52 – A Project For Photographers: Assignments, Discussions, Critiques and Portfolio Building. Assignment Number 1

Thanks to all the folks on the Project 52 LIVE last evening. As promised, here is the audio file. It will be linked here for one week, and one week only.

Part One

Part Two

Some things we talked about.
1. The reason we do a ‘vision’ statement for ourselves it to get our minds eye to become our filter. It is like when we see something for the first time, and then realize that it has been there all around us… but we haven’t seen it.

2. When you write it down, you think about it more. It becomes indelibly etched. That keeps us focused.

3. New Website coming for the project. www.project52.org (not live until Monday).

4. Use Flickr for the work. This is the link for the Flickr Group. Post your image there, and use the ‘description’ area for your vision statement. This is the link to the first project discussion on the Flickr group. There are tag infos for Flickr and Twitter.

5. Assignments are due in two weeks from the posted assignment.

6. There will be a notice if you will need to have a person or subject for your assignment with enough time to get that put together.

7. You can start at any point in the program.

The premium thing is coming, but none of what we are doing here now will be considered premium. Watch for that on February 1. $’s around 10… so keeping it inexpensive.

This is going to be really exciting…

Here we go.

This week we meet on Thursday evening, January 6, 2010. We will be discussing the first assignment: creating a mission statement, and why that is important.

NOTE: the show is supposed to be at 7PM, MST – 6PM PST. I am hoping the glitch in the time shown won’t be an issue. Will update here if it is… stay tuned as they say…

Create a free account to be able to ask questions and make suggestions. You can click on the “Join Event” button above to create an account – they do not spam, but you must be identified so you can participate. It’s a server thing… heh. Or go to Vokle directly.

(NOTE: in the text below I mention live chats on Wednesday evenings. I hope to keep to that as much as possible, but there will be times when I will have to move the night. That is the case this week. I am shooting and will probably go a little deeper into the evening at the studio. My goal is to have them on Wednesdays, but situations being what they are, they occasionally will be moved. See you all Thursday.)

Today we start our 52 weeks, 52 Assignments Project. We’ll just refer to it as “52”. An assignment every week with discussion, critiques, development reviews and more. If you are wanting to make the break and go into professional photography, this integrated, synergistic approach may be just the thing you need.

The first post of the new year, the first post of 52, and we must set some ground rules:

This website exists for you, the reader. There are many sites out there that will teach you how to put a light on an umbrella stand, set an exposure, and make a shot. There are sites that will open your eyes to the joys of composition, strobes, natural light, Photoshop and how to make a beauty dish out of a potted plant (sans the plant).

I have no intention of trying to double down on that effort, rather I will do what I think I do best. Mentor. And I am going to try a little experiment here on the web. We will try this for a year, see how it goes and adjust next December.

In college I took a course called “Integrated Musicianship” at ASU. Under the guidance of composer Ronald LoPresti, a small group of hand picked students met each morning at 8AM and we held class until 1PM. 5 hours a day devoted to the integrated study of music. We conducted, analyzed, composed and performed music in such a way that it was totally natural in its relationship to our studies. We saw and worked with the entire scope – from tonality to orchestration to presentation. Nothing was separate, all was synergistic.

As it should be.

As it will be for us as we pursue the development of a professional position in commercial photography. Whether you want to make it a full time career or just do some extra commercial work to add to your income, this is a serious foray into the heart of the beast.

We will take the same approach to the work we do as photographers. We are going to immerse ourselves in the process and the production, with plenty of discussion of the techniques.

For this incursion into the workings of a professional photographer, we will need certain items and certain mindsets.

Let me say right at the start that I am not a wedding photographer, nor do I do much direct to consumer photography. I doubt we will be doing much in those particular genres, but I would expect that a lot of what we do will make the leap over to that work as well.

Our mindset is one of discovery, adventure, a willingness to work beyond the bounds, and a desire to make images that are the best they can possibly be.

I am going to make some suggestions here. And a demand or two.

Notes for discussion: We will be discussing your work, concepts, lighting and such and having notes will sure make it easier to do.

