What a 52 Week Photography Challenge Can Teach You

Are you dedicated to growing your skills as a new (or experienced) photographer? Then I’ve got something for you. How about a 52 week photography challenge?

Often, we don’t grow in our photography skills as much as we’d like simply because we don’t make enough time to practice. Consistency is the absolute key to improving your photography.

In the past, I’ve done two 52 week photography projects and they have definitely made me a better photographer. I think everyone should try to do a long-term project at some point in their photography journey!

If you’re curious to learn how you could benefit from committing to taking one photo a week for an entire year, this article is for you.


What is a 52 week photography challenge?

Doing a 52 week photo project can help you increase your skills dramatically. You challenge yourself to create one final photograph per week.

One photo per week initially does not sound like much, but continually keeping that up for a year can be challenging. You will have to dedicate a good amount of time every week to planning, shooting, and editing your photographs.

Especially if you’re into conceptual photography and your post-processing involves a lot of complex photo manipulation, it takes a lot of effort to create one photo a week.

There are several ways of doing a 52 week project:

  • following weekly themes
  • following a theme for the whole year
  • no themes, simply creating any photo a week

Often, 52 week projects are done in groups or little online communities to encourage each other and progress together.

A creative self portrait of a woman standing in a field, surrounded by fog and trees.
A lot of my work – including my 52 week project – consists of self portraits like this one.

A 52 week project doesn’t sound challenging enough? Well, then a 365 photography project might be for you.

Personally, I always knew I could not keep up with creating and editing a photo a day, but a lot of people have done impressive 365 projects.

Here are some of my favorites:

For a lot of photographers, 52 week or 365 days photo projects were what kickstarted their careers as professional photographers. It really shows how much you can learn within a year.

Notably, 52 week projects have become especially popular in the niche of self portrait photography and conceptual fine art photography, as you can see in the examples above and my own work.


My experience with 52 week photography projects

Let me introduce you to my two 52 week projects.

The first one was done when I was just starting out in photography. I had already found my style (a little bit) and I was eager to learn more about conceptual and self portrait photography.

I started the project in January 2013, right after I had gotten a slightly better camera than my beginner DSLR.

A black-and-white photo of a woman sitting on the ground at night. There are lights behind here and the ground shines wet from rain.
This was my very first 52 week photo – a self portrait during a rainy night.

For the first 6 months, it was going great. I was full of ideas and I loved the experience of being part of photography meetups where we were all creating together.

I learned how to use Photoshop and it allowed my to let the fantasy images in my mind come to life.

Surely, I noticed I was improving – and with that, I suddenly found myself wanting to keep up to a certain standard with my weekly creations.

That’s where everything went downhill. The pressure I created for myself led me to take fewer and fewer photos.

Eventually, I did finish the project in 2014, but it took me a good 6 months longer than planned. (Oops.)

Want to see all photos from my first 52 week photography challenge? You can do so here.
I took the last photo for my 52 week photo challenge on a trip to the Dolomites. The photo shows a woman wrapped in a colorful scarf looking at the mountains in front of her.
The final photo for my first 52 weeks photo project.

Many years later, after I had temporarily even completely fallen out of love with photography, the love slowly came back.

And I remembered how much I had improved during my first 52 week project. So again, I bought a new camera and challenged myself to a second 52 week project.

(I swear, buying new cameras every time you start a project is absolutely not necessary, it’s just how it happened haha.)

This time, I wanted to focus on exploring my own identity more. Since I was barely taking photos of other people at the time anyway, I decided it would be a self portrait project.

Self portrait of a woman dancing in an abandoned building.
5 years later, I was a different person in many ways – and so my style evolved with me.

52 weeks of self portraits.

The journey led me not only through the layers of who I am (or who I’m not), it also led me through several countries since I was just embarking on long-term solo travel.

Again, at some point, I fell behind but caught up massively during the Corona pandemic. I coped with the unexpected return from my travels by creating art.

Almost, I could have finished on time – but then I went off to Italy for long-distance hiking and I was too exhausted and immersed in the journey to create any artistic self portraits. I knew I would take my final photo when coming back.

Many of my favorite self portraits were actually taken during the 2020 pandemic.
Click here to see all 52 photos of my second year-long photo project.

So, what have I learned from these 52 week experiences? Definitely not how to finish on time haha. But I did finish, once again, and I’m glad I went on the journey. Because that’s really what it’s all about.

Every time, I learned so much about myself, as a photographer and as a human being. I learned how to deal with frustrations, like failed photo shoots, not receiving feedback, not being able to always produce the same quality, or simply not feeling inspired.

My style changed considerably during those projects and I love how you’re challenged to constantly come up with new ideas. And the secret is, once you commit yourself to just going out there and shoot, the ideas will come.

At the end of the year, you’re left with a varied body of work – certainly enough to build your first portfolio!


How 52 week photo projects can help to improve your photography

1. You practice your creativity

A lot of people worry about not being ‘creative enough’ for doing a 52 week photo project. I love this quote:

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

– Maya Angelou

Through my personal experience, I can confirm that the more you immerse yourself into creative work, the more ideas you will have.

Once you start creating, it feels as if an upward spiral of inspiration starts carrying you. It is definitely a good idea to carry a little notebook with you to write down all the beautiful photo concepts you will spontaneously come up with!

2. You unlock the powers of consistency

When you are trying to build a new skill or habit, do you know what matters most? Consistency.

Even if you just spend 5 minutes a day doing something, eventually, you will get better at it.

So committing to a year of weekly photoshoots is a fantastic way to improve your skills. It gives you space to experiment with new photography techniques and advance your editing knowledge.

