Getting Photography Done

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by ParkerSmithPhoto, Jul 2, 2012.

  1. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    I'm interested in hearing about how people plan and execute their photography projects. Specifically, I would love to hear from people who have completed multi-year projects, not just shooting them, but getting all of the tedious back end work completed as well: processing, proofing, editing hundreds of images down to thoughtful groups, and printing it all.

    We all love to shoot, I'm sure. And then most of us are probably pretty decent at getting our contact sheets made and knocking out a few finished prints. But how many of us have what it takes to just get in there and grind out the prints that need to get done? I can get going for a while, but invariably, I lose steam. Most photographers I've talked with have different ways of handling their work flow, so I'd love to hear yours, as specific as possible. And please let us all know WHY something works.

    For example, do you process films only on odd-numbered Tuesdays? Do you like to shoot all year and then print your best stuff during the winter months? Great! Buy WHY, in a very practical sense, does it work for you?

    Thanks for your time.
     
  2. jordanstarr

    jordanstarr Member

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    Motivation takes a very subjective form in each individual (sorry for the rhetorical statement to start). I've done a few bodies of work that have taken 3-12 months to complete and for me, my motivation increases to a point and then I find I'm shooting "the same stuff" (either from the same angle, composition, critical standpoint, message to convey, techniques, etc.), which is tricky to get past. When I reach that point, I read some philosophy of photography, go through some old magazines and books by some of the greats to generate new ideas and perspectives in my approach without trying to copy them. This is usually after hundreds of shots. But this is the toughest part for me I find unless my subjects are different and the environment changes constantly. But 2 bodies of my work were done on one farm and in one shelter, so the setting never changed and the subjects were rather consistent as well, so exploring new ways to shoot the same thing was a challenge for me.

    I develop the film and make contact prints as I go along so I can see what is working for me and what is not. It also deals with that human need for "immediate satisfaction". I couldn't imagine shooting 30 rolls on something and then waiting to develop it all in one shot.

    I have no problem with the selection and printing part. For me, my excitement when I go through each contact sheet builds up my eagerness to print. Because I'm shooting film and am a little more selective in what I shoot than if I had a DSLR and shoot 10 FPS, it's easier for me to choose the 'selects'. I usually sit down with a bunch of beer and cigs and just go through each sheet again and again until I narrow it down to a reasonable number of selects based on my projected outcomes. This can take an entire day in itself and often requires revisiting from time to time. I'll scan the selects and edit them on the computer as my digital workprint so I can visualize and play around with burning and dodging certain areas. Then I spend at least 8 hours a week in the darkroom on the same day(s), same time(s) and stay there and print until my time is up at the very least. I think being consistant with that is important to maintain a routine between my photography and fulltime job. I keep notes of everything as well, so that when I revisit the print, I know what I did. With each print that comes out well, my satisfaction drives me.
     
  3. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Planning and executing a photography project makes the whole procedure irksome. When I quit professional photography I promised myself I'd never do it again. Now I do photography full time, just about everyday, as energy, vision, imagination, and creativity permits.

    My multi-decade non-project entitled "what does a person produce when they do photography all the time?" has no tedious back end work. Processing is so routine I could almost do it in my sleep. I do all my proofing and editing mentally before actually exposing film so the chore and expense and time of sorting and discarding pictures of ill-formed thoughts is avoided. "Printing" or the making of the final positive photographs is not an impost. It's the reason and joyous culmination of all the effort that has gone before.

    I find chasing subject matter and doing camera-work the least pleasant part of the workflow. But it is a necessary evil.

    All my contact sheets are done mentally before exposing film. Finished prints are the pay off and the emotion in making them is more akin to a sacrament than a knock-off.

    Plenty of people give their lives over to their art. Musicians do it, painters do it, photograph makers do it, and if the committment is genuinely (search your soul) whole hearted there is no resentment over the time gone and the work done.

    [/QUOTE]
    I process when there is enough for a delightful day in the darkroom. And at other times plan themes, pursue subject matter, fuss with cameras, catch up with APUG, etc. The big change for me came when I not only stopped working like a professional but stopped thinking like a professional. What liberation!
     
