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Any advice ref. creating personal projects? (plus more - This was pulled from my old formspring account. See below)

Full question pulled from my old formspring account…


Any advice ref. creating personal projects? After years of wandering around with my camera taking photos of everything I want to change tact, try to focus on small projects I set myself. Hopefully it will slow me down, cause less rush, allow me to focus & lead to better work. 

With a non-photography day-to-day job, family life incl. a 2 yr old I don’t get as much time as I used to to work on photography. I still use my old Canon 350D which is often a pain to carry around and I’ve thought about something lighter to have on me most of the time as I feel I’m missing out on photos I could be capturing. 

Its a tough job to do as a profession on a daily basis so I think I’m happy to stay as an amateur in the traditional sense but would love to somehow self-fund my hobby.

Is it worth sending links to on-line blogs, magazines to try and get some feedback? To at least know if I am heading in the right direction? Or is it best to ‘do my own thing’ and if its good people will find me? 


Thanks for the question. I’m going to expand on your question with a larger discusion of personal projects.

As for finding and creating personal projects it’s hard to give advice on this due to the nature of the name itself. “Personal”

I think finding personal projects are based on a series of questions you ask yourself.

• What interests me that I haven’t explored visually? (people, details, darkness, light, shadows, faces, hands, bars, food, politics, shapes, emotions)

• What are my strengths I have to work with? (portraiture, lighting, landscapes, etc)

• What is something I’ve never done before that I would enjoy pursing? (portraiture, landscapes, macro, fashion, street, etc)

• Do I want to visually narrate a novel? A story? A feeling? A song? A group of songs?

• Am I wanting to “say” something. Do I want to make a statement about culture, politics, religion, etc? Is it about yourself or your culture or another culture you observe?

• Is there a project I can work on that will eventually be able to help an organization, a group, my community, or myself?

• How long do I want to work on this? How much time per day/week/month can I dedicate to this?

• Will I need resources to complete it? If so, what’s my budget? (locations, talent, gear, etc)

• What is the outlet for the work? How will I share it? (personal site, blog, Blurb book, submit to publishers of blogs or magazines, etc)

• Am I going to work on a project that gels with what I already shoot or something that will stand apart from everything I’ve created so far?

• Are there other projects out in the world similar to mine? Better? Worse? 

All of these questions run through my mind when developing a personal projects. Some projects just invent themselves like my #de_VICE project ( ) Some come from feedback of my portfolio. I was told a few times last year that I should diversify the age of my subjects in my book so I started my Faces & Spaces project. ( ) 

My Don Quixote projects started from a statement I once made to my wife Meg. She asked if I had ever actually read the book. I had not. So I read the book and it sparked an idea for me to create a modern day story of that novel.

My #de_VICE project is something I can work on at anytime I have a camera on me. My Faces & Spaces project requires using social media and my network of friends and family to find willing subjects. Don Quixote was more like a commercial project where I had to cast talent, scout locations, and spend some money to complete it.

These three projects mix well with who I am as a photographer and the work I do as working photographer. I can show this work in my book, I can make promo pieces from them, and I’m excited to share them.

In 2010 I worked on some personal fashion stories. I’m not a fashion photographer. I don’t shoot fashion. But it was something I wanted to do. As I began to show this work is was shredded. It didn’t gel with the whole of my work. Those who knew fashion were not impressed. It was sort of a failure aside from some new lighting techniques I worked on while shooting it. I now use those technical things I learned on other genres of work I create. So that at least is the silver lining in that dark cloud.

Personal projects are the best way for you to hone your skills technically and visually. It gives you focus. It gives you purpose. It allows you to cut through the noise and find the signal. You can go out one day and fail miserably, step back, think it through, and go try again. Especially with subjects and projects that give you that sort of time. When you book talent and locations and fail then it’s a little more difficult to give it a go once more. 

My knee jerk reaction to your question on gear is that it doesn’t matter. I know photographers doing really cool personal projects with their phones. Some are using 8x10 cameras. Gear should not hold you back but my love for street photography was kicked into high gear when I got the Fuji x100. Shooting street stuff turned into my #de_VICE project. That’s the first time a piece of gear “inspired” me so to speak. Since then my Phase camera pushed me to try shooting street portraits with it and that’s a new project I’m working on.

My next project that I’ll start sometime this year is a series of portraits that I’ve been mulling over for the last 3 or 4 years. I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it until the Trayvon Martin killing. That devastating story sort of congealed the idea for me and I’m not sketching the project out in my mind. I’m not the type that physically story boards. Wish I was.. I just don’t think that way or work that way. Anyway, you can see that I had a loose idea and a news story sparked my thoughts into a way of approaching this project.

I want you to think of your day job as the corporate funding for your photography projects. You are a photographer no matter if you have that on your business card or not. You don’t have to be a paid photographer to be legit. In some ways you are far more free to create what you want when you don’t have the pressure of it being part of your day to day work. 

It’s great if you can have an outlet for your work but you should shoot as though only you will be the one to see it. Look at the street work of Vivian Maier. She was a nanny who took photos. Her work wasn’t discovered until it was bought at a yard sale. How’s that for an outlet?

If you can get feedback on your work from TRUSTED sources while you are working on a project that is a great, great, great thing. It really is. Not having that shouldn’t stop you from doing it though. Work through a project for awhile and then find those sources of feedback that would resonate with what you are trying to do. By this I mean don’t send landscape details to a portrait blog. Don’t show vivid color stuff to a blog that deals mostly in B&W. 


PS - As a working photographer I’m in the same boat you are. I don’t have the time to work on the projects I have in mind. My day job takes me away from other things I want to do with photography.

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  1. zarias posted this