The Six Questions You Need to Ask and Answer Before Starting a Photography Project

This is not a long read, it’s not a complex read, it’s not going to cost you any money and it may not provide a quick solution. The title is not clickbait, but it might seem that way. However, the reality is that these six questions are only the beginning. They are not a solution in themselves, but will propose more questions and possibly problems. They may frustrate, anger, depress or even prevent you from moving forward in the way you had decided upon and that will all be positive.

The questions are obvious and simple and yet too often ignored, dismissed or forgotten.

They can all be reduced to one word, however I will provide a short statement of context for each one. There are no correct or wrong answers to the questions only your answers and the more time you spend on finding those answers the more successful they will be. Let’s get started.

Who? Seems like an easy and obvious question doesn’t it, but the success of a project often depends upon who you choose to collaborate with. Like all of the questions here, research is key to help you make the right decision. Experience, character, personality and reliability all need to be considered.

What? Maybe this should be the first question you ask yourself. The ‘what’ will probably be the first thought you have that instigates a project, but too often it is accepted as a decision in itself and not interrogated with the rigour required to ensure that an idea will meet your expectations of both the experience and outcome.

Where? Sometimes part of the ‘what’, but not always. Too often I see photographers getting excited about the subject and yet forget about the photographic potential of the location. The ‘where’ will inform composition, narrative and light, the three main constituents of a successful image. It will also impact the budget required to complete a project, how often you can return to a location, and how much time you can spend there. Don’t forget the importance of where you choose to make your work.

When? Are you ready now? Or should you wait? Should you plan or is swift action required? Research is the foundation of all decision making when it comes to starting a body of work, not necessarily academic research, but life research, talking and listening to those involved, those you are collaborating with and those whom you will be reliant on as the work progresses. That research should also inform when you start and when you expect to finish the work. However excited you may be to get started, taking a breath before you do maybe a good idea.

How? This may relate to decisions concerning which camera you choose or the aesthetic you wish to adopt, it may relate to more practical considerations concerning travel, funding or accommodation or the work of others who have documented similar stories, but however you choose to consider the ‘how’ your expectations will directly relate to the outcome. This raises the issue of the why!

Why? All of these questions have great importance to any photographer making images, but knowing why you are about to embark on a project is the most important question you need to ask yourself. What are your expectations for the project? Is it just for fun? To raise your profile? To increase your client base? To exhibit or publish the work? To make money? Whichever or however many of these questions you can answer honestly, they are all important to consider to ensure that your expectations are both realistic and met.

Six simple words that open-up a whole world of considerations and challenges. The creation of a photographic project that has a reason to exist is based on more than a desire to make it. Taking a walk with a camera can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, making images without concern can reveal unexpected outcomes, but the building of a project needs to have strong foundations.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

© Grant Scott 2022

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