  4. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    hi parker

    i have a few multi year projects i have been working on off and on
    i don't have a set way i do things but i still keep things going.
    one started back in 1986 and i am still working on it when i can ..
    its photographing people i randomly make a portrait of in their workplace.
    it started off as a project in college, but i kept doing it. the project started off
    35mm and 6x6 and then went to 4x5 and 5x7. and now i photograph their workplace too.

    when i find the time i drive around with a camera in my car, and walk into a store, or i call in advance
    and arrange to drop in ... i ask if i can take a portrait and run back and get the camera + set it up ...
    i usually process the film soon after i make the exposure and make the prints soon after, i hate having thing hanging over my head...

    no rhyme or reason its just random ... this reminds me, i have someone to photograph in the next few weeks ..
     
  5. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    I think this is really the problem for me. I can get it all shot proofed and edited but I never seem to have time to print. Maybe its three kids and a small business. Or maybe that's an excuse. I have so much great work waiting to be printed that at this point it's almost overwhelming.

    About a year ago I scheduled one full day of time to make prints and - having that uninterrupted time to work - I got more final prints done in a day than I had in the previous six months. ( Bad news was they were all prints from scans.) :~(

    Since then lots of shooting but not nearly enough printing. Now I'm of for three days in Florida to shoot more film that might never get printed. Maybe I need an intern....
     
  6. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Parker,

    A few years ago I became interested in trying to have my work recognized. So I pursued having portfolios printed up, made plans for a web site and even a whole community surrounding it.
    After a while it took the joy out of the art I loved, so I stopped all that and decided my art was all for me. Screw accomplishing, and to hell with recognition.
    So now my work flow is a lot less deliberate, and I float in and out of various 'groups' of photographs, slowly getting negatives printed. It takes years of 'sitting on it' for me to truly start to appreciate what I shot, so it takes years for me to finish work, and I'm perfectly happy with that. In fact, it's exactly how I want it.
    Some days I have spurts where I make four or five prints for a portfolio, and then I goof off printing something entirely different, just so that it doesn't feel like a chore, or a burden, but something rewarding and enjoyable. I work hard at my day job to have this enjoyment, so to me it simply must never become a chore or the whole thing completely loses its meaning.

    In essence it's one picture at a time, when I feel inspired, for however long it may take.
     
  7. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    I can't offer as much help as I can commiserations. I noticed that when I had less time to do it, I had more ideas and things I wanted to do. This has led to a fair amount of frustration on my part as I haven't had anyone who could pick up the slack and give me the space/time to do some of the projects and get it out of my head a little. There's also the part where I procrastinate worse than most and use the toddler as an excuse to not shoot.
    The time I did do a project and semi finish it, I shot when the light and weather were good, developed as soon as I had a chance, and printed fast prints on RC of anything that looked like I might like it. This let me see them at 8x10 instead of on the contact sheet (even with 645 a little bigger is better) and decide if I thought they were worth more effort. I ended up with about 9 shots of a local state park that I really like (out of about 5 rolls of 16 shots each). I still go back to that park, but haven't tried continuing the project because it seems like I'm copying myself when I try. On to different things...
     
  8. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Most of my projects are lengthy, few shorter than a year, most two to three years, one going on thirty five years. Logistically I know in advance what dates I need to cover, typically ten to fifteen days per project, per annum. That requires regular processing, scanning, contact prints and logging, I try not to leave films more than two weeks between shooting and processing. We all have our inner Winogrand (logistically if not creatively) with unedited films piling up in the background, plus my memory is like a sieve if shots aren't tagged and dated.

    Fine prints are much less frequent but I figure if I stepped under a bus tomorrow, the negatives are well enough ordered for someone to pick up the pieces. Or throw them all in a skip.
     
  9. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Interesting thread and enjoyed reading people's processes. A few questions...

