The Importance of Personal Projects

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Can turning pro kill your passion for photography? The importance of personal projects.

Living the dream of turning your passion into a profitable business sounds like the ideal job and, in many ways, it is the best job in the world. But it doesn’t come without its drawbacks.

Of course, the financial security of leaving a 9 to 5 job to be your own boss is the first drawback that would come to mind. Most pros did not quit their day jobs overnight to open a studio. For most it is a very gradual switch and they go from shooting as a weekend and evening gig to a full time job when the client base is large enough to support them. There is one aspect that most photographers do not consider when making the jump to becoming a pro (as in making a living from your photography), it is the simple  fact that at some point, sooner or later, the passion for the craft may diminish or even die.

It happened to me and to a lot of other photographers I know personally or read interviews about. The consequence of turning pro can be the feeling that photography has become a job, and therefore a chore. It took me a while to realize what the problem was and it was gradual. As I was spending each week shooting for work, photography was slowly becoming mundane and I started to leave my camera behind on my days off… Part of it was that I was not always shooting what I loved for work. As a new pro, you tend to want to take all the work you can get, whether you find satisfaction in it or not. Another problem was that, since I was spending a lot of time in the digital darkroom processing client images, I did not feel like processing personal work on my time off. As a result I wasn’t shooting for fun anymore.

What changed my outlook and made my passion for photography stronger than ever?

I challenged myself to work on special projects such as a 52 week project, I gave myself some self assignments on weekends such as doing more street photography, limiting myself to one lens, trying new techniques, challenging myself to experimenting in genres that were outside my comfort zone, etc.

Shooting for a self assigned project about street performers

Photo of the week #21 of my 52 week project

The result was almost immediate. Through sharing my work with others on social media and the blog, my passion for photography was rekindled and my work got better. The results were even apparent in my professional work, I felt more confident and it showed. My renewed passion and confidence gave me the edge to sell myself as a photographer and gain new clients which in turn allowed me to really find a niche and specialize in photography genres that I truly love. Now that I’m busier than ever with commercial photography work, I still do not miss an opportunity to go on photo walks and share my passion with other photographers or photography lovers. I continue to show my work on FB and a personal blog, I also started a commercial photography blog where I post some of my work related images. I keep them separate because they represent two different aspects of the craft that I love but they are intertwined in many ways as they both are a reflection of my personality and my passion for capturing a moment in time.

Interior photography is what I do for work and I love it!

As well as food photography.

If you are a pro photographer and you have experienced the same loss of passion because photography became just another job, I urge you to give yourself some personal projects and to share your work with others in order to find your muse again. If you are thinking of making the jump into pro photography, be aware that this may happen so try to keep the personal projects part of your routine to keep the passion alive!

I would love to hear from you if this is something you have experienced.

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Very nice and inspiring article.

  • I agree with you 100%! I was going through a little rut myself, but now I make it a mission to go out and take pictures of what my heart longs. I think it definitely helps bring more inspiration. Thanks for post! 🙂

  • Tyler F

    I think a way to stay interested in photography whilst being pro would be to kick out your professional gear and choose something fun to shoot with. So rather than using the gear that you would use in your job, pick up an old film camera, or give yourself a challenge of just using your phones camera, and let yourself experiment, which you might not be able to do in a day to day job of being a photographer – depending on what style you shoot of course.

    I’m not a professional photographer, but I applied the same to web design. Leave large client projects alone, and play about with unique ideas for different designs – it will also improve your creative “eye”. If you experiment and like something, you could then use it in paid work.

  • I’ve had a related but sort of opposite experience.

    I’m a Technical Writer by trade, and when I took my current job I found myself needing to take quite a few photographs (mostly process documentation).

    I had been a recreational photographer for many years, but had never been very serious. With the need to learn the trade and lots of practice at work, I found myself being drawn into personal photography more and more. See my Flickr stream for samples.

    The result has been a noticeable increase in the quality of my personal photography and that has fed back into my professional work. I’m now picking up some commercial photography for my company as well and my skill in that genre is increasing too.

    As you noted, enthusiasm promotes skill, which promotes enthusiasm. It’s a virtuous circle.