1. A notebook. A nice 5×7 or 6×9 book for making notations and keeping records in will be of tremendous help to you. I use the Moleskine brand. Here is a link to some great prices. There are other brands as well, so what ever you are comfortable with, do that one.

2. If you wish to go electronic, may I recommend Evernote for your computers and devices. A great tool for collecting information and being able to retrieve it from anywhere. Think of it as an online Moleskin. You can also use them on your devices – android and IOS.

3. If you are totally device driven, I will recommend Awesome Note, or Penultimate. Muji Notebook is a nice program as well for iPad. For those of you who are Android users, look for “Easy Note” in the Android Market. Same as Awesome Note above.

More after the jump.

Storage Area for work:

We will be looking at work and critiquing it. At this point we will be working through the Lighting Essentials page at FaceBook, but for those who will be doing some of the premium stuff with us, you will need an online storage area. My favorite right now is DropBox.com. It is free for 2 gigs which will be fine for what we are doing. Even if you are not planning on doing the full program with us, you should most definitely have a DropBox account. Click here and sign up (I get a few megabytes added to my account if you sign up through me).

Currently we have a Lighting Essentials Flickr page where we can share images, and some new things are in the works, but for now we will use it. Click here to become a member (free of course) and we will use the forum until we get the FaceBook page ready.

The Structure:

We will give you an overview of assignments on the first Monday of every month. You will be able to have time to get a subject or a model lined up for any portraits we may be doing. You will have two weeks to shoot every assignment save for a few. Occasionally there will be a quick turnaround emergency shoot. Just like in real life, you will have very little time to prepare and plan… just fly on guts and technique and faith in you abilities.

The images will have a due date for critique and discussion. There will be no late work. There is no such thing as late work in the real world of professional photography. It is in by deadline, or it is a lost assignment. Nothing personal, and if you miss one the world doesn’t come to an end. There are no grades, but you will grade yourself.

We will have a audio/visual discussion by broadcast, as well as on the forums. I will record all our public online discussions and they will be available if you missed the live one. We will also have an extended online discussion for our premium members, and that will also be recorded. Those recordings will not be available for the general public, but will be reserved for our premium members.

ADDED: Many of you have asked if it is a problem that you may not be able to do every assignment. That is fine. You will learn from those that do. The discussions and work sheets and critiques and more will be a wonderful learning experience. I do hope you do as many as possible, but there are most certainly some circumstances that may get in the way of the full “52”. And remember, you may be able to catch up and do them anyway.

There will be more coming, but let’s get started with our first two assignments:

Assignment Number One: Mission Statement #1
January 3, 2011

What do you want to do photographically? Tell us with a single paragraph what you want to be able to do with your images. Tell us what you do without telling us you are a photographer. Accompany that message with a single image taken around your home. Inside or out, make a photograph that adds insight into the mission statement you will be writing.

Don’t get overly flowery, just write down what you want to do.

“I am a story teller. I illustrate the times in which we live and try to put it into a context of meaning with images of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I strive to enlighten each and every one of us by portraiture that reveals more than the surface reflects.”

“I want to capture that moment between reality and fantasy with my images. A tiny sliver of time caught for eternity, and worthy of notice, is what I work toward with every image I take.”

“Chicks in stripper heels, wrapped in caution tape on railroad tracks…”

Well, maybe not that one.

We will revisit the mission statement toward the end of the year. Maybe things have changed, and maybe they will remain the same.

A mission statement, even a rudimentary one, can make a huge difference when you are shooting. It reminds you what you want to do. It helps the focus of the image be what you want it to be. It can help put you back into the position of creating instead of taking. And even those photographers who ‘find and take’ images have a vision that helps them do the finding.

Some posts here at LE for you to consider:
“So You’re a Photographer…”
“Enough Negativity…”
It’s All About Me… Creative “About Me” Pages.

As for the photograph… think long and hard about it. It should reflect your mission statement as best as possible. It can be done indoors or outside. I only want you to to shoot around your house/apartment as an exercise in creativity. Sometimes we have to make do with what we have… and I want you to make do for an important photograph without leaving your yard. That is the extent of the rule.

