I have embarked on yet another photography project. The VOTogs’ 52 Selfies Challenge is my fifth challenge. Trust me, though, it is not like I am addicted to photography projects. I have failed to go the distance more than once. What I have never really talked about was the journey that each one was to me, the whys, the hows and everything else in between. Many people take on photography projects for any number of reasons. This is the story of mine.

With the VOTogs Project 52 on the boil, I thought now is a good time to put my thoughts down and share my experiences and hopefully give some insight to those partaking in such challenges as to what to prepare for. Let me state for the record: when Peter first blindsided me with this idea, he knew damn well that I absolutely do not like to be in front of the lens. Like many photographers, that is why I take photos, to hide behind the pointy end of the camera. Some would say I prefer to be on the “business end” of the camera.

To add insult to injury, Peter also is well aware that I am not much of a people photographer. I enjoy doing candid shots on various occasions, but I suck at posing people and formal settings. In order for me to see through this 52 Selfies Challenge, I have to smash hard through my comfort zone.

My photography project scorecard reads as follows:

  • 2010 – Project 365, self, completed
  • 2011 – Project 52, self, 29 weeks
  • 2012 – Project 52, Photographers Connection on Facebook, 6 weeks
  • 2013 – Project 52, 3LeggedThing | A year in the life, 5 weeks
  • 2014 – Project 52, VOTogs’ 52 Selfies Challenge, Ongoing


How Did It Start?

134/365 in 2010, Book of the Dead. (C) Kevin Cheng.

134/365 in 2010, Book of the Dead. (C) Kevin Cheng.

Drunkenly is probably how. If my crystal ball was actually working when I decided to do a Project 365 I can guarantee I would not have started. Sometime in late 2009 I came across chatter about Project 365s. Back then I was rocking a Canon 450D, just ditched the kit lens for a 24-105mm f/4.0L and starting to see things in a whole new aperture (ha ha). [Editor’s Note: He’s the father of a youngster with another on the way… Dad jokes are expected.] I mulled over the idea of the project 365 for a few weeks, it was in the back of my mind for a long time until it came up in a conversation with Adriana Glackin. Adriana had already decided she would be doing one and that tipped the balance of the scales.

As you would notice from the scorecard above, the Project 365 in 2010 was my only “successful” one to date. By successful in this case, I mean it in many ways. I set myself the following goals:

  1. I wanted to learn more about my camera.
  2. By the end of the project, I wanted to have a much better understanding between the interaction of the scene, the light and settings to achieve a particular effect.
  3. I wanted to take a photo every day and have it posted on Flickr as close to the day it was taken as possible.
  4. I wanted to try different things.
  5. To have 365 photos to show for it on 31 December 2010.

Truthfully, if I achieved any number of those goals, I would have considered it a win.

Having set myself something a goal aside from 365 photos in the year gave me one of the weapons in my toolkit to see the project to its conclusion.

My Project 365 (2010) was a technical project. I wanted it to be a learning experience so the intention was to have every photo to be taken on a DSLR (ie, no mobile phone photos). I set my goals early, joined a Flickr group that I committed to posting to for accountability and got off to a roaring start. Like most things, starting is easy. I am not a natural finisher of tasks, but my innate stubbornness rears its ugly head to push me through.

I have known other people to embark on Project 365s, each with their own goals, and have followed their efforts. Some people wanted to document their year because they had something special planned. Some wanted to focus on their kids. Some wanted to do it just because they could. It can be anything and it does not have to be publicised. It needs to be something that you have defined at a fairly early stage because there will be days and weeks where you want to throw the towel in.

That said though, there is nothing to say you can’t change your goals during the project because you found an area that you want to focus on.


The Support Cast

As part of making myself accountable, I joined the Project 365 Flickr group. Joining the group meant I have a place to share my work and get feedback, and be in with likeminded people going through their own project 365s. After a while I ended up with a sub-group of friends from there that served as support for each other. Personally this worked far better for me than being lost in a large group.

Being part of a likeminded group worked to help me keep going, even when it means some days I posted perfectly ordinary photos. I can also see other people struggling as well so I do not feel so alone. If you are partaking in our 52 Selfies challenge, make sure you join our Facebook group and interact with the group, ask questions, and ask for help if you need it.

Dusk Panorama. (C) Kevin Cheng.

Dusk Panorama. (C) Kevin Cheng.


Themes and Ideas

During my Project 365, I held my ideas pretty close to my chest. Mostly because I was never sure if I could get the shot I imagined in my head executed so I did not want to talk about it until it was taken. Sometimes it helps to bounce ideas off other people, or take concept shots and get feedback on it. There is no shame in asking for help, or to talk an idea through with other people, to show early test shoots and ask for suggestions. I can absolutely confirm that I have done exactly that with a couple of shots already in the VOTogs 52 Selfies Challenge.