  • Excellent article! This too has happened to me and I occasionally go out of my way to do some photography for fun, but I need to be more disciplined about it.

    Thanks.

  • Thanks for a great post! Yes, I’ve definitely experienced this to the point of dramatically slowing down my photography business to pursue other related areas. Although my ‘professional side’ only shows clean post-processing, I realize I love playing around with other processing styles as well. This has inspired me to start a new blog where I will have tutorials and give examples of processing styles (still in the beginning phases, but it’s a start!). So although I did get in a rut, it has lead me to new things to explore and enjoy!! 🙂

  • This article is really inspiring and helpful. In my own experience, gone were the days where I’d be excited to go out for a walk and be shutter-happy. My camera, most of the time, has been sitting there (in and out of the dry box… you need to do that especially when you are in Philippines) untouched, while I’m waiting for clients or free time to do practice shoots. Adding to that, thinking about the life of the shutter (shutter actuations) pushes me to be frugal especially in doing personal projects (for an average Filipino, photography is passionately expensive hobby) for fear that on a busy day with clients, all of a sudden the camera will just decide not to work anymore. Now, when you mentioned the 52 weeks projects I said to myself “Hey, why not do it? I can’t keep up with 365 (it was left untouched for several months here:, so why don’t I cut it down?” In that why I could still do personal projects and at the same time save some shutter life. Thanks for the tip!

  • Jacqueline

    You’ve shared what I think is a common experience in many fields. When I went from writing for the joy of it to writing for profit, my passion waned and my work suffered. Personal writing projects revived it.

    Photographer is still fairly new to me so the joy in it is alive and well. As I integrate it into business projects I will keep your advice in mind. Thank you!

  • scott

    This can happen to hobbyist as well as professionals, and all are good tips to get out of a rut.

    If I can’t think of anything else to photograph, I get up and early and take a walk around where I live. I always find something new and it always provides inspiration.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157624955663565/

  • Hi

    There as so many times when I execute what I think as a perfect shot, only for Folks to not appreciate the technical aspects. After many Contests, Exhibits, Restaraunt Galleries I thought that my dream of being the next Peter Lik was over!

    I, however, am not in this to make money. Beauty is all around us, my goal is to capture it and bring it to everyone! Just keep learning and shooting!

    Ordinary Train, Extraordinary Image

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/take-the-midnight-train-going-anywhere/

  • Inspiring article indeed.
    Not a Pro here & I doubt I will ever become one.
    I chickened out of a few jobs that were offered over the last two years. I didn’t feel confident enough and I didn’t feel like shooting something I don’t really like.
    The projects is a really good thing to keep your mojo flowing or rekindle it.
    I do 365, but just with daily stuff and often just with snaps.
    I am trying to get back to just having fun and not being to critical of myself (since I am not a Pro, that should be easy enough) 😉

  • Oscar

    Happened to me a while ago, glad that I’m out of that ditch.
    Great article!

  • Great article.

    My personal project: A project 365, currently on day 489, is at http://www.photokapi.com/

  • I have a few ongoing personal projects, one involves my neighborhood, Snell Isle, which is actually only a peninsula not an island!

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/5/20/snell-isle-series-001-eyebrow-cloud-sunset-hdr.html

    Also, I will keep mentioning this in every comment I put on dPS from now on until that unbelievably distracting fade-pop-up asking me to e-mail subscribe to dPS is done away with. Once an e-mail address is entered it should remember that and never bother you again. In reality, such an intrusive gimmick should not be used at all. I cannot believe more people do not complain about this.

  • Celia

    So true…Don’t loose the passion. I started a 365 day personal project for the same reason
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.190686504289696.48777.154674927890854

  • Great article and so glad to see it was written by you Valerie. Your work and “play” photos are great and reflect the balance you’ve found.

  • Hi Valerie
    What a great article. The same thing happened to me over forty years ago when I went from part time busy guitar player to full time guitar teacher. Suddenly having to teach non practicing students for over thirty hours a week just to pay the bills, and some, didn’t increase my enthusiasm for music. Turning to photgraphy a few years ago I only do the minimum number of jobs ( weddings, parties, portraits ) a year. Experience is the best teacher and I won’t allow the full time philosophy to rare its ugly head again . If you do something you love for a living, what do you do for a hobby?

