Nikki Gardner is a photographer, writer, and the creator of the forthcoming Behind The Lens: The Art of Developing Your Visual Voice, and ebook and workshop series. Her work has been exhibited throughout the States at the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography, Studio Place Arts Gallery, and Washington County Arts Council Gallery; her photography and writing have appeared in Artful Blogging, Edible Pioneer Valley, Huffington Post’s Taste, and Smithsonian’s Food & Think. Nikki lives in Western Massachusetts where she blogs about the intersection of art and life at Art & Lemons.

I’ve been in love with photography since I was ten years old and I unwrapped my first Kodak 110 camera on Christmas Day. Although photography has changed dramatically since my first explorations with film, I still find it all to be thrilling. Back in the film-only days, I taught introductory photography classes in graduate school. I gave each of my students a disposable camera and told them to go outside and shoot whatever interested them. I wanted them to understand right away that learning the art of photography isn’t about what camera you use–it’s about learning to see.


For our first class critique, we tacked the prints to a crit board and talked about the photos. Everyone shot the first assignment with the same style of fully automated camera. Beyond turning the flash on or off, no one had to worry about camera settings. On the other hand, the students were given a way to record subjects that mattered to them. They were told to slow down and think about what interested them visually and why.


I still use this lesson myself as a way to sharpen my photography skills and explore new cameras or lighting techniques. In fact, I use all my old teaching techniques, so last year I decided to compile them all into an e-book. After months of outlining, researching and writing, I released the first chapter, “Design, Shoot, & Show–Your iPhone Photo Project”, as a free (albeit lengthy) sample to inspire readers to start and share a new photo project. It explains how creating a long-term photography project helps you grow as a photographer, develop your vision and craft, focus your efforts, and exhibit your work online and in galleries.


In the process of writing this chapter I was inspired to launch a new creative project of my own. How could I ask others to break out if I wasn’t willing to do the same? So I followed the design and shoot steps and started a 365 phone-ograph project in January, a daily black & white photo shot with my mobile camera. I wanted my daily photos to accumulate like a visual sketchbook filled with fragments, ideas, and notes from my life right now. To create the vintage monochrome look, I shoot with the native camera then process the image using either the Photoshop Express or VSCO app to make slight tweaks to the exposure, brightness, or contrast before converting the image to black & white. Then I add a Polaroid-esque border with LoMob. Voila. Instant black & white Polaroid, without the steep cost of film.


At the end of the year, I’ll take the last step: making prints of my work, creating an exhibition catalog, and setting up a gallery space both locally and online to exhibit the project. One year, one project, one show. Start to finish.

What about you? What photo projects are you working on this year? What new projects are you waiting to start? All this collaboration talk that’s been happening here at Mortal Muses makes me want to start another project. Anyone game?

You can download a copy of Nikki’s e-book chapter “Design, Shoot, & Show–Your iPhone Photo Project” here. Expect the next chapter on photography basics to come out this spring, until then happy shooting!