As professional photographers, our craft pays for the bills, sends our kids to school, and puts food on the table, but often, what we produce on a daily base it not what inspires us, or what made us pick up the camera in the first place.
The same applies to amateur photographers as well. We love photography, we go out, and we point our cameras at whatever we see as half way interesting. We end up with images of trees, walls, people in the streets, dogs and cats, our friends and family. We get better at our craft, we learn how to handle our cameras, we improve on our technical skills to a certain point, but to really get to the next level, we have to stop “documenting”, and start “creating”. We have to start thinking about our artistic vision, concepts and ideas.
I often hear the argument from amateurs that “you pro’s have access to the great gear, the models, the money“. The truth is, when it comes to producing an idea, both amateurs and pro’s are in the exact same boat: We don’t have a budget, no client to pay for models, sets, travel, locations or catering; we start with an empty canvas, and gear doesn’t matter.
At whatever stage of our photographic journey, there come times when we have to put the camera aside, sit down, and think about what makes us happy. What inspires us, what we would love to do, not for money, social media response, not for our friends or family, just purely for our photographic heart. When asking the question “what would you love to do” however, many new shooters have no real answer for it, and quickly slide into the “get paid” response. “More beauty, or fashion would be cool” is an answer I hear often too, but when talking about personal project, I think much more specific than that.
Let your inner producer, artist and personal ego take over, sit down and think of ways, how you can create what you’d love to shoot. The more detailed you do so, the easier it will be to find ways to actually do it. Create your own story.
Every photographer I know, regardless of how experienced or successful they might be, are all working on personal projects. Because we create our personal vision, these images are important to us, they represent who we are as artists. Some might not turn out the way we envisioned, and they will never see the light of day, others will end up in their portfolio. As a result, more often than not, clients will end up booking us for exactly what we showed them, what we love.
The other side of personal projects is learning. I would never try anything new at a paid gig, unless I am 200 percent certain, I have all the images (plus a few extras) the client expects, and I still have plenty of time to fool around. Even then however, I am well aware that my client, the art directors, everyone on set, will judge me how I work, I have to maintain being confident, people hire us because we know what we are doing. On personal projects however, I have all the time in the world, no paying client breathing down my neck, no expectations. I can communicate openly with models, makeup artists, or whoever I might invite to join me to collaborate, we all know, we will try, play, learn, have fun, for a great outcome.
On personal projects, I expect mistakes to happen. We analyse, learn, and improve. Once we get the results we imagined, we have to ask ourselves: can we replicate it, how can we apply what we just achieved in other scenarios, in a studio instead of on location, can we pull this off in different lighting scenarios. The more we try, the more we learn, and the more confident we will go into our next shoot.
In the process, we might discover what we truly love to photograph, sometimes we even re-discover our love for photography all together. In any case, there is nothing wrong with listening to our own inner artistic diva from time to time, indulge in ideas, and learn along the way.
Photo: “The Ego Trip”. Model: Film maker Evan Burrows…