The hardest part of a 365 project is the first week. Actually, maybe it’s the first two-three weeks. It’s the period between introducing something new into your life and then making that thing a habit.
This is how I’ve witnessed it through others taking on a ‘one-photo-a-day’ projects. Posts go up every 24 hours without fail for a couple of weeks but then, you notice, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen a shot from ***** in a while? Maybe Facebook’s just not showing it.’ When you investigate, you discover it’s been a week since their last addition and the project has entered hiatus territory.
A lot of people undervalue just how difficult a project like this really is; or rather, they undervalue how simple the project is, but how difficult we make it on ourselves.
It took me several years of occasional contemplation before I decided to try my hand at the challenge. There is only one rule to the 365 project, which is what makes it so immediately accessible, ‘one photo every day.’ Everything else beyond that we put as stipulations and constraints on ourselves. For me, I decided that every photo I uploaded would be from the 24-hour period allocated for it. That was a restriction I decided for myself to keep me honest and keep me active.
I shoot a lot if I have my camera with me, plenty of times I ended up with 4-5 shots I would’ve been happy to upload as my photo of the day, but if I hung on to those too closely they could’ve ended up being the next 4-5 days worth of shots, and if I’m just uploading backlogged shots from my SD card then I’m surely missing the point of the get-out-and-explore nature of the project. This isn’t to say it’s not allowed; far from it, take 365 photos in one day and upload them continuously for the following year if you so desire. But placing that constraint on my own project was a way for me to know that I would have to shoot every day, otherwise I couldn’t upload.
So consider the following as worthwhile advice from someone who completed their year-long challenge recently and wants the same for you. How to reach Day 365 of your 365 project:
It’s important to give yourself boundaries and rules for a project of this scope, even if it’s a counter-restriction like ‘no restrictions’, literally anything you can tell yourself to keep the stipulations of your project present whilst you shoot is important.
I chose to base my project around a subject: in this instance, a tiny plastic robot figure called ‘Danbo’. (If you’re familiar with Flickr then you’ll likely know both Danbo and 365 Projects are native to that site.) I gave myself that restriction so I didn’t get overwhelmed with the scope of the project.
Sure, in terms of creativity I’m only limited by my own imagination, but having a consistent subject meant I had something to base my shots around and give my project more of a narrative.
Your 365 project is unique to you. Give yourself some guidelines, because it’ll strengthen the unity of your images. Want to shoot 365 portraits? Go for it. That collection will be endlessly interesting to look back on at the conclusion. A photo every day based around a ‘word-a-day’ calendar? Fantastic, novel idea! Have fun with limitations. After all, you’re not really limiting yourself, you’re just focusing your creativity.
Of all the 365 projects I’ve witnessed, it’s usually the ones that invite much more freedom that are more likely to fail. I think that’s because those people get frustrated about what to shoot next.
‘Is this subject interesting enough to upload? Is it as interesting as yesterday?’
If you uploaded a dramatic and stunning portrait yesterday and it’s now 10pm the following day and you haven’t shot anything, but you want to keep up that standard, it can feel quite overwhelming. It’s a credit to standards that you’d feel this way, but I feel that’s missing the point with this project.
It’s a marathon. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other consistently until you get to the end. If you stumble a bit with an upload that’s below your own standards, it’s fine, because as long as you keep going with an aim to recovering your pace then you’ll still finish.
Which brings us neatly onto the second point.
Become Comfortable with Meh
Of all the 365 shots I uploaded, some of the most meaningful are the worst in terms of creativity and technicality. I shot a bunch on my phone, which at the time was an HTC One Mini. The camera on that phone is bad… guys, it’s really bad. But in situations where it would’ve been impossible for me to shoot on my 6D, transfer that shot to Photoshop, and then upload, it would have to do.
