March 20, 2015

If You Don’t Have Vision and Passion For A Project…CHOOSE A NEW PROJECT

 People write to me about their projects and say such things as:

I just cannot get motivated…

I’m in a slump…

My project is on hold…

I haven’t shot anything in a while…

I don’t know what’s wrong…

I need to get back to it…

I just can’t seem to finish it…

My rule of thumb is: If I am not energized and excited about my project, then it’s time for me to:


For me, a successful project must have two ingredients: Vision and Passion. If I don’t feel these I know the project is doomed, it will be a chore to work on and that lack of passion will be felt by the viewer.

Many feel that the key to a successful project is to have a unique subject, an exotic location or an interesting technique. And while those qualities may help, only Vision and Passion can ensure success.

When you have the right project, you cannot wait to get home to work on it. The right project has you getting up early and skipping meals. When you have the right project you find yourself working long hours and wishing there were more. 

And most importantly; when you have a Vision and Passion for your project, that energy and conviction will be felt through your images. 

After I created the Auschwitz images many people suggested I apply the ghost theme to other locations. The idea sounded logical: the Auschwitz series had been well received and so why not leverage that popularity by using the same approach at other locations?

So I started to work on “The Ghosts of Great Britain” where I created ghosts at English castles. But the project fell flat because the images were not compelling and it all felt gimmicky.

So what went wrong? The project lacked Passion.  

At Auschwitz I felt inspired to create those images and I had a Vision for the project. I gave no thought as to how the series would be received and in fact I didn’t care!

But “The Ghosts of Great Britain” was completely contrived and calculated to be popular. I did not feel that same Vision or Passion for the project and it failed. I scrapped the series and only kept the one image above.

This was a great lesson for me and a mistake that I will never make again. 

Many people ask where I get my ideas from and I tell them that every time that I have an idea, I write it down. And then I reveal that I’ve never once used any of those ideas! Every successful project that I’ve pursued has come to me spontaneously, unexpectedly and as a sudden burst of inspiration.

And then they ask: But what happens if you don’t have a project that excites and inspires you?

And I reply: Then I wait until I do.


P.S. I’ve mentioned “successful project” a few times now and I want to explain what I mean by that. I do not consider a project successful because it wins awards, is published, is exhibited or sells. 

Success for me is creating a series that I love and am proud of, and that is the only kind of success that matters.

11 thoughts on “If You Don’t Have Vision and Passion For A Project…CHOOSE A NEW PROJECT

  1. You have described one of the most difficult things to do! Being patient and waiting for something that inspires passion, instead of galloping off to do what everyone else has done or suggested! No wonder we’re told that patience is a virtue!

  2. Cole, my academic advisor gave me the example when we spent some time working together on a trip. Each morning he would get up and said “c’mon, let’s go play!” before leaving for work. That’s the feeling I get – eat, sleep, dream of it, it doesn’t feel like “work”.
    I’ve learned to follow this principle throughout my life, in several aspects, not only photography.

  3. As always breathtakingly inspiring! I remember reading your blog on your trip to Iceland and the fact that you hadn’t looked at any images beforehand,I just could not see myself doing that because the wonderful images I had seen of the place were the ones that had made me want to go there in the first place,well I’m now going back later in the year and this time with a clear mind 🙂
    Thanks cole and kind regards nick

  4. “The Ghosts of Great Britain” – I literally almost gagged. There is not another “Gabriel” there is not another “Ghosts”. There is not another Beethoven’s 5th. Not to compare but from my own little world every once in a rare while I get an image of a favorite subject that I have shot a lot and I “know” – “STOP!” I did what I wanted to do precisely.

  5. It is so true in all that you wrote. I am in a ‘slump’ at the moment and my photography friends have tried to inspire me with different projects without success. I will wait until something grabs me, it will, then I shall be off on the next adventure!

  6. Cole,
    I find that I work on several projects over a long period of time. I will have a burst of energy and excitement when I come into a new project and I work at it until I have exhausted my initial excitement and have produced some satisfying images. I will add images to my projects over the years when I find suitable subjects that fit the group. There has been a few times where I have told myself that I have completed a project only to find years later that I am adding to it in a new way. I never really know what will catch my interest next, but I am always grateful when new ideas flow.

  7. It is a wonderful feeling to find a new project that inspires you, it’s like new love!

    I have heard some say that when you are in a slump, that you should tough it out and work through it. I personally have never found that to work, but maybe that works for others?

    Has anyone any experienced tha;, finding yourself in a slump and plowing through it until you found inspiration again?

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