execute theme then. Also helps me when I find myself in a creative bind - it gives me a point to start again.


This year I will be doing one monthly project (1 Theme per month, 1 image) with a group. The group connection (in this case a local one) provides a situation where you can get encouragement from the group - and since the project is local - maybe even shoot together.

Another project I have is a private challenge - 13 themes with 13 images. But these are not dependent on a schedule. I think this will be good for me, because I have times where I shoot more and times where I shoot less, I need this flexibility.

The themes are either subjects I want to focus on or techniques I want to learn how to use better an better. The challenge will be to find 13 different interpretations of the same theme (like "Green" or "Paper") or 13 different was of using a certain technique (i.e. off shoe flash, long-exposure photography).

I hope I won't only get new images out of these challenges, but also still improve my photography. Overall, I am glad I participated in the 52 week project, I learned a lot. And also made me create one of my favorite images. The spooky forest (the theme was: S-Curve):

How do you keep your creativity flowing? Have you participated in projects like these? What were your experiences?

Photo credits: Mellimage.

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