The Importance of Personal Projects for Professional Photographers

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In my last article, I talked about working on one or more personal projects as a great way to help photographers get motivated and get busy in a saturated market space. In this article I want to expand on the topic of personal photography projects: Why do you need one? How do you choose personal projects? What are some of the more popular personal projects around?

Film Photos of Christmas Ornaments in Chicago Downtown Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Film Photographer

Why do you need personal photography projects?

#1 – Personal projects help you get out of a photography rut

Most photographers have a busy season and a slow season. Depending on where you are in your photography career, your slow season can be a few weeks or can be several months. Not picking up a camera for months on end can be disheartening and demotivating. Personal projects can help you keep going in those slow months and also help you fine tune your skills.
Film Wedding Portraits Memorable Jaunts Chicago Illinois Wedding Photographer

Experimenting with film ( 35mm and medium format) as one of my personal projects

#2 – Diversify your portfolio and get noticed

Depending on the type of personal project you pick, this can be a great way to diversify your portfolio and attract new clients based on your new body of work. Personal projects are just that – personal assignments. Once you take the pressures of a client out of the equation, you are free to explore, get creative and challenge yourself. This creative freedom is bound to reflect positively on your work. Your assignments can help you get noticed by your past and future clients and does have the potential of helping you get new clients who fall in love with your personal images.
Small Business Lifestyle Headshots Outdoors Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

What started off as a favor for a friend has turned into a new offering in my business – lifestyle headshots

#3 – Help you engage with the photographic community

Let’s face it, we all spend way too much time on the Internet. We are constantly browsing, reading and engaging with people (either actively or inactivity). Why not mix the two in a more productive way? As you are researching personal projects and assignments, you are bound to stumble upon photographers who are doing similar work. Reach out and start a conversation. Share your projects. Join a local or online community, a Facebook or Flickr group, and get active. Share you work and ask for feedback, browse the work of other artists and engage in healthy dialogue. Because this is a personal project, you are more relaxed. It certainly makes internet surfing more purposeful and useful.

#4 – Experiment outside your comfort zone

When you are thinking of personal projects, really give yourself the permission to get creative. Choose projects and assignments that really push you as an artist and challenge your existing skills and techniques. There is no right or wrong here. But recognize when a project is too easy, versus when a project really makes you work. Also remember this is a personal assignment, don’t make it so hard or unrealistic that it has an almost 0% success rate. I mean, I would love to photograph the earth from outer space – what a fantastic personal achievement that would be – but it is highly unlikely to happen in my lifetime! I will stick to photographing the moon – on a clear night, on a stormy night, and during a lunar eclipse!
Moon Photography on a clear night sky Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

My first (and last attempt) as photographing the moon on a clear night! – it was much harder than I expected!

Great Grey Heron in Flight Bird Photography Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

I love dabbling in bird photography – a nice change in subject from my normal wedding and family portrait clients

Macro Photography of Purple Flowers Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

Macro photography is another easy subject to find in nature or with everyday household items

Now that you know why you should have one or more personal projects, the next logical question is how does one go about choosing personal projects.

How to choose personal projects

There are several ways to choose personal projects. Here are some personal techniques I use several times during the year.

#1 List your goals and derive projects and assignments that help you achieve that goal

One of my goals for 2015 is to photograph more elopement and backyard weddings, as well as do some editorial work. To help achieve that, I have reached out to a few magazine editors, as well I plan on networking with other wedding photographers to possibly second shoot with them on smaller weddings as a way to get to my goal.

#2 Write down a list of things that motivate you and pick assignments related to those items

I love the outdoors with a passion. I love travel and everything associated with it. I carry my camera everywhere I go and try to document stories not just of my travels but also of the people I meet – something I plan to do a lot more of in 2015.

#3 Look at your portfolio and see what is lacking

Portfolio reviews are a great exercise to perform several times in the year. Match the images to your goals so you know where you are lacking – where do you stand now, and where do you want to go?

#4 Review industry trends and pick topics that interest you – either related to gear, techniques or even subjects

There are easy special assignments to give yourself like photographing with only one lens for a week, photographing one subject with a wide range of lens, or black and white architectural images. Another technique that is fascinating is low light photography – really pushing the limits of your camera to change the look and mood of an image.

Popular personal project ideas to consider

  1. 365 series (a photo a day)
  2. 52 week series (a photo a week)
  3. Alphabet series (a photo for each alphabet)
  4. Gear related (a single lens for a week, prime lens only, macro, or film photography)
  5. Technique related (black and white images, low light images, leading lines or shadow play images)

I hope this article has motivated you to delve into personal photography projects and assignments. They can be extremely rewarding and satisfying no matter what the outcome. After all, anything that motivates you to pick up your camera and photograph just for the love of the art, not necessarily for money, can only be a good thing, right?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle, travel and wedding photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images.

  • Arlen

    I think this information is really helpful for professional photographers. I also have great interest in photography as well as in travelling. A week ago I have been completed my victorville to las vegas bus trip with my sister. We have been captured a lot of pictures during this tour. She also loves to click photos of beautiful destinations. After reading this post I am feeling it is really beneficial for me and my sister.

  • JvW

    Spam link, broken but spam.

  • Very useful and insightful post, Karthika! Setting goals or projects is definitely very important in order to keep going and not falling in the laziness trap. There are so many options that it is just a question of finding one suitable for you and committing to it. This is the most difficult but important part: commitment.

    In my case, I created my own blog 2 years ago and, more often than not, I have blogged as regularly as I planned at the beginning, so I’m quite happy about it. My last “exercise” was to ditch zoom lenses and use 2 cameras with 2 primes, one wide and one telephoto, and I really enjoyed it. You can see the results here:
    http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2015/01/shooting-with-2-cameras-and-2-primes.html

  • Thats awesome Gonzalo! I agree that there are so many options out there and they can personalize to what you want to photograph. Good luck and keep going 🙂

  • Ghuna Ganesan

    A well written article

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