Ideas – a personal project

Right now I’m in the middle of part 3 of the course but as part 5 could easily be on me before I realise it, depending on progress with parts 3 and 4, I thought, and following the example of one of the other students, that I’d make a start thinking about the project.

I’ve broken this entry down along the lines in the course notes and as I think about things will fill each bit in. Hopefully as I think about this project things that I need to practice may come up and I’ll be able to make use of the exercises in the early parts of the course to learn and practice those skills.

Your personal project


Of all the different subjects and approaches you’ve worked on and read about during this course, which attracts you the most?

Which feels most natural to you?

Photography where I don’t need to direct people in how to behave, where people are behaving naturally.

Which feels the most challenging?

The thing I find most challenging is portrait photography, particularly more formal styles.


You’ll need a spark, an idea, subject matter, a place or some ‘lead’ to start you off.

  • Do you already have ideas you want to pursue?
    • When Rhys died in 2017 I had just submitted my first assignment for the course. In the course of preparing for his funeral I went back through all of the photographs that we’d taken of him over the years and got a friend to put together a photo montage that was played at the funeral. I also produced a separate montage using a much larger set of photos that was played at the wake.
      I also produced two folders with photos from the last 6 months of Rhys’ life, showing some of the things that we’d done.
    • Shortly after the funeral I decided that I wanted to turn some of those photos into a photobook that told what it was like to live with a terminal disease, and to show that it’s still possible to have a life, even when faced with death.
  • Can you clarify them by defining them?
    • The idea for the book developed from just a selection of photos into telling Rhys’ story in such a way that it was as if he was telling the story. Each image used was accompanied by some words that explained what was happening at that point in time.
    • Early on in the development of the book, I had the idea that I wanted friends who are artists to turn the photos into drawings. Although I had three artists lined up, I never went down that route in the end.
  • Could you ideas be best developed through visual or intellectual research?
  • Have any genres, subjects or areas of visual experimentation interested you more than others throughout the course so far?
  • Are there any skills you want to hone in your final assignment?
    • Book production.
  • Is there a theoretical notion connected to photography (e.g. an ideas-motivated series of pictures) you want to explore in more depth that could result in both written and practical work?
  • If you’re struggling, set up a brainstorming session with your family and friends to get the creative juices flowing.


Mulling it over

Talk about you ideas with friends, family and your OCA peers.

  • What is the possible visual outcome? Remember that your aim is to make photographs, so your ideas need to be visual or you need to find a way to visualise them.
    • The outcome of this project is the production of a photobook that gives a flavour of the last 6 months of Rhys’ life.



  • Investigate photographers who have done work in a similar genre or with the same sort of subject. Or just investigate photographers and artists you want to learn from.
  • Research the subject itself. For example, if it’s a photo project about an elderly couple, you could do some research on the changes age makes to people’s lives. You may want to investigate the visual milieu of the elderly, the sorts of things they like to have around them, or the things they need to use because of frailty. Be observant; identify character traits and physical gestures – and the responses of young people to set up a contrast.

All of this should give you some ideas for photographs, e.g. an old lady in her high-backed chair surrounded by memorabilia from her life and photos of her grandchildren; an old man carefully getting into a car; an old lady in a mobility scooter in a crowd of teenagers. you may or may not be able to realise your ideas, but it gets the imagination running to think of them.


Preparing to shoot you assignment

Access and permissions

This is probably the No. 1 difference between amateur and professional photography: gaining access by asking for permission to make photographs frees you up to get on with the job of making pictures.

For example if you want to make a cutting-edge police documentary, you’ll need to ask the police for permission and investigate the legal requirements around photographing offenders who may or may not want themselves photographed.

Photography often gives the viewer a ‘privileged’ view of some event or phenomenon. Research Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar at A work like this can’t be made without extensive research and co-operation.

This means:

  • contacting people
  • explaining your circumstances as a photography student
  • explaining your project and requirements.



Think about how you want the project to be presented.

  • Prints, slideshow sequence, postcards, book?
  • If prints, then how big? What shape?

The work will be seen on your blog this time, but think about other options:

  • Gallery, website, café, etc.

The project takes the form of a photobook.

Who will see it?

  • This time you’ll be showing your work to your tutor and to your peers. But you can think very specifically about this if you aim to make a work for a particular group, for instance the police or newspapers in the above example.
  • A lot of photography is produced for special interest groups, some is more commercial and some is aimed at gallery type spaces.

Think how you will present the work most effectively. Even if you’re making photos of your family on holiday, no-one will see them unless you consider how to make them available.

I produced the book using Microsoft Publisher and then converted it to PDF before uploading it the Blurb and then getting 20 copies of the book produced by them. Copies of the book have been given to family and friends as presents to say thank you for all  the support they provided Rhys and us over the years. I also gave a copy to St Margaret’s Hospice as a thank you for their support in those last weeks.


What equipment will you need? Consider the kind of photographs you want to make and the circumstances you’ll be shooting in.

  • Will you need a tripod to keep the camera steady for long exposures?
  • Will you need a wide-angle lens for shooting cramped interiors?
  • Or should you test the results of using a small camera (like a mobile phone camera) for candid street photography?

Make a list of the ‘ideal’ equipment you’ll need for the assignment but be realistic about what you already have.

If you’re missing  vital piece of equipment, try to borrow it or hire it from a photographic supplier like Calumet.

I didn’t need any more equipment than the camera and lenses I already had. I used the standard kit lens for my Nikon as well as a 40mm fixed lens that allowed for macros shots.

None of the photos were taken using a tripod.

Skills and practice

Consider the skills you’ll need to make your final assignment:

  • Will you need to practise you’re fill-flash skills if you’re planning a reportage project? You can look up online tutorials on many technical practices and Photoshop skills.
  • Do you need to know how to make High Dynamic Range 32-bit images for a landscape series?
  • Are you confident you can find strong compositions of your subject? Do some research into other photographers who have covered the same topic and analyse how their compositions work.
  • Contact your tutor if you think there are skills you lack for the assignment and he or she will guide you to suitable resources.

Practise your skills!

Think of a pianist in the weeks before an important concert; he or she will practice that concerto that they’re confident they can perform on the night.

The majority of the skills I needed I already had from previous photographic experience. The new skills I worked on and developed were around producing a book.

These skills involved learning how to use Microsoft Publisher to create a book, add photos and images and manipulate these until I’d produced something I was happy with. I also developed editing skills as I proofread the text, spotting typos and correcting grammar, while trying to maintain the appearance that it was Rhys who was speaking.

Early on in the course I attended a book binding workshop run by the South West student group. From this I was able to produce the first drafts of my book which were hand bound using a stab binding technique.



Post-production is a film industry term that is now widely used in photography. It refers to everything you do after shooting the photos to arrive at the finished result. This may be very little other than basic editing, printing and mounting; on the other hand, it may involve composites or special processing to achieve a certain ‘look’.
Post your final assignment on your blog under the category: Assignment Five.

A copy of the book is linked to in the post The Final Journey.
• After posting the images, write about the process you’ve gone through to make this work, and summarise what you learned from the course that helped you with it.

The process I went through with this project has been described above.

The things I’ve learned during the course that helped with this project are how to compose an image, how to edit photographs with Lightroom, choosing the right camera settings for the photographs you are taking and patience; the need to take a number of photographs in order to get the one you want, and also pragmatism; knowing when to accept that you’ve got the shot and aren’t going to improve on it by trying to take it over and over.

• Now spend time looking at other student blogs, in particular their final assignment. Make comments on their blogs and invite comments on your work by giving them your blog address. Be sure to post links to your comments in the OCA student blogs section under Research & reflection.



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