Questions? Let’s use the comments area here to keep the focus on this assignment.

Due: On or before Monday, January 17, 2011

Thursday, January 6th, 7PM Mountain, we will discuss the mission statement and how it can help drive your vision, here, live for an hour. I will post the link here on Tuesday. We will do it a second time on the weekend – time to be announced. (While most of the time we will try to make them on Wednesday, there will be times it has to move. I am also working on a second broadcast that will work for our European followers – stay tuned.)

January Assignment Forecast:
(Note: These are assignment dates, not due dates)

Assignment Number Two: Portrait of a Stranger
January 10, 2011
We will be doing an on location shot of a stranger. More to come next week, there will be parameters and instructions.

Assignment Number Three: Still Life
January 17, 2011
We will also be discussing how to bill this type of work.

Assignment Number Four: Environment and the Weather
January 24, 2011
Three shots for a magazine story.

Special 5th Monday Quick Assignment to be announced.
January 31, 2011

Thanks so much for joining us at Lighting Essentials this year. This will be a very exciting time for photographers, and we want you to be ready to get out there. As always, check the Learn to Light site for information on the workshops, and follow me on Twitter for pithy insights and oh-so-clever tweets about photography. Learn more about me here.

Learn Photoshop and Photography with Steve Burger and J Peter Mortimer in Tombstone, Arizona

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  1. Don: This sounds like an Amazing project! I am very excited about it…and terrified at the same time.

    I’m In…if you’ll have me that is…


  2. How can become a premium member? Im very interested in participating. Thanks

  3. Outdoor projects in 18 degrees = commitment or ignorance. I will find out which! :)

    • David.

      I will not be posting anything that MUST be done outside until later in the year. On location does not necessarily mean outside… heh.

      We shot the full day outside in Portland last Thursday. It never broke over 30 degrees. Pretty darn cold. But we also shot in the hotel lobby, in Starbucks, in a Pizza Kitchen, an office atrium and the entrance to a large business building.

      I will always have alternatives for the assignments to take into account blizzards, hurricanes, tornado’s, drought, scurvy and roving bands of zombies.

      I wonder if my Canon flashes would even work at 18 degrees? In Portland, the 430 stopped syncing after being outside for 20-30 minutes. After it got warm it worked again.

  4. Don, I want to do this! As I see above, is there a membership I need to sign up to participate?

    • Not a membership until next month. Working out the details and the tools. The basic will still be open to anyone.

  5. Is the intention to do every assignment or to pick and choose which you need help with? That question sounds like I’m trying to get out of doing certain assignments – I’m not – just trying to get a feel for how all the pieces fit together.

    • Hi Michael.

      The intention is to do as many as possible. That may not be practical for all of us, but I am working to make sure that even if one does not have time for a specific assignment, the learning can still take place in the discussions and many threads that will develop around the assignments.

      Working to make the assignments relevant while understanding that most have other ‘assignments’ that must be met is important.

      I do not want to make it impossible to do, while at the same time we want the assignments to be as real as possible – with the goal to prepare those who want to go professional (as well as those who must due to layoffs, downsizing and such) with the knowledge and tools to do so. And even if one doesn’t want to go totally pro, the assignments will be fun and enlightening.

  6. I know… I know… just ribbin ya a little. Glad you got to “enjoy” a touch of cold. I hope your fingers have thawed!

    Cold weather tip:
    Hunting/Sporting goods store, Hand and Boot warmers. Gaff taped or tied with a rag near the electronics and battery area in below freezing temps. I keep them in my Camera Bag zipper during the winter. Have too as you found out. They fit nicely between glove and palm too.

    This is the perfect time to start this project, “52”. Slow time of the year! I already put together a schedule for and am doing L.S. and M. exercises. But this will be way better. I just hope I can keep up this summer. Now I need to go figure out this “Drop Box” interface….


  7. Sounds like a great opportunity too learn some valuable things!
    One question: How useful will it be to join in from outside the US with regards too time differences (I’m in Europe) and possibly business advice/assignments?