This is another stumbling block a lot of photographers put on themselves with this project. ‘By any means necessary’ is a good adage to have regarding this project. The first time this really stuck out for me was when I spent an entire day traveling from my home in Jersey to Germany for a long car ride down to Switzerland. The commute was long. Real long. I had actually shot an image of Danbo whilst walking to one of the gates in the airport, but when I landed in Germany I was immediately picked up and from there it was a long car-ride that would go into midnight.
I never found myself with a moment to sit down, find some WiFi, and upload the shot. As the clock on the car’s dashboard ticked closer and closer to midnight I felt a tension in my chest. It was only two weeks into my project but I was already about to drop the ball. ‘It’s ok’ I affirmed to myself, ‘It’s just one day, circumstance got in the way of this one but I’ll just make up for it tomorrow.’ However, I knew I didn’t truly believe this.
As luck would have it, that night my friend Thomas, who was driving, decided to stop to use a restroom. It was 11:40pm at this point. I jumped out of the car, looked for some light in the empty car park, set-up Danbo, and took a shot on my phone. It was bad. Just a boring, empty portrait. I then used my mobile-data (which cost Lord knows how much) and uploaded the shot to Instagram and Facebook.
In that moment, though, the acceptance that I’d kept the project on track was more important to me than the quality of that single shot. In a sense it’s ironic that one of the least aesthetically interesting images has one of the more important stories attached to it.
It would happen a bunch of times that I was put in a position where I didn’t have access to my camera, or it would have been a huge inconvenience to get it and go through the process of camera-laptop-upload, so I made due with my phone. And yeah, those pictures aren’t the best. But it’s fine, because this project to me isn’t about the strength of an individual image, it’s about the continuity of all of them together.
It became a point of principle that the weakest links weren’t something to be ashamed of, but mattered just as much because they were the photos that exist because they came from a real passion and desire to keep the project rolling. Those images taken at the 11th hour are like the final, exhausted rep of a workout. Sure, the technique’s become laboured and sloppy, but the mental benefit is absolutely still there.
Pushing through that creative wall is so important to completing this project. Which is why Step 3 is…
You will become your own worst enemy
If you live on Earth and are reading this, it’s likely you have access to the Internet. If you’re curious about taking on a 365 project, it’s assumable you have a digital camera or at least a phone. So really, it’s only if you intend on spending several weeks in the Amazon or the Sahara that you have an excuse for not being able to upload your daily shot.
This point is a crucial follow-up to Step 2. Hopefully by now you are of the mindset that you will probably take some mediocre photos every now and again, but that’s absolutely fine. We’ve embraced meh for when it’s our last option, because something is better than nothing.
Depending on what your working life is like this project will fluctuate in difficulty. There will be days when finding the time to play with your camera will be tricky, perhaps even impossible. There will be days where your own mood is the difference between wanting to do this project and wanting to call it a day. Think of it like those 30-Day fitness challenges: ’30 push-ups a day for 30 days’. If you have access to your arms and a floor, you can do that challenge. Likewise with the 365 project, if you have access to a camera, any camera, and some Internet then you can complete this challenge.
It’s likely that for the average person in 2016 you’d have to really try to find yourself in a dead spot with no ability to upload, so let’s just assume that there’ll always be a way for you to get online. Like I referenced before, I incurred the wrath of expensive 02 mobile-data roaming charges to upload a shot. For me, at least, I needed to be not only without WiFi but also without phone signal for 24 uninterrupted hours to be able to honestly say an upload would have been impossible. Consider that for a moment. It is genuinely difficult to find yourself in a position where you can’t upload your photo.
We can reasonably assume you have a Smartphone, and that this phone has a camera. It takes a matter of seconds to shoot and upload a phone shot, so not having the right gear isn’t an excuse. If you don’t have a phone that can get online or own one that doesn’t have a camera, well then, you’ve made the margin of error for this project much smaller, but at least find solace in the fact that if you can upload consistently every day through your primary medium, the sum of your total parts will be amazing.
