How Personal Photography Projects Can Make You a Better Professional
"You build your business shooting for other people. You build your career shooting for yourself." - Matthew Jordan Smith
There you sit, at your desk looking at your work and feeling all blah when you should be feeling excited. After all, you have the gear. You have clients. You love what you do. But it’s just not enough. It’s starting to feel like the same thing every the time. You need more. However, your clients expect one thing: to go home with the kind of images you promised and showed off on your website. And sometimes, it’s just not enough. The passion is gone.
So what can you do to reignite that creative fire? One answer is simple: start a personal photography project.
Personal art projects have been beloved by artists for ages. They are super affordable, highly flexible, and allow you to stretch your wings where your paid work may not. Best of all, they can breathe new life into your business and even make you a better professional. Feeling inspired? Read on!
The top 5 reasons for starting your own personal photography project:
Ensure you always have something to shoot. It doesn’t matter what you’re photographing…just get out there and shoot! Nothing hurts your creativity more than being stagnant. So get out there and start exploring (with camera or phone in hand) and your new project may likely reveal itself. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Help build your portfolio. You never know how your clients will find you, and having a personal photography project that you are doing just for you might open doors to both new adventures and new clients. And since the only one you really have to please is yourself, you eliminate 100% of the stress shooting for work brings. If/when you fall in love with your personal project, consider showing it off to the world via a section on your website, an art opening at your studio or home, or even a display at a local business or community show.
It can help you network and engage with the photography community. You’ll never meet anyone just sitting at home on the sofa, so having a personal photography project lets you get outside and start conversations. Are you an introvert? Personal photography projects are great because they allow you the time you need to recharge since you’ll be focused inward rather than outward. Additionally, they’ll also help you break the ice and give you a talking point. An extrovert? Great! You’ll be able to rejuvenate by getting out there and connecting with your people!
Experiment outside of your comfort zone. There’s no better way to stretch your limits and creativity than by taking a chance. Personal projects let you do that. Challenge yourself. Need to work on shooting in low light? Then build a personal project around that. Want to experiment with street photography? Create a personal project that takes you to the street. The possibilities are endless.
Explore your authentic self. When shooting for yourself, you don’t have to worry about what a client wants or needs. You don’t have to worry about making the sale. And when you take all that pressure off, you certainly feel freer, lighter, happier. And, as a by-product, you just might find yourself smack dab in the middle of a new passion.
The moral of the story is that personal photography projects help you think about things in a new way, especially if you’ve pigeon-holed yourself into shooting for a market that feels stiff and repetitive. We know that sometimes searching for your own project may feel as daunting as looking for the perfect bathing suit. But it doesn’t have to be. To get you started on your new journey, here are some popular ideas we love. Pick one (or come up with your own) and start breaking free from your daily grind!
Day in the life
A photo a day/week
From the hip
Through the seasons
Mobile photography (check out our helpful guide here)
Color/Black & White
The human form
As you can see, the sky’s the limit. All you need is to look around you to be inspired. Think about your hobbies, your community, the books and magazines you read, the people you admire, the skills you want to learn, your values, your emotions – and you’ll find tons of ideas for personal projects.
And once you have your ideas, you can decide if and how you will share the results. No one says you have to share anything; it’s perfectly OK to keep it all to yourself. But should you want to share the fruits of your passion, there are many avenues.
Blog posts are some of the easiest ways to share your personal projects. People love stories, so tell the story of your personal project journey.
Sell them to stock photography sites or as fine art prints. Who knows, your personal project could give you additional revenue.
Create a photo book and showcase the images in your own coffee-table book which you can either sell or keep for bragging rights.
Share them on your website as a “personal projects” feature.
Just remember, no matter how your personal project unfolds, it’s important to start – somewhere…anywhere. And when you complete your project, reward yourself. And, remember to get a selection your favorite images on the wall.
Earlier this year I attended Ben Sasso’s Heck Yeah Photo Camp located in Joshua Tree, CA. I had never been to Southern California, much less explored it’s incredible coast. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to look down the coastline of Big Sur or see the Sequoias. After some super last minute travel planning, I found myself with 3 photographer partners for an amazing adventure. We decided we would start at sunrise in Joshua Tree, head south to Salvation Mountain and the Imperial Sand Dunes and then begin our trip north where we would end a week later in San Francisco.
There were so many beautiful maternity portraits I wanted to take during my pregnancy that I soon felt overwhelmed trying to decide on just a few for one photography session, so instead made an entirePinterest board ofMaternity Shoot Inspiration that I could tackle one at a time on a weekly basis. So my suggestion is to create an inspiration mood board as your first step to a self portrait, even if it's just a one-time shoot.