    • The information should be totally relevant. We may have to do some configuring to understand currency values when discussing business, but in most other things we will be good. Time could be an issue, but there are ways around that as well.

  8. I’m on board with this all year.
    Thanks Don!!

  9. Don,
    This sounds like an invaluable opportunity for new and old salts both. Count me in!

  10. Anything having to do with your words of wisdom will be well worth the while. Count me in!

  11. A couple of pettifogging-detail questions:

    — Obviously, many of the assignments (including the first one) are going to require the submission of a text component and an image component. How should we post these so that both components correlate to the correct submitter?

    — The deadline is two weeks, but what time? One of the things I’ve learned working in Corporate America is that if the meeting with the VP of Marketing is at 2 pm, then 2:01 pm is too late no matter how great your proposal is.

    Thanks for any info…

    • Good points, and we are still working on that.

      I will be posting more info on Wednesday morning. Thanks for the questions. We will get the answers.

  12. Really looking forward to this!!! Thanks so much for taking this on :)

  13. This is the first time I try to participate in something like this.

    Where shall I post my mission statement and picture?

    • Hi Sascha,

      Hang tight for a few days.
      We are setting that up this week.

      — don

  14. Count me in!!! I am VERY excited and can’t wait to get started! :)

  15. I am SO IN!!!!!

  16. This is great. I’m totally hoping that this can help get me kickstarted into doing this professionally. I have the tools, I just need to put them to work.

  17. In like Flynn. This is going to be cool.

  18. I’m gonna give it the ol’ college try.. :)
    It’s been way too long since I spent serious fun time with my camera. Thanks for the opportunity/poke in the backside to …er… rectify that! [who could resist that pun??]

  19. Love this idea. Count me in!

  20. I’m excited and looking forward to participating, learning, and meeting new people! Please keep me informed on where to post submissions.

  21. Don, your timing couldn’t be better for me. Can’t wait to get started.

  22. I definitely want in, Don. My day job will get in the way and I won’t get every assignment done, but I’ll give it my best. Thanks for the opportunity!

  23. I’m in too. Thank you Don, for doing all of this work for us. I’m excited about this new project you’ve got cooking and am sure it will be a great learning experience for all of us. Looking forward to getting to know the other participants as well.

  24. Hey Don, I decided to check out your site after being away for a while. Man, am I glad I did! I had lost my excitement for photography and couldn’t figure out what I needed to get me back on track. Well I definitely think I’ve found it with your 52 Project. Thanks so much for doing this and all you do to inspire, teach, and mentor photographers. I’m excited and looking forward to completing the assignments.

  25. Thanks for the opportunity Don. I’m looking forward to it.

  26. Don
    Newbie to lighting, would like to join you for the basic 52 !

  27. Love this idea. Count me in. Be interested to where I am this time next year.

  28. I was hesitant to chime in until I saw that you’d be making provisions for those of us living near roving bands of zombies. They usually leave me alone since they’re after brains and I seem to have lost mine….. but those guys are dumb as stumps and might have my head open before the figure out it’s empty…..

    In other words…… count me in.

  29. Dang it! I just saw that this is for serious photographers, not flippant photographers……… Shoot…….

  30. This sounds interesting – but I do not use Facebook, and never will. I do have a Flickr account.
    Can I take part? Or is this only for people who do trust Facebook?

  31. Sounds great although 2am GMT is a tad past my bed-time! Hopefully if you do the calls a second time as you mentioned at a week-end slot it will a) be accessible to non-US folks and b) not at the end of a day shooting weddings.

    Might calls be recorded to allow re-play for those that can’t attend in the middle of the night?

  32. I’m up for this too-but I’m a long way off being a professional!

  33. Holy crap. I remember this from school. I dreaded then but embrace it now. What a difference 20+ years makes.

    I’m in. (sigh)

  34. Don, this is great. Exactly what I need to get off the ground. I’ve made some progress in what I offer but it’s still kind of hit or miss when it comes to bringing in new clients. Your structured program will be perfect for me as my (currently part-time) business grows. Thanks for all you do.

