In part one we looked at why projects are important. In doing so we looked at ‘regular size’ projects, which means large ones, namely folios and portfolios.
In part two we are going to look at mini-projects, as working on a large project can be daunting to someone who has never completed one before. So, what is a mini-project and what are the benefits in comparison to large ventures?
What is a mini-project?
Instead of taking months or years, a mini-project takes minutes or hours to complete. On average, the photography part of my mini-project will be completed in one to two hours maximum. 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.
Why work on mini-projects?
There is a common misconception that projects have to be serious and lengthy, more akin to a marriage than an affair. The fact is that 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-term projects in that they have to have a clear focus, a purpose, a deadline, and a final destination or use.
Mini-projects are not stressful for several reasons:
• Because of their small size, limited scope and non-ambitious goals. 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.
• 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 they are usually thought of in the field, they are spur of the moment events that ask to be started and completed immediately. It is this immediacy that takes away the opportunity to procrastinate.
• 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.
• 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 groups of images. Creating a mini-series is an attractive option because it offers a simple and creative way of presenting groups of photographs organised in a logical manner around a specific theme.
The way to do it
The size of a mini-project depends on my inspiration, on how much variation I am able to find in the subject, on the subject itself and on the time I have available.
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.
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.
I 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, in a book or as an essay.
Here is a mini-project example
Arbres sans Feuilles (Trees without Leaves). I had photographed this location before in the fall. At the 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 slightly 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 had 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. There were no leaves, there was no direct light and it was snowing lightly. The light was dim, the ambiance was wintery and the temperature quite cold.
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.
Running out of options I remembered that on my first visit I used too wide 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. I achieved this effect 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 realise that I could try mounting my longest lens this time and see what I could compose with it. I zoomed deep into the trees for a tight cropping, both horizontal and vertical, so I could create the final image. The result is the mini-project you see here.
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 250mm on a medium format digital back.
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.
Skill enhancement exercise
Using the example 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.