What I’ve Learned Doing Photography Challenges

Today I shared the entire last year of self-portraits from March 2014 to 2015 that I captured weekly for my 52 Weeks of Self-Portraits project. I thought I’d also write down some of my thoughts about the project/challenge and why you may want to start one of your own or not. Also quick side note, apologizes if this post might not be as polished as I usually strive for. I’m still recovering and bed ridden from a concussion I received last week coincidently from my last self-portrait shoot so I’m off my game.

Now if you’ve followed my last photo project, the common 365 Challenge, you will know I was largely negative about my experience with that so it might not come as a big surprise then that I had a similar experience with this one too. If you want to read my experience of 365 Challenge in full, here it is but to sum it up I thought forcing myself to take a photo every day at times was so arduous it felt like the meaning of the photos was lost to “let’s take a photo of something”. Now even though I didn’t have the best experience with that project after finishing it and feeling accomplished none the less I wanted to try another. A 52 Weeks project seemed like it would be a breeze after a year of daily taking a photo, and to be honest I think a 52 Weeks projects CAN be very easy and in fact not much of a challenge to complete…depending on the subject. There are a few variations of the 52 Weeks project and most of them seem very boring to me until I found out about 52 Weeks of Self-Portraits. A self-portrait is a diverse thing, it can just be a shot of you, no frills involved, or it could be a breath taking experience that many hours and work was put into achieving it, or somewhere in-between that. I knew going into it that the likely chance that every photo would be some surreal style self-portrait that felt unique and captured my own ideal was slim. I felt this way mostly because I work full-time and don’t have a studio where I can shoot in. However I was not ready for the pressure I would feel to create that and great disappointment I’d get when I just didn’t have enough resources/time/good weather to make that true. Yes, I could easily have taken a quick shot of me once a week and done a comparison of how I’ve changed over the year, hell my hair color alone looks wildly different in each photo. But this is not a challenge to me as a photographer who already takes plenty of self-portraits. It also was not a confidence boost, in fact just the opposite. Now I readily endorse people to take self-portraits of themselves in any format – I started doing mine in my late teens and it helped me with depression, confidence, self-awareness, defining myself and making myself the person I wanted to be. So if you think you need that, hell you don’t need a project – just start taking self-portraits. The confidence I’m talking about here is my ability as a photographer, it made me feel inferior very early on in the project. My hope and my goal for this project was I wanted the project to inspire me, and to elevate my photography. So my experience was defined by that end goal, that’s where I started.

 Pros

  • I now have a photo of myself of every week of an entire year
  • did a few photography ideas I’ve wanted to try but never got around to, until now
  • Week 10’s photo of my rainbow hair is most popular photo I’ve shared on Tumblr with currently over 4,000 likes
  • found new and interesting ways to capture the same subject matter
  • captured a few surreal self-portraits that I love
  • shared a photo of my knee, which I’m very insecure about
  • took photos of myself I might have never taken

Cons

  • stressed out almost every week
  • captured photos of myself at times when I’d rather not, like when I was sick or heavily depressed
  • learned that I’d rather be behind the camera then in front (could be a pro too)
  • felt unnecessary pressure
  • my most popular photo of the project is the 2nd worst photo I took for it
    (I do love that photo of my rainbow hair but I can tell you a million reasons why it’s not a great photo)
  • having to choose/share just 1 photo
  • sharing photos that I wasn’t 100% happy with and not having the time to shelf them and rework the idea
  • thinking about the project when on vacation or times when I should have been concentrating on other things going on in my life
  • feeling like I HAD to take a photo
  • having a 15 pound mirror dropped on my head after a photo and getting a concussion, j/k

Conclusion

No way in hell I’d do one this year. I actually think both photography projects I’ve done have certainly had a lot of positives for them and made my photography better but I don’t think they are really what an advanced photographer should be doing with their time. For all the time I spent taking a self-portrait I knew would be average and mediocre and not live up to my artist standards and JUST be a photo of me which again is fine, I have plenty of normal self-portraits of myself I like but that wasn’t the aim of the project…what could I have done instead? That’s what hit me probably 3 months into the project. I spent so much time on this project, and getting the post ready on time, what else could I have been focusing on? Also why am I stressing about “oh I have to take my self-portrait photo” “gee I wonder when I’ll have time for that” “shit it’s almost the end of the week” “man this photo is too similar to one I’ve done before”….all of that stress didn’t need to be put on me. Now this might be different for other people as there is one thing I know about myself through and through and that is I will always put stress on myself, timeline or not as I stress myself out far too much. However stress aside, some weeks I really felt like if I had infinite amount of time to concentrate on this one photo idea would the shot be that much more amazing? I don’t know because each time I only had a week to do 1 photo. Most professional photographers put an insane amount of time to execute one idea, heck most professional photographer’s website show around 20 photos for the entire year. So as someone middling in-between the world of amateur/hobbyist photography and professional this project was torture. Photography projects in general go against the idea of mastering photography. I’m sure some people might be up for the challenge and I’ve seen amazing 52 Weeks projects but with my blog and full-time job I’d rather spend my time getting better at photography without limitations and parameters. However that’s my personally situation, I would still recommend this project and think it’s great if you just received your first film or digital camera, new to photogaphy, or you want to start taking more photos. As I mentioned before it’s great to do if you want to build more confidence in yourself or your photography. Doing a timed project gives you a great excuse to take a photo you might not take otherwise. Better yet if you have a great idea, like you want to see what you hair will look like for an entire year, or you are travelling around and want to document your journey, etcetera, this can be a great project for you. I honestly can say some of these photos that I love from this project I would never have taken unless I felt like I HAD to take a photo that week of myself and was bored or indifferent to what I did the week befoe, but for me I also understand and realize all the other photographs I could have taken instead of the ones I am not that excited about. So when I look at these 52 photos that is almost all I can see, is the ones where I stressed and spent hours on for a photo I probably only share to friends normally. I think there is better/funnier/easier ways at impoving your photography than this. So no more photography projects for me for right now. I’m good.

You can check out my entire year of self-portraits here!

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