  • Thank you so much for linking me to this. I’ll find a way out of being stubborn and hopeless and carry myself to engage in some personal projects!

  • Boy that’s the truth. As I sit here responding to inquiries and trying to get paid and sending out contracts. I spend 90% of my time in front of a computer and 10% behind a camera. And I do love it. But people forget that you have to eat. It’s all good and fine to be ‘free to do what you love’. But the dog needs food, bills have to get paid and I never have enough time to do a ‘365’. Nor would I want to. I shoot so much now that the absolute LAST thing I want to do on a day off is hold a camera. I guess that makes me a bad photographer. But I need a break. This year, however, I am doing one self-portrait per week. It helps me with lighting growth and in directing my clients as well as helps me to feel not so bad about being photographed, which is something I hated in the past. There’s always a way to stay in touch with why you started doing it in the first place. And it is really important to remind ourselves.

  • Michael Rammell

    If you don’t like it, change it.

    Knowing that you’ve evolved your own business over the years Valerie, going from photographing Children in a studio, to products, food and interiors and now onto teaching workshops just goes to show that it is feasible to make your passion a source of income and still love it.

    If what you’re photographing becomes mundane and starts to feel a lot like work it’s going to become very hard to compete with those photographers who are still full of passion for the subject they shoot.

  • me too, i put on some assignment for myself and the pursue the target. It makes me become ‘alive’. I Never leave my camera. I shoot, shoot, shoot.

  • tommy5677

    You have to assume everyone who does it can make a living at it. I think I take a pretty good snap but it doesn’t necessarily turn into money. Personal projects have helped me produce some of my best work.

  • tommy5677

    A great idea for a personal project. Thanks for that because it never occurred to me.

Some Older Comments

  • Whitney September 1, 2011 10:21 am

    Thank you so much for linking me to this. I'll find a way out of being stubborn and hopeless and carry myself to engage in some personal projects!

  • bill griffith July 16, 2011 05:31 pm

    Hi Valerie
    What a great article. The same thing happened to me over forty years ago when I went from part time busy guitar player to full time guitar teacher. Suddenly having to teach non practicing students for over thirty hours a week just to pay the bills, and some, didn't increase my enthusiasm for music. Turning to photgraphy a few years ago I only do the minimum number of jobs ( weddings, parties, portraits ) a year. Experience is the best teacher and I won't allow the full time philosophy to rare its ugly head again . If you do something you love for a living, what do you do for a hobby?

  • Claudia May 6, 2011 11:50 pm

    Great article and so glad to see it was written by you Valerie. Your work and "play" photos are great and reflect the balance you've found.

  • Celia May 6, 2011 06:50 am

    So true...Don't loose the passion. I started a 365 day personal project for the same reason
    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.190686504289696.48777.154674927890854

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer May 6, 2011 06:07 am

    I have a few ongoing personal projects, one involves my neighborhood, Snell Isle, which is actually only a peninsula not an island!

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/5/20/snell-isle-series-001-eyebrow-cloud-sunset-hdr.html

    Also, I will keep mentioning this in every comment I put on dPS from now on until that unbelievably distracting fade-pop-up asking me to e-mail subscribe to dPS is done away with. Once an e-mail address is entered it should remember that and never bother you again. In reality, such an intrusive gimmick should not be used at all. I cannot believe more people do not complain about this.

  • Geoffrey May 5, 2011 07:41 am

    Great article.

    My personal project: A project 365, currently on day 489, is at http://www.photokapi.com/

  • Oscar May 4, 2011 06:56 pm

    Happened to me a while ago, glad that I'm out of that ditch.
    Great article!

  • Nicole May 4, 2011 04:31 pm

    Inspiring article indeed.
    Not a Pro here & I doubt I will ever become one.
    I chickened out of a few jobs that were offered over the last two years. I didn't feel confident enough and I didn't feel like shooting something I don't really like.
    The projects is a really good thing to keep your mojo flowing or rekindle it.
    I do 365, but just with daily stuff and often just with snaps.
    I am trying to get back to just having fun and not being to critical of myself (since I am not a Pro, that should be easy enough) ;)

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 4, 2011 04:17 pm

    Hi

    There as so many times when I execute what I think as a perfect shot, only for Folks to not appreciate the technical aspects. After many Contests, Exhibits, Restaraunt Galleries I thought that my dream of being the next Peter Lik was over!