For photography projects where it is an assigned a theme per entry, it takes some of the pressure away from coming up with something from scratch. But the execution still requires thought and it can be no less exhausting.

Use a diary to document your ideas ahead of time.

I have an Evernote section dedicated for photos ideas and I have loads of them. Some of these I am years away from being able to execute for various reasons. Second to that I also keep an old school paper notebook for when I want to sketch out a scene I have in my head. Well, my drawing skills are limited to stick figures but the scribble means something to me.

There is also no shame in taking inspiration from other people’s work. And I mean, take inspiration but put your own spin on it. Don’t just blindly copy someone else’s ideas and reproduce the shot.

What I found worked for my Project 365 was to hold back some of the ideas for the rainy days. I had a reserve list of “easy” shots for the days when I have no time for anything but a snapshot. Additionally I always have a Plan B for shoots with tricky timing – such as anticipating the birth of my niece.



Props can be great. Consider using them; they give awkward hands something to do, they can bring depth to an image and a story, and can create features to grab the eye. Granted, they can be limiting if you make it so, or create distractions, but they can also help you explore new themes and styles and options.

One of my favourite props to use is Danbo. She is such a versatile little robot and what you can do is limited to your imagination.

7/52 in 2011, Lust by Danbo. (C) Kevin Cheng.

7/52 in 2011, Lust by Danbo. (C) Kevin Cheng.

Danbo is my go-to prop for some creative shots. In fact, I built a structured theme around her. It gave me a focal point to challenge my thinking and imagination, and allowed for the exploration of a form outside of ordinary. For example, I have always wanted to do a “Seven Sins” theme. It is clichéd, I know, but by making Danbo the subject I could reinterpret the theme in a completely different way.

From conception to execution, it took months of planning, experimenting, collecting props, creating props and trashing the ideas that did not pan out. All of this was captured in my Evernote / notebook system and eventually became a reality when the time was right. The Danbo Seven Sins came out of this forward planning.


Try Something Different

Photography projects are a good excuse to try something different. Through the course of the 365, I found myself:

  1. standing on the side of a busy market taking photos of people
  2. explaining to strangers about my project and taking portraits of their pets
  3. taking a self-portrait
  4. constantly looking for a new way to look at ordinary objects
  5. looking out for scenes to capture
  6. trying new techniques like HDR, reverse macro, etc
  7. try things like black and white photography and playing with saturation levels
Sunset on the First Day of Winter (2010). (C) Kevin Cheng.

Sunset on the First Day of Winter (2010). (C) Kevin Cheng.

Don’t just look forward, look around, and also look backwards as well.

I first spotted this scene in my rear view mirror driving home from the country. I pulled off the freeway and ran onto the overpass, the light was fading fast, it was windy and the chill was cutting right through me. I held it together long enough to take this sunset as a three shot, handheld HDR.

Seize the moment, if the lighting is perfect at that moment in time, take the shot, Once it is gone then it is gone for good.


Talk About Your Photos

There is no detail too small that you should omit from your image description.

Some of you might have noticed, there are two things I always do when I post photos.  I think of a title and I tend to write descriptively on each photo that I post for my photography projects. Peter, on the other hands, takes the time to note all his technical details from lighting setups. When you look back on the photos you want to remember each one beyond what is within the frame. It is nice to also have recorded a history of what you were thinking, or an effect you were trying to achieve at the time. For me, it allows me to occasionally go back and re-edit a photo and it gives me a touchstone so I can remember that point in time, my state of mind and what I was trying to achieve, so I can apply new editing skills and still maintain the original sense of the image.


Jump on through to Part 2 of this article here.


Kevin Cheng Bio PicKevin Cheng is a product of East colliding with West, a juxtaposition of old culture and new. Eternally juggling his roles as husband, father, IT boffin, engineer, chef, photographer, gadget reviewer, writer, whisky connoisseur, wine lover and dreamer. He is generally found in a highly keffinated state and is a workaholic who does not understand the meaning of slowing down. He can be found sporadically on Flickr or say hello on Twitter @aerokev.


2 thoughts on “Photography Projects From the Trenches: Kevin’s Photo Project Experiences

  1. the story behind Sunset on the first day of winter was so very ansel adams of you. That’s what I think it’s all about. Those moments when you just feel a shot and know you have to get it. Love the post!

    • Thanks Barbara, you kind of never turn off when you enjoy doing photography. Always on the look out for that perfect shot.

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