The ability to simplify means being able to eliminate the unnecessary
so that the necessary may speak.
1 – Introduction
This is part two of a four parts series of essays on the subject of projects. In part we looked at why projects are important. In doing so we looked at ‘regular size’ projects which means large projects, namely folios and portfolios.
We are now going to look at mini projects. Why? Because working on a large project can be daunting to someone who has never completed a project. The good news is there is a solution to this problem! In this essay we are going to learn how to create Mini Projects. To do so I will explain what is a mini project and what are the benefits of working on mini-projects instead of on large projects.
2 – What Is A Mini-Project?
A mini-project is a project that is designed and completed in a very short amount of time. I also call these mini-series at times. In the context of this essay the two terms, mini-projects and mini-series, are interchangeable.
Instead of taking months or years, a mini-project takes minutes or hours to complete. On average the photography part of my mini-projects is completed in one to two hours maximum. The processing takes as long as for my other images and the exact amount of time needed varies with each image. However, because mini-projects tend to be focused on a single subject, once I find a processing approach that I like for a single image, I usually process the others similarly and this reduces the amount of processing time.
3 – About Projects
Focusing on projects rather than on single images helps you increase the quality of your work because it forces you to explore your subject in a narrow and deep manner rather than in a wide and shallow manner. This means that you work with the same subject continuously for the duration of your project rather than move from one subject to the next. This is true regardless of the length of your project. It therefore applies to mini- projects as much as to large projects.
Working on projects also forces you to move away from photographing everything that catches your eye. This is not an original project because every photographer does that. I worked on this project, namely ‘everything that caught my eye’ on my way back home after purchasing my first camera. I was fortunate to have good teachers who stopped me before I wasting too much time unnecessarily and helped me focus my work in a specific direction.
Furthermore, in regards to your audience, the public is not interested by everything that catches your eye. They are interested in a selection of what catches your eye. Such a selection is called a project or a series. By definition a project has a specific focus rather than include everything you see. It also has a specific size, a specific title, a specific goal and an intended audience.
4 – Why Work On Mini-Projects ?
There is a common misconception that projects have to be serious and lengthy, more akin to a marriage than to an affair. Fact is a project can be any length you want it to be, from very short to lifelong if you so desire. I personally love completing mini-projects because they allow me to photograph a specific subject with the passion brought by the discovery of this subject and lets me stop whenever this passion subsides.
Mini-projects have the same tenets as medium or long projects in that they have to have a clear focus, a purpose, a deadline and a final destination or use. The only difference is that they can be completed in a short time, usually an hour or less, and thus bypass one of the main problems that affect projects and that is the boredom that comes with working on the same subject for a long time.
5 – Mini -Projects Are Not Stressful
Mini-projects are not stressful for several reasons. First, because of their small size, their limited scope and their non-ambitious goals, starting a mini-project is not a stressful or daunting process. The idea is to set a goal so low and so easy to achieve that failure is impossible. In fact, the requirements are so ridiculously easy to reach that we are virtually assured to be overachieving. The prospect of becoming an overachiever doing something that so far we have been procrastinating at makes getting started exciting instead of frightening.
Second a mini-project does not offer a chance for procrastination. Knowing that there is no way we can fail makes getting started a non-issue. Also, because these projects are the result of immediate inspiration, and because they are usually thought of in the field, they are a spur of the moment thing that asks to be started and completed immediately. It is this immediacy that takes away the opportunity to procrastinate.
Third, because a mini-project has low ambitions, fear of failure is absent. There is no time to consider how the project will be used, if it will be difficult or not, or if it has been done already or not. Plus, since no one but you knows that you are working on this project, the option is there to keep the outcome private if you want.
Fourth, we take more and more photographs due to the ease with which digital photographs can be captured and processed and due to the omnipresent role that photography plays in our lives. The outcome is an ever-increasing number of photographs that we struggle to account for and use in a meaningful way. One solution to this problem is to show our work not as single images but as group of images. Creating mini-series is an attractive option because it offers a simple and creative way of presenting groups of photographs organized in a logical manner around a specific theme.
6 – How I Do It
The size of a mini-project depends on my inspiration (superficially or deeply inspired for example), on how much variations I am able to find in the subject (repetitive subjects versus subjects with multiple aspects for example), on the subject itself (a single piece of farm equipment or a barn full of different machines for example) and on the time I have available (a few minutes or a couple of hours for example).
One thing that is constant is that I don’t have a minimum or a maximum number of photographs in mind when I start. I haven’t created a project that consists of a single image so far but that is certainly an option should a subject with such a possibility present itself.
Another constant is that each mini-project is given a unique title. In this essay I used French titles to reflect my French heritage and because I like to use French titles for artistic projects.
Yet another constant is keeping the titles as simple as possible. This goes hand in hand with setting easy to reach goals. Therefore rather than title each image individually I give the same title to each image, usually the title of the mini-series plus a number, for example, Arbres sans Feuilles #1 to 10, Dessins Rupestres #1 to 5 or Outil de Ferme #1 to 9 to use the titles of the three mini-series featured as examples in this essay. Not having to think about the titles I am going to give to the images allows me to focus my energy on creativity by removing another unnecessary source of worry.
I also don’t have a set idea for how the project will be used. It may end up as an online portfolio like you see here, it may be printed and offered as a small folio, or it may be simply abandoned. Other options may be considered as well such as using the photographs in the context of a larger project, or in a book or an essay for example.