You can either simply try out new things or use tutorials online to learn new things. The only thing that truly matters is that you keep going at it. It’s the most foolproof way to get better at photography!

3. You learn what it is like to be a photographer

Or, what it could be like! If you are wondering whether you should pursue photography as a career, doing a 52 week project is a great way to find out if it’s for you.

You learn what it is like to take photos on a regular basis (even though maybe not as regularly as a full-time photographer) and you get an idea of how you deal with the pressures of constantly creating.

Always being focused on your photography is certainly not easy, and not everyone might actually love working with clients year-round.

It’s okay if you realize you’d like to keep photography just as a hobby or maybe to generate some side income. Photography is a tough industry, so it’s good to first get a feeling for whether it’s really what you want to do.

4. You become better at posing and editing

Let’s say you’re a portrait photographer (or self portrait artist) – then you will definitely learn a lot about posing through your weekly photo challenge.

This can be extremely useful for shooting client work and giving them instructions on how to bring out their best features.

During this year, you might also want to experiment a lot with editing and learn how to create beautiful effects in editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom.

During my first 52 week photography challenge, I used Photoshop for the first time and was so excited to figure out how to edit colors and create photo manipulations!

It’s a steep learning curve and you will be amazed by the end of the year at how much you learned.

It took me a while to learn how to look (at least semi-)graceful in photos, but at some point I got there.

5. You develop your style

Finding your unique photography style can be a long journey – but a year should be long enough to at least get close to it.

By shooting and editing photos regularly, you will slowly figure out which aesthetics you like and which mood you want to create in your artwork.

It is a lot of trial and error. Eventually, most artists simply stumble upon something that works for them and they stick with it.

Nevertheless, style always evolves. Within 10 years of photography, I can definitely say I saw shifts happen again and again in my personal style, even though the overall theme may have stayed the same.

So don’t fret too much about developing your unique style. It will come naturally.


How to keep up with a photo project – even when you’re struggling

Needless to say, keeping up with a photo project for an entire year can be a struggle sometimes. So before I send you off, I want to give you some tips on how you can motivate yourself to keep going when things are hard.

1. Don’t obsess over the quality of your photos

If you read through my experience above, you will know that putting the bar too high for yourself can rob you of the joy of taking photos.

Really, make it all about the journey! The outcome does not matter so much.

Just focus on actually doing your weekly photo instead of worrying how good it will be.

Accept that there will be ‘bad’ weeks. You are not going to love every single photo you take during your 52 weeks challenge.

And that is perfectly fine.

One of my least favorite 52 photos – I love the way the pages fly, but still, it turned out a bit weird.

2. Use the 5 Minute Rule

We often feel a certain resistance doing to things we know we should be doing. As soon as you put a schedule on yourself, taking photos can feel daunting.

Since a 52 week photo project is entirely self-motivated, you need to trick yourself into doing mode and out of procrastination mode.

A brilliant way of doing this is the 5 Minute Rule. Commit to only investing 5 minutes of your time into taking action.

5 minutes don’t seem too scary, do they? And usually, lowering the entry barrier works wonders.

Once you’re out there doing it, you will remember why you wanted to be doing it in the first place.

And you’ll likely be spending more than those initial 5 minutes shooting or editing once you got yourself to start. Sometimes we just need to outsmart our brains a little.

3. Integrate the photo project into your routine

Sticking with a project becomes a lot easier when it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine.

Maybe you could carve out a fixed time slot for your photo project? Sundays could be your photography day. Or maybe you make a routine out of after-work photoshoots and Friday night editing.

Think about how you can integrate photography into your weekly routine so that you are most likely to do it. Say, if you’re not an early bird, committing to sunrise photo shoots is maybe not the way to go.

It makes it easier to motivate yourself when you have a fixed time for doing something. After a couple of weeks, the habit will be much easier to keep up with.

A creative photo of a woman standing in a lake at sunset.

4. Join a group 52 weeks project

If you’re struggling to stay motivated on your own, doing a photography challenge in a group can be a fantastic idea.

52 week photo projects can be found among different platforms, such as Facebook groups (I love this one by Joel), Instagram, Flickr, or specific communities like 52frames.

Usually, 52 week group projects work with a list of themes that the organizers publish at the beginning of the year or for each new week.

It is a lot of fun to see what everyone comes up with and how each photographer interprets the theme differently.

And, being in a group of peers, helps a lot with accountability – you keep going because they keep going.

5. Don’t compare your progress to anyone else’s

My last tip for you is to stay away from comparison. Stay away as faaaaar as you can.

There will be times where you feel like you’re not making progress or like your photos are not as good as other photographers’.

Remember we all started somewhere and we all learn at our own pace. And we all have unique talents.

Get inspired by what others do, but don’t feel like you can’t keep up. You do you. That’s the most valuable thing you can do.

If you express yourself authentically and just keep going, progress will come. Sometimes it only takes a while to see it, and you might have to pass a rough patch here and there.

But don’t worry, you will absolutely get better at what you’re doing.

Despite my slightly dramatic pose here: A 52 week project is no reason to despair!

Starting a 52 week photography project

Are you inspired to do your own photography project? Great! You can start at absolutely any time.

Some people start at the beginning of the year or wait to join a group, but that is not necessary.

I believe the best time to start is always now.

I hope I could give you some valuable tips on starting a 52 week photo project. Feel free to share your work and experience with me below!

But most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the journey. I sometimes made the mistake of taking my 52 weeks projects way too seriously, but you are definitely meant to have fun with them.

Even if you seriously want to improve your photography skills, the best way of doing that is by having fun.

Wishing you all the best for your photography project,

Anna.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *