Jul 152014

From Genres to Projects

A step most photographers never take

Project Development Seminar

New York City, USA

From Genre to Project.  A photography project seminar by Adam Marelli

From Genre to Project. A photography project seminar by Adam Marelli


From the first time we pick up a camera, we are all waiting for that first great picture.  It’s the moment when what you see, feel, and shoot, all line up into a picture that just knocks people off their feet.  It’s a moment that we all want and deserve.  Why?  Because artistic vision is built into all of us; if it wasn’t we would not have been born with eyes and the largest part of our brains would not be devoted to our sense of sight.

How do I make my own project © Adam Marelli

How do I make my own project? © Adam Marelli

From Genres to Projects

Do you have a website?  A Facebook page?  A way for people to enjoy your pictures?  If so, how is it split up?  Many photographers start out by dividing work one of two ways.


Landscape, Portrait, Street, Travel and the list goes on.  You have seen all of this, I’m sure.


  1. Splitting up your work by genre shows that you are thinking about the different types of images you are making; unfortunately the divisions are not specific to you.  They are dictated by long standing categories which don’t highlight your specific strengths.
  2.  There is really only one advantage, so this list ends.


  1. Type “Street Photography” into Google…you will see two things: Google is quality blind because most of the photographers that come up provide only Internet content and are far from the best that street photography has to offer, and…
  2. Your name is probably nowhere on the list. That is not a reflection of quality, but rather a function of the website.
  3. This list goes on and on and on and on and on…think about it and you will start to see what I mean.
Trace of a Lost Ceremony.  Locations are important, but I could have not made "Traces of a Lost Ceremony" without project development.  © Adam Marelli

Traces of a Lost Ceremony. Locations are important, but I could have not made “Traces of a Lost Ceremony” without project development. © Adam Marelli


Italy, Cuba, Tanzania, Spain, Japan, Thailand…It’s great that you are traveling with your photography and locations do help divide work up into specific regions, but…you might have images that are better linked by theme or better yet by Project, rather than location.


  1. Unlike genres, locations give viewers a better sense of what you shoot.  Landscape could mean anything from Death Valley to Siberia, but “Grand Canyon” says something location specific about your pictures.
  2. Location grouping usually means that you are not traveling mindlessly.  Rather it means that you are thoughtfully picking locations that you want to explore in greater depth.
  3. You are probably dreaming of bigger projects through your locations and that is a great thing too!


  1. Location grouping is the pitfall of stock travel photography.  While travel magazines are dying a slow death, there is no reason to jump onto a sinking ship.  If you went to Cuba to spend time with artisanal Rum makers, lumping the project under “Cuba” does not do your project any justice.
  2. Going to a place like “Tuscany” and calling it a location would be like spending a week with Ernest Hemingway and calling him “writer.”  The subject is infinitely more rich than a simple location can cover.  Dive into the meaning behind the trip.
  3. Exotic locations do not equal good pictures.  Too often people let the location do the heavy lifting…for example, if the local dress is weird enough and locals have bones through their noses, then the pictures must be interesting…right? WRONG.  At this point, National Geographic has made the exotic a lot less interesting.  The viewing world has become more discerning, and as a photographer you will need to work harder to make your images stand out.
Far off lands are a good start, but traveling to an exotic place will only guarantee you more  frequent flier miles, not a successful project. © Adam Marelli

Far off lands are a good start, but traveling to an exotic place will only guarantee you more
frequent flier miles, not a successful project. © Adam Marelli


Do you want your pictures to tell a story?  If so, you have to have a story to tell.  In photography, building projects is really where the fun begins.  I had a martial arts instructor who once said, “Being a black belt is not the goal, it’s where the fun actually begins.  Getting to the black belt just means you learned all the basics.”


  1. At the forefront of any project are your ideas, your view of the world, and your way of putting it all together into a seamless body of work.
  2. Projects attract more attention than any single image…because it is that comprehensive look at a topic that editors, curators, publishers, and gallerists all look for.
  3. Developing a project from start to finish is like taking the excitement of the single best image you have ever made and compounding it tenfold.  There is nothing more gratifying than exploring something from start to finish.  In the end, you learn more about the story, the world and yourself than is ever possible with a single image.


  1. It requires some planning and thought.  Projects don’t pop out of nowhere, they develop over time.
  2. The more you put in, the more you get out.  This can be a con, but also a pro depending on how you approach it.
  3. Your friends will wonder why your work is taking off and theirs is not.  Don’t worry, you can share your lessons with them too.
Patience + Planning = Success

Patience + Planning = Success © Adam Marelli

How to Work on your Project

Building a project is like building a brand.  People want to know who you are, what you do, why it’s special and why they should buy into it.  This is something that everyone from Cartier-Bresson to Nike struggled with over the years.  But all the successful photographers I’ve ever met know why their work stands out.

This is why I created the Project Development Seminars. I want to have a small group discussion where we can do three things:

  1. Explore case studies of artists and photographers to discover how they found their voice and success through their projects.  From Caravaggio to Eugene Smith…everyone had a clear vision of what set them apart.
  2. In workshops we spend a lot of time shooting, but in these seminars we can put the cameras down, leave all of the gear-envy outside, and look at how/why we make pictures.
  3. I also wanted to put myself under the microscope to share my process with a small group of photographers in a personal setting.


Why have a photography seminar with no cameras?

While it might seem crazy to have a photography seminar without a camera, there is a reason for this…the biggest obstacles most photographers face have nothing to do with operating a camera.  They have to do with how they think about their work.  And in order to solve these problems and create successful projects, it’s best to use a mentor and a community.  A friend of mine, Jimmy Chin (National Geographic photographer and North Face Athlete who has summited and skied down Mt. Everest) said “One hour with a mentor can save you thirty hours of research on your own.”

Upcoming Project Development Dates and Locations

Sign Up Here

If you would like to sign up, escape genres and start shooting projects, email me at theworkshop@adammarelliphoto.com

See you there!

Best-Adam Marelli


  2 Responses to “From Genres to Projects”

  1. Hi Adam,

    Very well said. Since the Berlin workshop I’ve shifted from genres to projects and it really has improved my enjoyment of photography. It’s more thoughtful and planned and a much different type of gratification. You’ve definitely made me reconsider travel shots, too. We’re heading to Denmark in a couple weeks and I need to think about what I want to say about it with my images. Great lessons!


  2. Hi Adam:

    We have discussed the concept of developing projects in the past and it is the logical step in how I want to progress as a photographer. Kathryn agrees and we were looking for a reason to go to New York – end result I am signing up for the workshop – see you in New York in November.

    Rob & Kathryn

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