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Photo Projects - How to Find Direction, Subjects, & Creative Ideas

1/30/2024 Matt 0 Comments

In the ever-evolving world of photography, photographers often find themselves at the crossroads of excitement and challenge when embarking on a new photography project. Recently concluding his "An American Mile" project, photographer Kyle McDougall shares insights and reflections on the significance of the development phase, thorough research, and a broader perspective beyond image creation. In this video, McDougall aims to offer fellow photographers navigating their creative paths a glimpse into his experiences and the lessons learned.

 I'm talking about my two current long-term photo projects and some things that helped me find direction and clarity with them after they both started out as very loose ideas. These are approaches and ways or working that also have helped me to find subjects and things to photograph, as well as creative ideas. - said Kyle McDougall-


The Development Phase: Allowing Ideas to Breathe

A common trap in project development is the temptation to establish a clear vision from the project's inception. However, McDougall advocates for an alternative approach—the development phase. Instead of fixating on predetermined outcomes, he encourages photographers to explore initial ideas without expectations. Projects like "Slate City" and documenting WWII "Lost Airfields" started as loose concepts that organically evolved over time. McDougall emphasizes the importance of embracing the uncertainty of the creative process to allow the work to take unexpected shapes.

The Power of Research: Gaining a Deeper Understanding

Once an idea is in motion, McDougall underscores the transformative power of research. Understanding the history, context, and nuances of the subject matter not only deepens appreciation but also injects depth and variety into the project. For McDougall's "Slate City" project, delving into the history of North Wales and its slate industry uncovered unexpected subjects like churches and local landmarks. Research becomes a catalyst, steering projects toward unexplored territories and bringing fresh perspectives into the work.

Beyond Image-Making: Embracing Holistic Project Development

Photography projects extend beyond the mere act of capturing images, a realization that McDougall has found crucial. Accepting this broader perspective includes dedicating days not to photography but to scouting, planning, and community engagement. In a recent trip to Wales, McDougall's focus on understanding the community led to a meaningful encounter with Neville, an ex-slate worker. Neville's story enriched the project in ways a photograph alone couldn't.

In conclusion, McDougall acknowledges that there's no universal approach to photography projects. The development phase, thorough research, and a holistic view of project development have been his guiding principles. While not rigid rules, McDougall's experiences offer food for thought to fellow photographers navigating their creative journeys. Every project has its own rhythm and evolution—embrace the uncertainty, savor the process, and let the work unfold naturally. Happy shooting!

You may also like: Composition Techniques For Better Images

About Kyle McDougall:

I'm a film photographer from Canada, helping others learn more about the craft, and documenting my journey along the way.  My 35mm film photography course on Skillshare (FREE with this link): 

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Image and video via Kyle McDougall