I am not saying that a shot from your phone is as good as a shot from your DSLR, but what I am saying is that if every photo you upload is a square space in a calendar, then filling it with any image is better than filling it with a big black void.
This takes me on to one of the most interesting parts of the 365 project: the mentality. In the course of a year, a lot can and will happen for you. This isn’t an excuse. Moments of personal tragedy and hardship, days of intense illness, those periods where spending any amount of time with your camera feels as desirable as allowing someone to kick you in family jewels, those are very important moments. They’re not an excuse, they’re a chance to really connect to a deeper part of yourself and to really impart some emotional resonance on your images.
Throughout the course of my 365 I went through a break-up with a long-term love, consistent bouts of depression, anxiety, and tensions in my personal life, and a whole bunch of other negative stuff. I’ve never seen photography as a means of therapy for myself in moments of depression, but it became important to me during this project.
I remember the night I realized my longest relationship was over. I was sat in my bedroom, it was dark, and I hadn’t shot an image for the day yet. I wasn’t feeling at all enthused about trying to be creative or cutesy with my endearing little plastic model. It would’ve felt disingenuous to try and pull a happy image from myself in that moment. I picked up my camera and just let it sit in my hands for a bit. Then I picked up Danbo.
Now, if you’ve ever seen Danbo, you’ll notice quickly that he really has only three expressions depending on the angle of his head, ‘Expectant’, ‘Curious,’ or ‘Depressed’. I dialed into that final look and made it work for me. I took what I was feeling in that moment, which was ‘f**k all of this’, and applied it to a photograph.
I originally wanted this project to just make my audience smile with cute and playful images of my little robot friend. But that night I could care less about that. If I’m sad, I’m going to allow myself to feel such a way and present my work as such. But at the center of that emotion was the most important takeaway: I would present my work regardless.
If my images became ugly because emotionally I felt connected to such aesthetics then that would just be the way things would go. Again, those images, they carry weight to them now. They’re preservations of moments of my life where things weren’t great, where things were difficult. But they’re also triumphs of self because those photos only exist because I pushed passed the mental barriers I had placed on myself and took those images anyway because I knew that in a few days or weeks, when I was feeling better again I would be so glad they were there, and so proud of myself for not giving up.
You will likely go through hardships in your year. Accept this. Accept also that your mindset isn’t an excuse for putting the project on a hiatus.
Like I said above, it takes a matter of seconds to take and upload a photo with your phone. You will have a day that is seemingly far too difficult, or maybe even inappropriate, to take your camera out and focus on photography. And those days will be so tough, but find that mental resilience and shoot something. Just find something that catches your eye and take a quick snapshot with your phone and upload it. You’ve kept the project going, but you’ve also given yourself the rest of the day to focus on whatever it is you’re struggling with.
My point with this is that we make this project as difficult or easy for ourselves as we chose, but if we conclude that any shot is better than no shot then we take a huge weight off of our shoulders creatively. We know that realistically you will likely always be able to get online at some part of your day, and you have access to some form of camera. Be comfortable with dipping technical quality, because we can often find much more emotional resonance when we put the emphasis back on photography to capture an emotional environment and mood than just a pretty picture.
Explore Big and Small
One of the more attractive parts of the 365 project is the notion of spending time each day exploring an area where you live or nearby to take a shot. It’s photography as an excuse for exercise and adventure, and who can find fault with that?
But let’s dial it back to reality for a second. There will be plenty days where you don’t want to go out and explore. Consider the winter months, when it’s cold and wet and outside is just a hazard. You’re tired from work and you just wanna relax at home. Fine by me, your house is a treasure chest of unique light spots and curiosities.
I live on a beautiful island off the coast of France, I’m surrounded by amazing nature and walking trails; however, a substantial portion of my 365 was shot in my bedroom. My bedroom, which barely has room for a single bed, a TV, and a wardrobe. It’s small. But using very simple photography tricks I was able to create many individual portraits in that space.
