Tips for a ‘One photo a day’ project

I’ve been musing for a while on some of my thoughts on the ‘one photo a day‘ project that I’ve been taking part in since 1st January 2008. Here are some tips you may find useful.

Many of these tips assume that your keen not to miss any days and desire to be a completist.

1. It’s a huge commitment.
Before I started, I massively underestimated quite what a long term undertaking it is. Taking a picture every day doesn’t sound like much of a chore, and in a way it isn’t, but doing it for 365 days straight can get to be a grind. This is not to say that I’m trying to put anyone off, just that you should start with realistic expectations.

2. Always carry a camera with you.
Unless you never go out, it’s good to just carry your camera with you everywhere. This has been the main revelation for me during the last year. So many times in the past I’ve seen a cool thing to photograph and never had a camera on me. Not a problem this year, my only issue is generally not having the most appropriate lens.

3. Focus on a theme
One excellent idea for this project is to focus on a particular subject or theme for the whole year. The most popular is probably self portraits, but there are plenty of others you might want to do. Taking an idea from the film ‘Smoke‘ you could take a picture of the same place (maybe at the same time?) every day. Another I’ve thought of would be to take a picture of my dinner every day, wouldn’t that be a revealing record? One big advantage of focusing on one subject is that it takes away the problem of ‘I can’t think of anything to photograph’. On the downside, it limits what your show at the end of the year.

Its worth giving this some real thought before you start.

4. Have projects within the project
Another approach is to set yourself mini-projects throughout the year. These can be anything of course, but I think they break down into two main categories – ‘Change’ and ‘Documentary’. Change projects are essentially recording things that are likely to be different over time. This could be a tree in different seasons, a building being constructed (or demolished), a baby or small child growing up. A documentary project could be photographing all the cafe’s in your area, street life of the town you live in, your friends and family, essentially anything you could group together into an interesting portfolio.

5. Take a ‘safety’ photo in the morning
Even if you’ve planned to take a picture of something particular later, take a safety photo as early in the day as possible. This could be the view out of your bedroom window or your dog or anything, even if it’s not that great a shot. The point is, it’ll really hurt when your on day two hundred and something and you forget your camera or doze off in front of the telly and miss that daily picture. Taking a ‘safety’ photo is a great habit to get into and can save your project.

6. Have an ‘ideas’ notebook
When you start, you’ll think of lots of things to take a picture of, maybe ten, twenty or even fifty things. While this is plenty to get on with, your going to need to take 365 pictures by the end and it’s good to be ahead of the game.

I found it really useful to have a notebook that I could scribble photo ideas in as they occurred to me. I also found that this often sparked off even more ideas. This meant that on those days where I was otherwise lacking for inspiration I could scan my notes for something.

7. Macro, low light and flash
During the winter months when daylight is short or as often happens, you’ve not taken a picture all day, it’s 11 o’clock at night and your desperate to take a picture of something round the house – this is the time for macro, low light and flash photography. If at all possible get yourself a macro and/or low light lens (if you have a dslr) and a proper flash/home studio set up if possible. This really opens up the possibilities of interesting photography when stuck at home or at night. Unless your super organised this can happen quite a lot.

8. Have access to a back-up camera
Apart from forgetting or being ill, the other thing that may force you to miss a day is camera failure. Even if your very careful with your equipment, malfunctions can happen and in these unfortunate instances – have a back-up. The best solution is to own at least one other camera yourself, but if not, do you have a friend or relative willing to lend you theirs at short notice?

9. Accept the odd ‘cop-out’ shot
This project is a marathon, not a sprint and even the most enthusiastic of us have our low, un-inspired days. On days like these, take a shot of anything and just live with it and certainly don’t beat yourself up for not keeping to your usual standard. At least one or two of my shots a month are cop-outs, but the point is that I haven’t missed a day!

10. Try new things
A project like this is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to use your camera better, experiment with new techniques and generally improve your photography. Take a trip out of your comfort zone – if you usually take landscapes, have a go at portraits, if your thing is architecture, try some street photography and if you’ve never tried it before set up a mini studio at home – it’s not as hard or expensive as you think.

If you only get one book on photography, you could do worse than Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It’s easy to improve quickly and a great way to start making that difference to your photos.

It might also be the time to do that photography course you’ve thought about or join a club and definitely get involved with different groups on Flickr, they can be an enormous source of encouragement, advice and inspiration.

This can be a really wonderful and rewarding project and i’m sure when you finish you’ll be really proud of it. Good luck and happy shooting!

If you’d like to read about my own thoughts at the end of my own project, read Project 366 – finished.


24 thoughts on “Tips for a ‘One photo a day’ project

  1. Thanks for making this post Jason, I have to say I found it most interesting. You have given me pause for thought about taking on the project and I realize now that I might just be able to pull it off using the suggestions you made, until now I just considered that I’d never find the time or discipline to try it.

    Again, thank you.

  2. I’m on my day 55 and although I enjoyed it to start with, I have hit the doldrums already! It’s much harder than I realised even though I was taking photos most days anyway. Point 9 “accept the cop out shot” – that is one of the hardest things for me – I only want to show my best work but there will be days on this project where that is just not possible. Point 2/8 – I’m finding the contrast between an old camera phone and my dslr to be too great – I really need something in between for my handbag and as a backup too.

  3. Hi Helen, letting go and accepting the odd cop out was really hard for me too. I do feel bad, but a lot less bad than missing a day.

    I wouldn’t mind getting a decent compact as a backup, maybe one of those indestructible tough ones that I could take places I wouldn’t dare take the dslr.

    Good luck!

  4. Hi there,

    Saw your link to this post on the Project 365 pool on Flickr. It’s really handy, wish I’d read before I started! I started too on 1st January, so am coming to the end now. Am toying with the idea of starting all over again, and doing another year, it’s been so much fun!

    All the best,


  5. Hey Jason – some great thoughts to bear in mind – it is a HUGE project to even consider, and your thoughts are useful! I am on Day 6 as we speak and the whole thing terrifies, yet excites me all in the same breath! I have added a major clause to my project 365, which is that I am ONLY using my 50mm f1.8 lens – so the whole project will have only one perspective… I like that this gives ME the challenge to make a good shot, and not just rely on a zoom! πŸ™‚ Thanks heaps

  6. Hi Al

    My hat goes off to you for the additional challenge of just using the nifty fifty. It should definitely give the project a uniform perspective which will be really interesting. For myself, I’ve found the project challenging enough as it is and I enjoy playing around with the four different lens I have.

    Really good luck!

  7. Found your link via the main 365 group on flickr. Excellent tips you have here. I learned them the hard way (restarted twice, hah) on my own. The cop-out acceptance is a biggie. But I think it helps if you’re looking at 365 from a documentary/diarist-perspective instead of soley an artistic “I need an amazing, perfect shot every day” perspective. Pride goes before the fall, and all that πŸ˜‰ Good luck on the final days of your project! And, hey, excellent photos, by the way. πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks mike!

    I agree with you about documentary Vs ‘nice picture’. It’s a bit late now, but i do kind of wish i’d done more of a photo diary than just take a picture of anything.

    Maybe another year.

    1. Hi Renato

      The main mental preparation would be to pace yourself, this is a pretty long project and can be quite time consuming. I’d also have a good think what you want to achieve by the end of it.

      Overall, try to have fun and enjoy it. Really good luck!

  9. I have just started (day 2!) and am glad I thought to google it as am considering getting a friend’s daughter to do this. I gladly take your suggestions, especially 2, 5, 6 and 9! I am not a self-portrait type of person, so will be looking for things and people around me, and mostly using one camera (I am not a “Photographer”, just a humble taker of photos for my own enjoyment!)
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

  10. Thank you for the tips. I have been taking photographs for a while but upgraded my camera this Christmas. A friend told me about the 365 project and I (and my mum) decided to take up the challenge. I start back up at work tomorrow and am a little nervous at how everything will pan out. I’m looking forward to it but will keep everything you said in mind. Thanks for posting these tips!


  11. I just stumbled across this. Great post! I implement a lot of the ideas already but it’s great to have a few more handy for those uninspired days. Thanks!

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