Discover more from Process by Wesley Verhoeve
Process 101 ☼ How to Develop a Personal Project
GIVEAWAY: Kodak Film, Digital Camera, Mentor Session
Today we will talk about developing a personal photography project from scratch!
Also this week, the continuation of the GIVEAWAY by way of the second annual Process Reader Survey. Shout out to Kodak and CineStill for the support.
I received the coolest request this week. The Royal Library of the Netherlands let me know they’d like a copy of my photo book NOTICE! Crossing my fingers for a royal review, maybe the Queen? Maybe Countess Eloise who I know enjoys photography!
Do you have a copy yet? The first print is sold out, but the second print is out now!
A Photographer's Guide to Developing a Project from Scratch
Why is important to develop your own creative projects? Because more than anything it can help you find your unique voice as a photographer. When you're working for a client, whether it's a paid gig or pro bono, your primary focus is on meeting their storytelling needs and adhering to their vision. However, when you take on your own project, you have the freedom to narrate the story exactly as you envision it.
But that's not all. Engaging in personal projects also brings a sense of focus, depth, coherence, and definition to your body of work, adding a layer of meaning and intentionality to your artistic portfolio.
By undertaking your own projects, you establish a cohesive narrative thread that ties your photographs together, allowing viewers to grasp the underlying message and concept behind your work. This also means you have a better chance at getting hired for your voice, rather than to execute another’s vision.
Now, where to start?
Choosing a Theme
A project must have a well-defined theme in order to be focused and cohesive. The best themes connect to your personal passions, interests, and experiences.
For example, I started my first big project One of Many when a lot of my creative friends were moving away from New York City and to cities like Detroit, Portland, and Nashville. I wondered why they’d leave the perceived center of cultural impact to go to these “smaller” cities. What did they find there that they couldn’t find in NYC?
This led to the theme:
Documenting the creative communities of twelve cities across the United States, during a time when the independent creative movement is reshaping the economy and culture.
as part of the Austin, TX chapter of One of Many
Because this theme came directly out of my own life, I was not only incredibly interested in going deeper, but I also already had some existing contacts ready to go.
A theme can be anything that interests you, small or big. It can be your grandmother’s role in your family, a local story about farmers or the fire department, or a global story about a sneaker trend. As long as you feel deeply connected to it, it will work.
Research and Exploration
Once you hone in on your theme and a central question, you can start doing your research. In the case of One of Many I had to decide on how many cities I would visit for this project, which cities they would be, which creatives I already knew there, and which other creatives they could put me in touch with.
It was important to me that anyone could recognize themselves in their stories, which meant being diligent about diversity in the people I’d photograph, both in their creative disciplines, their background, and their age.
In this case, I decided on twelve US cities to be able to get a good geographic spread. Originally, I thought I’d photograph and interview ten creatives per city, but it all got a bit out of hand and I ended up with about fifty per city, and 600 creatives in total.
Defining the Narrative
Next up we dive into perhaps the most important questions:
What will be the compelling narrative I will share that aligns with the theme?
Which emotions do I wish to evoke through my images and this project?
A big part of the story I wanted to tell was about the second part of the theme:
The creative communities of twelve cities across the United States, during a time when the independent creative movement is reshaping the economy and culture.
I started this project back in 2013, spurred by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which had profoundly reshaped people's perspectives on employment and work. Empowered by the realization that even prominent corporations couldn't guarantee job stability, a growing number of people began embracing alternative routes: self-employment, freelancing, remote work, or or joining a smaller company.
I wanted to capture the start of what I thought might be a lasting and important movement. Little did I know that, a decade later, the pandemic would magnify this transformation a hundredfold.
Through the stories in One of Many, I aimed to inspire and empower creatives seeking to make the leap. By showcasing individuals who had already taken that leap, I wanted to let others know they weren't alone in their journey.
Planning and Execution
After you’ve honed in on your well-researched theme and narrative, and you know your storytelling goal, it’s time to make a plan. My favorite way to make a plan is to ask myself a few questions:
What are my goals with this project?
Aside from inspiring and encouraging creatives, I also set out to build a body of work that reflected the style of photography and the type of stories I wanted to get hired for. To this day, most of my work, whether it’s personal or for clients, revolves around environmental portraits of interesting people.
Lastly, I wanted to improve my photography on a technical level. I really didn’t know what I was doing at all so when I look back at these photos my settings are hilariously all over the place and I can see all the ways I’ve grown since then, but it was this project that set off the journey of improvement.
Which style and aesthetic do I wanted to apply to this project?
For One of Many I chose to shoot everything wide, using only natural light. This allowed me to showcase not only the creative but also their environment, and do so in an approachable and natural way so readers could relate.
What’s my timeline and how will I present this work?