Creativity is what’ll limit you in this project, not your environment. I lit shots with my laptop screen, the glow from my TV, the LED light on my radio, and more. Only a handful of times did I actually use a flashgun. My point is there are so many little spots of light inside a house; it just takes exploring your space to see what’s there.
The purpose of the 365 is to be creative and take chances, to see what happens when you do. You’re not creating a new portfolio of 365 perfect images, you’re culminating a scrap book of images that hit and images that miss.
So many times I would sit in my bedroom, the day’s light had gone and I would have to think about how this was going to work out. Those moments of consideration were gold to me. Because some days were extremely tough to find inspiration in, but the sense of purpose and drive to find something was immensely satisfying. Become the artist and create your art. Create something from nothing.
The other side of this though is that, yes, you need to get out there and explore the wider world. Go to walking trails near where you live, just explore the aesthetics of the environment you live in. I love walking and will walk anywhere if I have my headphones with me, but you view the world differently when you have your camera out and you’re consciously looking for spots of light or curiosities around you.
It’s an exciting and diverse world we live in; a lack of subjects or backdrops is never an excuse.
You don’t need me to profess the obvious, but I want to make it abundantly clear to you that this project is easy to do, so easy, just don’t let yourself get in the way. The trick is to care about every aspect of it equally. Care about the process, the methods, the editing, and the end result.
If you’re too focused on the process then you’ll fail as soon as shooting to a specific standard is taken away from you. If you care too much about the editing you’ll fail when you aren’t afforded the time to sit down and edit. If you care too much about the end result you won’t focus on the enjoyment of the here and now. Take it one day at a time, give each daily photo its space to come into existence and display your creativity.
The Dichotomy of Purpose
I present my words towards this project with a certain amount of seriousness that may seem excessive. Why have I chosen to do this? Simply: it is because imparting some kind of assertion that this project is easy to do (that it’s you who will make it difficult) is the best way I can think of to help you get to the end.
But let’s take a moment to reassess the point of this project: it’s for fun. It’s a fun way to spend a bit of your day and it culminates in a singular series that’ll always be worthwhile to look back on.
Yes, you’re doing this project because you have a connection to photography and want to challenge yourself, but don’t get too wrapped up in that. This thing is for fun, it won’t be changing the world; it may barely change your skills in photography. But make no mistake: you get out what you put in. Even if you give but a fleeting glance to your daily upload, if you manage to get 365 of those glances to sit together the result will always have interesting takeaways.
Be tough on yourself to see it through, but know that you’re doing it for enjoyment at the end of the day. Do it because you love it. Let that affection be what pushes you to shoot on down days. Give your project a purpose; make it a part of who you are for that year.
If you respect your work you’ll make it. The moment you disregard your talent or your passion, you’re allowing cracks in your positive mindset to widen. And you know what, some of you may not be able to avoid this. If you should fail, does it matter? No, not really. The benefit of finishing is purely for yourself; you’re not really letting yourself or anyone else down. Focus on the positives over the negatives.
There’s a huge sense of satisfaction to finishing this project that every photographer should know, but you’ll only feel it if you really give yourself over to the process of completing it.
Every 365 project is fascinating because these projects become an exploration of who the photographer is as much as what their images are of. Allow yourself to love creation and discovery. Everything I’ve told you about how to succeed with this project has almost nothing to do with what you should shoot.
That part, the fun part, is for you to discover on your own.
Setting up restrictions will give you a refined focus. Giving your work importance will make you respect the journey. And not allowing the excuses to take over will get you through difficult days. It’s a truly worthwhile project for so many more ways than can be quantified in writing. You’ll love it, you’ll hate it, but you will grow because of it.
Now let’s cool things off and consider the fitting and wise words of a cartoon Baboon from the Netflix series Bojack Horseman:
Every day it gets a little easier. But you’ve gotta do it every day, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.
About the author: John Liot is an award-winning Channel Islands-based photographer who mainly shoots portraits. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To see more of John’s work, head over to his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram.