Ellie Morag: 100 smiles project
I started my #100daysproject; 100 smiles earlier in the year. It’s one of those ‘do something every day for 100 consecutive days and post it on Instagram’ projects. I’m almost half way through - that’s almost 50 different smiles captured. I’ve never done a 100 Days project before, but I always really love seeing the transformation in others from starting the project to their very last entry. That’s pretty special.
Why smiles? I L.O.V.E. genuine smiles. Thanks to selfie culture, everyone knows their angles; what (they think) looks good or bad. They’ve practiced how to avoid the double chin when they smile or ask themselves that burning question before each click of the shutter, ‘teeth or no teeth?’.
I love rawness; those natural caught off guard smiles. A genuine smile can light up a room and makes you smile too! If one solo smiler can’t persuade you to crack a grin, I bet that a 100 people will. If my #100daysproject brightens someone’s day for 5 minutes, that’s a pretty lovely achievement.
I’m a photographer, a full-time freelance commercial, portrait and lifestyle photographer (with a bit of street style thrown in for good measure). Life revolves around coffee, meetings, photoshoots, editing and everything else that comes with running your own business and trying to be badass about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted this life for a long time and I love it. But I often struggled when it came to personal projects. Where am I supposed to fit in the time?!
Self-care talk is big right now. Pretty damn big. When I started to feel a bit starved of my own creativity, I was hit with an epiphany and wondered what self-care for my photography would look like? Not for my business, just my photography. I really wanted to inject some love back into my work and do something that was just for me and not my clients. My first thoughts, annoyingly lead to finances - I can’t afford to do something like that – I’ve bills to pay! I soon realised that this was a mindset issue, and I just needed to work on that.
I’d see other photographers paying out for teams of people to create magical personal projects that went on to be published. They’d talk about the importance of doing personal projects and of paying everyone properly (which I’m also for, but knew I couldn’t afford). That’s when the pressure hit – so, I’ve got to produce personal projects but they have to be good enough for publishing, to win me clients and gain me some sort of epic recognition?! Needless to say I stalled, and stalled until after speaking to friends, family and fellow freelancers I realised that I was actually making it difficult for myself. Personal projects didn’t have to be this grand piece of work, it didn’t have to be anything more than just picking up my camera and doing something I enjoyed.
So here we are, the #100daysproject isn’t my first and it certainly won’t be my last. My first ever personal project was photographing street style at London Fashion Week where I learned that I could do whatever I liked. The dawn of realisation over my own freedom was a big one for me. It was so exciting to have total creative autonomy to photograph who and what I wanted, where and when I wanted and to be able to edit in my own style. A style that I’ve since become known for. It was exhilarating and I was, once again totally head over heels for photography. Before, I felt like I was just going through the motions with my work and I could see that from my images. It’s something I keep an eye out for and I can tell if I need to start thinking about a new personal project to keep me inspired.
Doing the #100daysproject is my longest personal project so far, it’s helped challenge my everyday thinking. I carry my camera with me everywhere again - for some reason I’d stopped doing that. I guess I’d started to associate photography just with ‘work’ and not my ‘passion’. It’s helped me appreciate how I connect with people (which as a ‘people’ photographer you’d think I’d be really good at), but just like everyone who does something for long enough, you begin to rely on what you know and what worked before. I wouldn’t say I’ve become lazy; I just know through experience what makes a great image.
My #100daysproject has given me a bit of a wake-up call. Getting a genuine smile from someone every. single. day. takes a lot of work, conversation, understanding and also a great deal of vulnerability from the person I’m photographing – I want them to feel comfortable. An interesting pattern has emerged from this project so far: I’ll ask someone if I can photograph them; they’ll say yes; I take their photo;
they’re not overly keen but allow me to use it. It’s only when I post the photo I’ll get a lovely message from that person about how much they like it now and can they have a copy.
People messaging me about how much they like the project and telling me the smiles are contagious and having clients talk about it in meetings is a great side effect from me pouring so much energy into it. Sure,100 days is a long time, but my momentum to keep going hasn’t wavered - the positive feedback has really helped with that. I believe everyone is creative, and having a side project, passion project or personal project regardless of your profession, is so important. If it makes you happy and helps keep your creativity alive it’s something I’m 100% behind.