To promote my first print photo book, SUITS, I wanted to share some personal lessons and tips on working on your own photography project.
- Only pursue a project you’re passionate about; a project that is personal to you, and has personal significance. Most likely the project will take you a long time — maybe 3-5 years. So make sure you’re doing the project first for yourself. Because what if you finish your project 5 years later, and nobody else cares?
- Figure out the editing and sequencing later: One of the most fun things about putting together a photography project or a book is figuring out what sequence to put your photos in, how to pair the images, or how to collage the photos. I’d say focus on making good photos for now, and figure out the design stuff later.
- Work with a designer and editor: SUITS was a team project, requiring the design skills of Annette Kim (she did the cover design, email her at email@example.com for your own commission) and Cindy Nguyen for the editing and layout of the book. You can do it all yourself, but it’s more fun working with other folks, who can make the project better! For example I think SUITS looks so much better with the custom cover, all hand illustrated by Annette Kim in photoshop and illustrator. Also, Cindy helped me layout the book, to figure out when to do full spreads, and when to pair certain images. Make your book a collaborative project, and it will be more rewarding and exciting!
- Learn how to use Adobe Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator has a high learning curve, which is unfortunate, but self teach it to yourself, to make a photography book project. You can either export as print PDF (to send to your printer), or an interactive digital ebook PDF to be shared online. Either way, Illustrator is an extremely powerful tool that’s a pain in the ass to learn, but I think essential for our digital tool belt for photography.
- Recognize a project can go through many iterations and versions: Nothing is final, everything is constantly changing, adapting, and in a state of flux. Even when Kanye West and JAY Z drop their new albums, they often add new songs to their album or remove new songs. For example Kanye added “Saint Pablo” to his Life of Pablo album a few days after he officially released his album. JAY Z added 3 new songs to his 4:44 album a few weeks after his (original 10 track) album released. Recognize there’s no “final” version of your photo project, which should take some unnecessary pressure off of you. Even the book SUITS will probably have a second, third, or perhaps even fourth and fifth edition. This is what makes photography so fun and exciting!
- Share your project in progress: Give teasers here and there for your photography project to build up the hype. For example I showed the “making of” for the print edition of SUITS, both for my own benefit and also to show other people “behind the red curtain”. People like to be part of the creation progress — don’t feel the need to keep it all secret, like Apple.
- Keep everything synced with Dropbox: I only keep jpeg files synced via Dropbox pro (1tb) on the cloud. This has been great when working with my team, to share cover designs, across different devices. I still think Dropbox is better as a collaborative tool compared with Google Drive, in terms of the user interface and experience.
- Stay consistent with the same equipment: Can you imagine shooting your photo project for 3-5 years with the same camera equipment? I’d recommend the same camera, lens, and processing style for visual consistency. When you’re looking at a photo project, seeing too much visual inconsistency is a bit distracting. For example, almost all of SUITS was shot on Kodak Portra 400 film, and a 35mm focal length lens. Also a lot of photos were shot with a flash, for visual consistency. If you shoot digital, shoot RAW and just use the same presets on all your photos, and stay consistent with the same camera or sensor. For free presets, download ERIC KIM PRESETS.
- When in doubt, throw it out: If you’re choosing your best photos to publish in your photo project, ditch the weak photos. Editing is the art of choosing your best shots; if you’re not sure whether the photo is good or bad, it’s probably bad. Only keep your strong photos in the project, which will either work well as strong simple images and work within the context of the photo project!
- Just start shooting! Don’t brainstorm your projects before you start. Just start shooting, and figure out the project while you’re making new photos! This will prevent you from getting “paralysis by analysis“– too many options in photography will discourage you from doing anything.
Ultimately there isn’t any “right” or wrong in photography projects. These are just some simple tips which I hope can give you some further direction to start your own photography project.
Have fun and make your projects meaningful.
And when in doubt,
JUST SHOOT IT.