    I, however, am not in this to make money. Beauty is all around us, my goal is to capture it and bring it to everyone! Just keep learning and shooting!

    Ordinary Train, Extraordinary Image

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/take-the-midnight-train-going-anywhere/

  • scott May 4, 2011 03:18 pm

    This can happen to hobbyist as well as professionals, and all are good tips to get out of a rut.

    If I can't think of anything else to photograph, I get up and early and take a walk around where I live. I always find something new and it always provides inspiration.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157624955663565/

  • Jacqueline May 4, 2011 08:57 am

    You've shared what I think is a common experience in many fields. When I went from writing for the joy of it to writing for profit, my passion waned and my work suffered. Personal writing projects revived it.

    Photographer is still fairly new to me so the joy in it is alive and well. As I integrate it into business projects I will keep your advice in mind. Thank you!

  • Mako Asuela May 4, 2011 08:50 am

    This article is really inspiring and helpful. In my own experience, gone were the days where I'd be excited to go out for a walk and be shutter-happy. My camera, most of the time, has been sitting there (in and out of the dry box... you need to do that especially when you are in Philippines) untouched, while I'm waiting for clients or free time to do practice shoots. Adding to that, thinking about the life of the shutter (shutter actuations) pushes me to be frugal especially in doing personal projects (for an average Filipino, photography is passionately expensive hobby) for fear that on a busy day with clients, all of a sudden the camera will just decide not to work anymore. Now, when you mentioned the 52 weeks projects I said to myself "Hey, why not do it? I can't keep up with 365 (it was left untouched for several months here:, so why don't I cut it down?" In that why I could still do personal projects and at the same time save some shutter life. Thanks for the tip!

  • Angie May 4, 2011 08:42 am

    Thanks for a great post! Yes, I've definitely experienced this to the point of dramatically slowing down my photography business to pursue other related areas. Although my 'professional side' only shows clean post-processing, I realize I love playing around with other processing styles as well. This has inspired me to start a new blog where I will have tutorials and give examples of processing styles (still in the beginning phases, but it's a start!). So although I did get in a rut, it has lead me to new things to explore and enjoy!! :)

  • Dyanne May 4, 2011 08:31 am

    Excellent article! This too has happened to me and I occasionally go out of my way to do some photography for fun, but I need to be more disciplined about it.

    Thanks.

  • Doug Sundseth May 4, 2011 08:12 am

    I've had a related but sort of opposite experience.

    I'm a Technical Writer by trade, and when I took my current job I found myself needing to take quite a few photographs (mostly process documentation).

    I had been a recreational photographer for many years, but had never been very serious. With the need to learn the trade and lots of practice at work, I found myself being drawn into personal photography more and more. See my Flickr stream for samples.

    The result has been a noticeable increase in the quality of my personal photography and that has fed back into my professional work. I'm now picking up some commercial photography for my company as well and my skill in that genre is increasing too.

    As you noted, enthusiasm promotes skill, which promotes enthusiasm. It's a virtuous circle.

  • Tyler F May 4, 2011 08:06 am

    I think a way to stay interested in photography whilst being pro would be to kick out your professional gear and choose something fun to shoot with. So rather than using the gear that you would use in your job, pick up an old film camera, or give yourself a challenge of just using your phones camera, and let yourself experiment, which you might not be able to do in a day to day job of being a photographer - depending on what style you shoot of course.

    I'm not a professional photographer, but I applied the same to web design. Leave large client projects alone, and play about with unique ideas for different designs - it will also improve your creative "eye". If you experiment and like something, you could then use it in paid work.

  • Jacqueline May 4, 2011 07:59 am

    I agree with you 100%! I was going through a little rut myself, but now I make it a mission to go out and take pictures of what my heart longs. I think it definitely helps bring more inspiration. Thanks for post! :)

  • BellaVidaLetty May 4, 2011 06:53 am

    Very nice and inspiring article.

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