  35. Question…

    …can I use my garage studio for the shot? I setup a regular studio in my 1-car aprt. garage. with a white seamless, etc.

    Or are you looking for something more organic to our surroundings?

    • No parameter on the shot other than stated.

  36. I’m in. I was a little foggy on how it all works but I think I’ve got it now. Looking forward to being a part of the project and learning more.

  37. Mild trepidations (based on my own newbie status), but in nonetheless – IN!


  38. I’m in. Let’s kill it.

  39. Hi Don,
    I’m really looking forward to engaging for the full 52 weeks. Thanks for all your time and energy. I think you reeled me by declaring the first project be a personal mission statement. Horse in front, cart in back, camera around the neck. Sweet!
    – Lech

  40. This sounds like another great opportunity and one that I must make the time for. I look forward to the challenges ahead.

  41. Sounds like a wonderful project! Looking forward to it!

  42. Look forward to participating as much as other workload will allow. Love to do test projects as much as possible and there’s always something new to learn!

  43. I’m confused on the live chat – in the original post you said Wednesday, 1/5/11 at 7pm Mountain. The Volke sight says Thursday, 1/6/11 at 8pm Mountain. Can you clarify please?

    Thanks Don!

    • Hi Michelle,

      I want to do one of the chats this week so we can discuss the whole reason for doing a mission statement at the beginning. However, I have a shoot that will probably take me into the evening tomorrow afternoon. Just want to make sure that we get it in this week.

  44. Count me in! 2011 is looking to be very exciting!!!

  45. I didn’t see any direct links to the Vokle site to sign up for an account and had to google it. For anyone that need the URL http://vokle.com/

    It’s super easy to register and took me all of 30 seconds.

    • Thanks Will.

      I will add that. I thought the join button would take one to the sign up.


  46. Sounds perfect. I’m SO in.

  47. Don, this sounds like what I’ve been needing, and wanting for a long time! I need critique, mentoring, and something structured to take my photography to another level! I’m definitely in! I created a Vokle acct. Is there anything else I need to do??

    Also, I didn’t see a mention of cost for the full premium member, but would love to do that… Any idea on cost, or a ballpark figure?


  48. Count me in! Great idea, Don! Thank you so much for doing this!!

  49. Thank you Don, I really appreciate this idea.

    Going live will be very hard since it is scheduled around 4 a.m CET here in Spain, but I am sure it will worth it.

    As Mark asked: will we be able to download the live event to re-watch it?

    • Yes. The “Live” things will be recorded for later download.
      More coming.

  50. This sounds like a lot of work and a lot of fun. As a newbie I’m nervous, excited , but what the hell, count me in!!!

  51. Don…
    I’m a little confused on when and where we are to post the mission statement and photo.


    • Hang in there Dan.

      I will get that info out tomorrow. Have a new website and some instructions for Flickr.
      Working on getting the show ready for tomorrow evening. More information there as well.

      — don

  52. Don,

    Partway up the page it says this for the live meeting, but it shows on Vokle for Thursday, which is when I thought it was supposed to be…

    QUOTE “Wednesday, January 5th, 7PM Mountain, we will discuss the mission statement and how it can help drive your vision, here, live for an hour. I will post the link here on Tuesday. We will do it a second time on the weekend – time to be announced.”

    I assume it is still on Thursday?

    • thanks for the catch Eric… fixing it now

  53. FYI… There is a typo or mistake on the Vokle.com Upcoming Events listing.
    It states your event starts on January 6th, 2011 @ 9:00pm EST

    • That should be right, Mark. 6PM PST, 7MST, 8CEN, 9EST

  54. This sounds awesome, I’m so in. I’m definitely not a professional, but love learning more and seeing how I could get better.

