Episode 4

04. Hold yourself accountable to stay focused

You've just started a long-term artistic endeavor. How do you ensure you stay on track, don’t miss any days, or compromise your artistic vision?

Show Notes


The focus of today’s episode is personal accountability. How do you keep yourself on track, when you’re working on a long term project like a photo a day? Certainly, there will be days when it could be impossible to take a photo. For example, a family crisis, health problems, or a natural disaster. You get a pass for days like that.

Undoubtedly, there will be days that are much more mundane, when you simply don’t feel like pressing onward. You may not even have a creativity block; you might just be sick of the process and don’t feel like taking photos.

Maybe you just aren’t putting a lot of effort into the subject matter, and think “Well, I don’t feel like setting up lights and shooting still life today, so I’ll take a photo of my cat with my phone, sync it to my Google Photos gallery and go back to watching Netflix. I took my photo for the day. I’m done.”

When you look back at those images you’re going to kick yourself for being lazy. As always, I’m speaking from personal experience. Yes, I had days where my subject matter was not up to my personal standards. Days when I just needed to get the shot and be done. Those photographs stand out even today to me as ones I wished I worked harder on.

If that happens to you. It’s best not to dwell on it. Just move on. The good news is, you get to try again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow... Well, you get the idea.

Like any long term goal, accountability is the key. It doesn’t matter if it’s weight loss, committing to a gym membership, completing a degree, saving for a big purchase, or publishing a podcast, you have to find ways to hold yourself accountable for your actions.

For a photo project, there is one very obvious way to create accountability, and that is to exhibit your work so others see it.

As I was gathering my thoughts for this episode, I was reminded of a passage from the first chapter of Susan Sontags book On Photography. If you’re a photographer, and haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. I’ll provide a link in the show notes.

Anyway, Sontag writes:

“Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it. … The camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened.”

Photographs furnish evidence. Photos, or it didn’t happen.

So naturally if you’re posting a photo every day on your website, Instagram account, or into a gallery on Flickr or Google Photos, you are furnishing evidence that you are working on your photo-a-day. Share out your gallery. Make sure people can see it.

I’d encourage you to number your posts in such a way that people can go back and see the entire sequence. Post consistently, preferably daily, and people will expect to see your work on a regular basis. Add your friends to your Google Photos gallery so they get notified when new images are uploaded. If you don’t have a website, get one.

I actually use Format.com for mine, but Squarespace is great. So is Wordpress, Ghost, Wix, Weebly etc. If you’re on Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you can use their Portfolio product to quickly build a photo site. There are Flickr groups and Instagram accounts dedicated to photo-a-days.

There is even a website you can post your project on called 365project.org, that will present your photos like a journal. It’s a really beautiful site with a great community surrounding it.

Sites like this, and social media galleries are excellent places to post a photo series because you can use them to receive feedback on your images and your overall progress. You never know, someone may give you a lead on a location or topic, or maybe they will want to hire you.

Showing your work is the main component of accountability, but there are some other practices you can employ that may be helpful in staying on track.

First, be sure you’re writing everything down. We discussed pre-production and shot lists back in the second episode.

Additionally, you may find it useful to combine writing with your images as you post them. The old journalist in me always feels like writing captions for my images. I don’t always do it, but sometimes I do like going back and reading what my thoughts were when I took a particular photo. You may enjoy that as well.

Hopefully you created a plan of attack back when you were setting up your photo project. Did you also create an artist statement? If you did, great. I sure didn’t, but I wish I had. There’s nothing stopping you from creating one later, once you establish the main themes of your work.

Self-review is important to personal accountability. Do you just post up your work and never look back at it? Or do you scroll back daily and examine the entire series with a critical eye. I encourage doing this frequently, and make sure you note your favorite images, maybe even set them aside in a separate gallery or folder. You may want to print these later, or use them as springboards for further explorations on the same theme.

After a month or more of shooting, you’re hopefully hitting your stride, and taking a daily photo is a habit that you are prioritizing. If you aren’t elevating the importance of your daily photo, you are likely losing your grip on accountability. Your photo should be the high point of your day, where you can unleash creativity and self-expression.

Keep in mind it’s easy to feel discouraged and maybe after month six or seven, you even feel a little burned out. You aren’t going to be happy every time you pick up a camera. There were days when I wondered why I was even bothering, but I also had days where I felt like I was creating the most exciting work of my life.

If your project has become something you begrudgingly tack on to your schedule, and you can’t get excited about moving forward, then maybe now isn’t the best time to attempt a photo a day. Put the effort on pause until inspiration strikes again. Remember, this is supposed to be something you enjoy!

If you’re struggling to keep yourself motivated, you may find it helpful to have a partner who is also shooting a photo a day. If you know someone who is a photographer or enjoys taking photos, work alongside them. Get competitive. Push each other. Go on photo walks together. Share images. It helps you stay on track, and it’s a great way to push back feelings of isolation.

Finally, make efforts to reward yourself from time-to-time. Know that what you’re doing is actually a tremendous endeavor and worth celebrating. Take a trip, go hiking, visit a brewery, buy a new lens, visit with friends, or whatever you enjoy.

If you can find ways to incorporate your photo a day into your leisure activity, then you get two rewards for the price of one. It’s important to seize the photographic moment at all times -- but that’s a topic we’ll be discussing in the next episode of Photo 365.