7 – About Working Within Self Imposed Constraints
Creating photographs with a project in mind means working with self imposed constraints. Many beginning photographers see this as limiting their creativity. Personally I find constraints freeing rather than limiting.
8 – Examples
Here are three examples of mini-projects. These examples are numbered A, B and C:
A – Mini Series Example #1: Arbres sans Feuilles (Trees without Leaves)
I had photographed this location before in the fall (you can see these previous images at this link). At that time the trees had leaves that had just turned yellow and red and I focused on the color of the trees and on the luminescent quality of fall light.
For this second visit I was there later in the year and all the leaves were gone. At first I was disappointed because I was looking forward to creating more photographs similar to the ones I created on my first visit. I expected a repeat of the conditions I witnessed on my first visit but instead I found a totally different situation. All the leaves were gone, there was no direct light, and it was snowing lightly. The light was dim, the ambiance was wintery and the temperature quite cold. In fact by the end of the shoot my feet were numb from standing in snow for an hour or more.
I considered not taking a single photograph of the trees. While I found them extremely inspiring on my previous visit, this time they came across as uninteresting. While on my previous visit I used a short telephoto lens to narrow the composition to the trees alone, this time I put a wide-angle lens on my camera and tried to photograph the entire scene, including the sky and the mountain.
However the light did not lend itself to a wide view of the whole scene. It was getting dark already and the light was not interesting. Running out of options I remembered that on my first visit I used too wide of a lens to photograph the trees and I had to crop the photographs down to get the emotional content I was after, namely an immersive experience of the trees themselves, an effect I achieved by removing all the elements that gave an indication of context, leaving only the trees, using a tight framing, to achieve the effect I was after.
This reflection made me realize that I could try mounting my longest lens this time and see what I could compose with it, zooming deep into the trees for a tight cropping, both horizontal and vertical, so I could create the final image in tech camera instead of having recourse to cropping later during conversion and optimization.
The result is the mini-project you see here. During processing I decided to do two color variations for this series, one with the white point slightly veered towards a slight blue tint and the other with the white point slightly veered towards a yellowish tint. These two color choices were arrived at because I could not decide which of the two colors I liked the most. Each expressed a different mood and together these two moods represented my feelings for this scene. One, the bluish images, expressed the coldness I felt on my second visit, while the other, the yellow tint images, expressed my memories of the warm light present on my first visit.
It took me about an hour to capture these images.
I could have photographed the mountains around me but I decided to limit myself to photographing the trees, not only that but with a single lens, a 250 mm on a medium format digital back. Here is a snapshot of the location taken with an iPhone showing the mountains around me.
I like to look at all the images in a project at the same time. This allows me to see if the series is coherent or if one image stands out as not belonging in the project. A convenient way to do this without making prints is to assemble them mosaic-style on your monitor. Above are all the images in the first mini-project example arranged in such a way.
B – Mini-Series example #2: Outil de Ferme (Farm Tool)
While the first mini-project on this page is about a relatively large subject, namely a clump of trees featuring several hundred trees, this second mini-project is about a very small subject, namely a single piece of farm equipment.
What captured my attention with this subject was the repetitive geometrical shapes, the rust color and the mechanical quality of the machine despite its ancientness. My goal was to express all these different concepts in this mini-series of images. It took me no more than fifteen minutes to capture these images.
C – Mini-Series Example #3: Dessins Rupestres (Rock Art Drawings)
These images were created at a single location in Northern Arizona.
I have photographed rock art extensively in the past, visiting hundreds of different sites including the location shown here, and my motivation when I approached this site depicted here was to do things differently. To achieve this goal I decided to photograph the rock art ‘sideways,’ meaning by tilting the camera instead of keeping it horizontal. The fact that the image is tilted is not necessarily visible in the photographs because of the lack of context and the absence of a visual horizon. In fact these images may appear to have been photographed ‘level’ even though they were not.
The goal of photographing this site with the camera tilted was to give me creative freedom. Instead of following the vertical orientation chosen by the ancient artists who carved these images in the sandstone, I was able to bring my own inspiration by choosing the direction I wanted to give them.
This freedom continued to be inspirational when I designed this web page. I realized that some of the tilted images were inverted versions of the same panel even though they were taken as separate photographs. My first impulse was to show only one of these pairs of images to avoid repetition. However, after reflection I realized that these pairs could be presented next to each other thereby emphasizing their mirror-image quality. As a result of this insight I am presenting three pairs of images that follow this inspiration.
It took me one hour maximum to capture these images.
9 – Skill Enhancement Exercise (SEE)
Using the three examples above as guidelines and inspiration, design and complete several mini-projects on the subjects of your choice. Keep each project small, simple, short and focused. Make sure to complete them in a maximum of one hour of photographing time.
10 – Conclusion
This essay is the second installment in a four-part series on projects. The next essay will focus on Projects and Creativity. This series is ‘a suivre’ … Stay tuned the next essay is coming soon!
11 – The Fine Art Photography Summit
Taught by Alain Briot and Jeff Schewe, and now in its 14th year, the 2016 Fine Art Photography Summit takes place in Page Arizona home of Antelope Canyon, Slot canyons, the Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell and many more world-class locations. The Summit includes field work, classroom instruction, printing, print reviews and one on one instruction and is followed by a three day field workshop to Navajoland. You can read the detailed description of this unique event at this link:
12 – About Alain Briot
You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com. You receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on my website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.
Vistancia, Arizona, 2016