  55. Count me in. this sounds very exciting. Can’t wait to get started.

  56. How are people sending in their questions during the show?

  57. The VOKLE video was really choppy for me and I kept missing key points you were making about the project. I know you are planning to post a version of the event…somewhere. You mentioned using Dropbox, but I am not sure how that works (I only just installed the service a couple of days ago in preparation for “52”…
    Will you be posting follow-up information about tonight’s VOKLE event here on the LE page so we have a single point of information on how to get the file, and a general overview?
    I know I sound like a pain, but as of this moment, after the event is over I still have many questions due to the technical problems i was having with my connection to the live chat…

    Thanks again for all you are doing Don!!


    • yep… watch for the launch of project52.org on Sunday evening to answer a lot of questions.

  58. Tried to listen in tonight but got no audio…..

    • please let Vokle know what system you were on so they can work out the bugs. Audio will be on the LE site in the morning.

  59. Just came aross this site today, am I to late to join?

    • nope… you can come along at any time.

  60. I’m in – this sounds like just what I need to get me excited about my photography again. Thanks a bunch!

  61. For the record, Vokle was pretty good for me last night. The video was fine. The audio occasionally broke up, but only for a second and I didn’t feel I missed anything. (MacBook Pro, latest OS, lots of RAM)

  62. Don — Okay, I’ve posted my photo & mission at the flickr group site, but I seem to be the only one at this point, and my image is surrounded by non-project-52 images. I’m wondering if we might be better off with a new site, one devoted entirely to this project.

  63. Never mind. Figured it out & re-posted in the right place.

  64. I’m just finding this on Friday, Jan 7th. Looks like you accept late comers, Fantastic. I’m excited to join the group.

    • Yes. Everyone can come aboard whenever they wish. I want everyone to be able to dig in and get it done.

      Welcome aboard!

  65. So…where do I post my statement and supporting photo?

    • Troy,

      go here. For now we are using Flickr.

  66. Awesome. Got it uploaded. That was a tough first assignment for a sports shooter. I hope I followed the intent of what you wanted…

  67. @Michael Huxley … It’s the ones you don’t WANT to do that will teach you most / stretch you most … at least, that’s what i try to convince myself.

    @Don … was in your Toronto workshop last year, or was it two years ago? Had a great time then, hope to learn interesting stuff now.


  68. Ok now this assignment is done and I assume talked about last Wednesday 1/12/2011 on VOKL . Nice but I’m in the Gym every day at 7pm for my group-exercise (BodyCombat or BodyPump) Is there a way to see or listen to a repeat? Even if the file is up for a week that would be great.

    Love the concept , I started a blog on http://photoproject52.Wordpress.com to track my progress, keep my assignments in one spot and just have fun.

    • Hey, Blips…

      There was a problem with last nights file, so I will be recording the one I do tomorrow for the site. Watch for it. Audio files are found on the pages and will remain there.

  69. This looks wonderful. I just completed my first 365 project and think this will be a wonderful way to keep moving forward. Thank you.

    • Yep.

  70. Just discovered this project and would like to participate. Looks like a great project that I’m excited and quite nervous about. But hope to learn a lot through the process. Even though I’m late, I’d like to complete all assignments. My question is will critiques be offered for assignments already passed? Or will you only offer critiques for current assignments? Additionally, will I be able to upload my assignments? I think I’ve read somewhere that the uploading will be closed once an assignment is passed.

    Thanks again for a great project and opportunity!


    • You can join anytime. It is not a necessity to start at the beginning, although the vision statement is something to work on. As far as critique, I will not be able to keep up on that. As the workshop progresses, it would be very difficult to even know when new work comes in. There will be ample opportunity to shoot and learn. Stick with it.

  71. I just found 52 in early november and I would like to work through the program. I saw that you originally planned on evaluating and restarting the program upon completion. Do you still plan on continuing in this direction or should I just go it alone and try to compare to the original posts? Either way, thanks for providing this structured guidance. At any level, this will challenge and increase my skill set.

  72. Hi Sam,

    Yes. We will be running it next year.
    There will be two versions – a free version and a premium version.

    Working on the technology for the premium version, and the plan is to keep it very affordable.

  73. Great! I’ll be watching for upcoming announcements about it closer to the end of the year and will be interested to learn more about the premium version.


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