I have to be honest and admit I didn’t answer this question when I started this project. I just started and let it all happen. These days however, I do try to think ahead and imagine the most effective way to showcase work, whether it’s in book form, an exhibit, or a dedicated website. It helps inform the choices I make as I shoot.
What is the next smallest step I can take?
This is always a key question for me throughout any project, and it helps prevent me from getting overwhelmed by a big and ambitious project. For example, my book NOTICE was the result of 123 consecutive days of walking around the same suburban neighborhood, resulting in more than 1200km walked, and 35k+ images shot.
If I had know this in advance, I probably wouldn’t have even started because it sounds insane and overwhelming. It’s always good to focus on the next smallest step after you’ve done all the set up work and goal setting.
Review and Reflection
Before you get started it’s always nice to review and reflect on the concept and your goal. I highly recommend seeking out feedback from mentors and friends, including people who know nothing about photography. It’s always good to see what “normal” people think of a concept since they will be the ones reading the stories.
Once you get going, it is valuable to periodically review how it’s going and if you’ve made any discoveries that warrant any changes to your plan. The creative process is an iterative one, and adjustments and refinements can be made along the way.
Presentation and Sharing
There are many ways to present your work, including online portfolios to exhibitions, zines, books, social media, and featured work in print media. You don’t have to decide how you will present a project before you start, but it’s fun to think about and if you do have a good idea already early on it will help you decide how to shoot it.
For example, if you hope that your project might be featured or serialized in a print magazine it’s good to know vertical photos are great for full page spreads. If you know it’ll live mostly online you might want to keep in mind a nice horizontal photo works great on a monitor as a chapter starter.
The most important thing once you get to this phase is careful and thoughtful curation that helps you effectively communicate your intended narrative to the audience. This is difficult to do on your own, so recruit a few friends or a professional.
And finally, actively engage with your audience, seeking feedback and fostering meaningful discussions around your work. Even if your audience is tiny and just friends and family. It will help you crystalize your thoughts and feel encouraged.
Come up with a well-defined theme that connects to your personal interests.
Do your research and figure out what you want to make and what you do not.
Set specific goals for both yourself and the work.
Make a plan, and adjust along the way as needed.
Lean into developing your voice. It’s a process that never stops.
Build a cohesive body of work.
Connect with your audience.
Embrace the journey, remain persistent, and continually explore new avenues for creative expression.
Process 003 ☼ Starting A New Project During Lockdown
Process 010 ☼ How To Make A Photo Book
Process 058 ☼ 30 Days of Walking in Amsterdam (New Project)
Process 080 ☼ Documenting Barbershops Around The World
That’s it for this week! Now go forth and start thinking about a project, and please feel free to share in the comments, including your questions!
Next Week: My experiences photographing the French countryside with the modern classic Fuji XPro2 from 2016, whose popularity persists.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others. <3
PS Shout out to my friends at Carmencita Film Lab. They’re my favorite lab in the world and I’m grateful for our collaboration. Use code “PROCESS” at check out to get a free upgrade.
Digital — The images in this issue were shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III using the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART lens. These are links to my friends over at MPB.com, which has become my go-to place to buy, sell, and trade used cameras and lenses. MBP caters to over 625,000 visual storytellers and provides a 6-month warranty. Thanks for supporting the Process community, MPB! <3
Process Giveaway + Survey
Did you already fill out the second annual Process Reader Survey? It would be a big help for me and also enter you into the random draw to win some great prizes.
A Two-Hour Mentor Session (Valued at €300)
To read more about how these sessions work, including testimonials and a link to book your own visit wesley.co/mentoring.
A Canon Digital IXUS 95 IS camera (Valued at €180)
From my personal collection, a wonderful digital camera that’s so small it’ll fit into any pocket to make for the perfect daily carry. Comes with a charger and two batteries.
Kodak Medium Format Film Pack (Valued at €140)
The good folks at Kodak Alaris have made available one 5-pack of Kodak Gold and one 5-pack of Kodak Portra 400, both in 120 format.
CineStill Film Sample Pack (Valued at €70)
The gang at CineStill Film is sharing a sample pack featuring all four of their films — 50D, 400D, 800T, and BwXX — in either 35mm or 120 (winner’s choice).
How To Enter
Enter by filling out the Process Reader Survey, takes less than 5 minutes.
I’m excited to read everyone’s answers!
Enter the GIVEAWAY before 11 am EST on the 8th of July.
The winners will be randomly drawn and notified.
This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:
The best way to support my work here at Process is to buy my photo book NOTICE.
Another good way to support is to spread the word by sharing Process with friends.
The Process Referral Program lets you earn exclusive items like a personal NOTICE postcard in the mail, a new Process eBook full of photo assignments, and a mini portfolio review. Thank you for your support, as always! <3
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