    Working on my first 'serious' project, I find that I'm commited but hasty about 'getting it done'. I seem to have a lot of ideas, which can change at a whim and perhaps I'm conscious of this when starting a project - hence blazing through before another idea gets in the way. I'm always surprised to read about photographers working on multi-year projects, but I suppose this length of time is determined by other responsibilities more than anything? Ideally, would you get it done in a few months without the other 'distractions'?

    Someone else mentioned going back to books and other photographers when ideas are running dry on a particular project, but isn't there a risk of this completely changing the trajectory of your work? With my current project I'd spent a few weeks making notes and poring over books. Loaded with inspiration I then started shooting. If however I was to discover the work of somebody else doing something similar, rather than take from it and re-develop my own work, my tendency would be to think "it's already been done" and move on to something else. Is this creative ADHD or do other photographers constantly experience this uncertainty?

    How do you really know when your project is worth the time and commitment when, potentially, you could have spent that time doing something else much better and more original?
    It makes me wonder if those notable photographers really are blessed or perhaps just lucky in stumbling on an original idea.
     
  10. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I do engage in specific projects, but in general I enjoy just enjoy walking around with my camera and photographing anything I think makes up an interesting composition within the aspect ratio of the viewfinder.
     
  11. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    I set aside each Sunday for exposing film and processing,, Just this alone gives me minimum 50 days to work on my project per year...I am doing still lifes and solarizing in the darkroom... I get enough subjects to expose about 25-35 sheets of film.. I start the day by exposing one sheet and solarizing to make sure I am getting the balance right then , one image after the other, I then go into the darkroom and process and solarize all the film.. this usually takes me about 7 hours from start to finish.
    During the week I scan all the negs low rez between other projects and make lambda small prints of all the film.
    After a couple of weeks of this, I concentrate on portfolio prints on 11 x14 of all the images I want to see. I buy 150 sheets of paper at a time and finish this over a three day weekend. This may take me two weekends to complete.

    I continue back to the exposing side after all the portfolio prints are done.
    I have a show coming up in October so late Aug I will call it a day on the exposing and port prints, bring over a couple of eyes I trust and pick the Hero images from the portfolio prints and over the next month will print the show to add on to other images from the same series I have already shown. When I am printing for a show I will work three days on three days off to finish the work.


    Framing, Matts, Museum Glass and Crates are started in early August so as my big prints are finished they are put into the frames and crates and ready for shipping to the show location.
     
  12. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    This project I am working on started in 2003 and I have just started to exhibit the work.
     
  13. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    I don't know how to even begin to quantify it all really, it's like asking me if I get burned out on my life and how do I keep going, plan it all...

    I love long term projects, I think I have at least half a dozen that have published already in some form or another from the 3 photo package in the New York Times to a magazine piece that took me a year that we just decided the cover on this week. All of the aforementioned will keep going, adding to the life they live...I think that is it really, they are all my children, I keep raising them..makes sense since my wife and I don't plan to have any...

    Then there are the book projects that can sometimes end up with either a show or an editorial piece. One is done, just needs to be printed. Others are 3-5 year projects that are half way there. Then there are two other books that are 10 and 25 year projects, one is 80% shot, the other over half way.

    So I have a lot going on all the time, I just move from one to the other when I need a break, it feels right and so far, the resulting work looks right....

    Maybe that's why I never get burned out, I keep a balanced diet of it all...
     
  14. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    My work flow has changed some over the years. Since I am now working almost exclusively with 4x5" sheet film, I typically take advantage of the "individuality" of the film:

    Often from a previously-seen and scouted location, I expose film of my subject, typically two sheets of the same composition and exposure.

    Process one sheet of film.

    Proof the negative to assess composition and contrast.

    If the proof continues to interest me and meets my previsualization, I make a finished print. Otherwise it gets filed; perhaps to someday again see the light of an enlarger, likely not.

    Repeat the process.

    If I am really excited about the subject matter I may expose, develop, and proof the film in the same day, but it may also be separated into different days. But I find that making the final print is best left for a separate printing session, and I only ever finish one print during a session.

    But that is just me.
     
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  15. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    ParkerSmithPhoto,

    I hesitated to contribute since you ask how to do something I can't say I've done.

    But it looks like practical tips are flowing.

