Generative Ideas for Starting Projects

How do you come up with new projects? Noodling on ideas in your journal is one way. Another way would be trawling through your Lightroom catalog to see if that sparked anything. I have been thinking about, and pursuing, this approach recently as I rebuild my lightroom catalog and find images that I’d either forgotten or previously passed by.

Another way could be to come up with titles for projects that are ‘generative’, titles that spark your imagination and creativity, titles that can be a jumping off point for the project itself. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

I was driving around a weekend or two ago on very familiar roads and as often happens letting my mind wander. I drove past a graveyard and made the usual joke to myself, one that I heard from my dad many times when I was little – ‘there’s the dead centre of …’ insert the town you happen to be in. That then led me to think about something that I had heard, perhaps read in Todd Henry’s book Die Empty.

“The most valuable land in the world is the graveyard. In the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, un-reconciled relationships, and all of the other things that people thought, ‘I’ll get around to that tomorrow.’ One day, however, their tomorrows ran out.”

That then quickly led me to the evolution of the ‘Dead Centre’ to ‘The Home of Forgotten Dreams‘. This is something that I feel that I could work with and wouldn’t necessarily just be pottering around in a graveyard. Perhaps a Todd Hidoesque set of spooky looking houses at night?

I’d be curious to hear how you start projects. Do you fire the dart into the wall and draw the target around it? Do you start with an idea in mind and build towards it? Have you ever started with a title and used that as a jumping off point?

Developing Projects


I’ve been going back through the archives looking for images that could be used to extend exisiting projects and identify themes to be developed for new projects. It can be a nice surprise to find images that were previously overlooked, a little bit like finding money in a coat when you wear it for the first time in a long time.

One of the things that I’ve been doing while I look through my images is to set up smart collections in lightroom that will be populated when certain criteria are met. I have a simple color scheme that I use to label my photos – I mark images that I’ve worked on green, ones that are to be worked on yellow and ones to be deleted red. All the photos labeled green (the keyboard shortcut to do this on the mac is simply by pressing the number 8) will then appear in my smart collection folder ‘selects’. I’m in the process of refining this collection using keywords that will then put images into project folders – ‘coast’ captures the images at the coast that I like so much, ‘trees’ is my tree project that is slowly coming along and ‘water abstracts’ is a project that came to light as I was going through the archive. The image above is one from the water abstracts collection. A screen grab of this collection is below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 6.34.17 PM

There’s definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ element to this collection that I will need to resolve at some point, either by punting the offending image or building additional images into the set so that it is no longer a singleton. Having a number of clarified projects percolating in the background means that I’m sensitized to the opportunities for adding to these projects which will hopefully allow them to mature more rapidly.

How about you? Are you thinking about the images that you make in terms of projects? Any approaches, tricks, techniques or thoughts to developing projects that you want to share? I’d love to hear them