    I tell my wife I am going to spend 45 minutes in the darkroom. I turn on the water after a bit of negotiating ("ok I will develop in tanks so you can come in to do laundry").

    Then I write a post where I say something like "I have the water running."

    Four hours later I have something.
    ---
    Roger Thoms had a show in town at a local art center. The way it worked for him: He entered one piece one year and "won" the spot to have a whole gallery the next year. He spent that next year in his friend's darkroom and put up a great show.
    ---
    I've participated in a couple print exchanges which forced me to print a couple editions of 10 prints each.

    In one, I was lucky to have Roger in my group so now I have one of his prints...
     
  16. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    projects happen when they happen, don't stress about it.
    ( i also have kids and a small business ... )
    just do what you can, when you can that's all that is possible, right ?

    and don't forget to have fun :smile:

    - john
     
  17. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    Ralph Eugene Meatyard, one of my favorite photographers, was said to intentionally pile up film for months or even a year, and then spend a couple of frenzied weeks processing and printing. Van Deren Coke said that REM would shoot about 2000 exposures a year, and make 500-600 prints.

    Sadly, he didn't pay much attention to the archival processes, and many of his prints have deteriorated due to residual fix.

    If you ever get a chance to see his work in person, it will make you vibrate like a tuning fork. He was simply beyond all normal conventions of photography.
     
  18. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Subscriber

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    Understand, too, that Meatyard was a full time optician and did photography on the side. He was modest about his work, his employers at Tinder, Krauss, Tinder didn't even know he was published and exhibiting.
     
  19. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    There's a rather long video interview with the great photographer Keith Carter on Lynda.com. He talks at length about how photographers "talk themselves out of" projects: "it will cost too much," "it's been done before," etc.

    Everyone has influences. Ingres adored David. If he had talked himself out of painting because "it had all been done before" the world would be a much uglier place to live. The fact is that while your style may reflect the influence of Avedon or Adams, your photographs can only be made by one person: you. No one else has your same set of beliefs and experiences; replication is impossible.

    I think you have to keep moving forward every day, and recognized that it's no easier to make a great photograph than it is to make a hole in one on a 200 yard Par 3. In fact, it's probably much more difficult.
     
  20. ParkerSmithPhoto

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    Indeed. I think that makes him all the more amazing!
     
  21. cepwin

    cepwin Member

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    So far my workflow has been developing the negatives, scanning them in and then using that to determine which are worthy of printing. I also post some of my favorites of the group to Facebook, etc. and if one of my friends likes it I'm more likely to print it. Btw ... Since I thus far don't print color for my color film images I use lightroom and printing from my hp photo printer.
     
  22. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Member

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    I never really pursued a "project" although I can say that when I begun taking photography seriously again I had a couple in mind.

    A "project" for me is something in the back of my mind. It doesn't necessarily drive my photographic day, but it can somehow skew my choices because it's in the back of my mind.

    Let's say you have a project, "People working in my town". As soon as you begin getting out to add some work to the "project", you find a very interesting light on a certain architecture. In that case, you forget about the project and only chase that interesting picture. From time to time you might find that your body or work might, in the future, originate a good series with a common theme: "People working in my town", and "Architecture of my province". But you go on exploring all other interesting possibility which you find around you, keeping somehow in mind the "projects" but never letting them driving you away from the photographic occasion of the moment. That's the way I see it.

    Circumstances dictate my subjects and "projects" can be distilled later on tracing "threads" in the skein of the work. Those threads can emerge from themselves, without an initial planning, but once you see that there is an interesting body of work on a certain subject, you might make a mental note about how and what would complete the collection.

    Following too closely a "road map" - unless you work in a studio - would lead to let's say chase good landscapes when the light is bad and miss let's say street photography occasions because you weren't paying attention.

    My general subject is somehow restricted (architectural elements, urban landscape) but somehow also very large. I could restrict myself to some subjects, e.g. "baroque details", "clocks", "high contrast on façades", "carriage doors", "courtyards" etc. but I would be assured that when I go chasing baroque details my eye would fall on everything else.
     
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