Challenge Yourself With Personal Photography Projects

Personal projects can mean the difference between living a life of boredom and one of excitement.

If you were to work at your job (if you weren’t a photographer), day in and day out for months and months, wouldn’t you feel the desire to get away from it all even if just for a few days? Isn’t that how the concept of “vacation” came to be?

We’re not automatons after all. We’re not machines fabricated to complete the same task, repeatedly from one minute to the next. And further more, it’s simply not healthy for our mental or physiological well being. If I were to hire you to photograph only brown chicken eggs for the next foreseeable future, would you do it?

Would you feel fulfilled at all in your assignment? Neither would I.

As a creative person, you feel an inner desire to make stuff. By your very nature you need to be doing work that is satisfying as you share it with the world. Even if your world is just you and one other person.

Personally, I get very little satisfaction from an image I create if I don’t share. Maybe it’s my innate need to offer joy to another person as a result of my efforts. Taking the thoughts out of my brain and concocting an image that for some reason conjures an emotive response from another human being, seems to be my only reason for existing, at times. I wonder if it is the same for you.

What if the situation was dire, and you were not able to “create” in any way shape or form? What would you do with your life? Now there’s some deep thinking going on. I can hear your gears turning.

But seriously. What if you were put in a situation where each and every photo gig you got was dull and lifeless. No colour. No excitement. Wouldn’t you want to pack it in at some point and just go back to your pre-photographer days? Maybe even start taking courses at the local community college? Re-examine your career choice?

How would you deal?

Here’s my thought on the subject.

Keeping your feet in the pond of creativity, requires you to go beyond the beach and venture into waters unfamiliar. What I mean by that, is in order for you as a photographer to grow and maintain this state of desire for the craft, you should be taking on projects that you wouldn’t normally be given in the course of your work day.

You could call these, “self assignments”. “Personal projects”, personal exploration” No matter the title, the point is to go out and shoot a subject matter that challenges you as a creative and a photographic artist.

In my case for example, I was tired of shooting the same small biz promo stuff I had been shooting for years. I wanted to expand my skill set into something reminiscent of what the early european painters would have done. They were given a commission to paint the portrait of a specific person looking their best.

Jan Vermeer, the dutch painter, who sadly died at age 43, used his training and amazing eye for light to give us portraits that practically jump off the canvas.  Yes, his work is my inspiration for my latest series.

Exploring work that you don’t normally perform, not only keeps your skills up to date but doing so also re-stocks the creativity shelf. Lightens the spirit. Fills you with joy.

For my creativity shelf re-stocking, I wanted to come up with a project that would test my eye and bring attention to a specific group of local people. In these samples are artists and artisans local to the county.

People who make a living (or are trying to) by being creative in their chosen field. Peterborough county has a high concentration of artists and is quite well known for that fact. I knew that A) featuring artists in this project would be an attention getter and B), shooting the portraits in a distinctive style would be significant as a form of publicity for my work.

In February of 2017 I started my list of artists that I wanted in the series and began making contact. 99% of them immediately jumped on board and were delighted to be chosen for the project. Only 2 artists declined. (one of those later joined).

My goal was to shoot 40 portraits by the end of June, averaging 3 per week. On the last day of June, I shot the final portrait. I only faltered from my 3 per week agenda in the final month. Other than that, I was on track no matter what.

At this point in time I am in the process of establishing a venue for a gallery exhibit where each portrait along with a piece by each artist will be displayed. I certainly call that a win-win portrait series.

What shooting this series of portraits has taught me is that I can put together not only a single successful photograph, but a larger body of work that carries a unified theme. It also taught me that when I set a goal, even though it is months in the future, I can achieve it.

That, in itself builds confidence. Gives me the knowledge that I’m on the right track and energizes me for the next time I have a photo assignment that I’m not overly thrilled about.

Having completed this project, I can now start planning another one. Who knows what that will involve? What the subject matter will be or where it will take me. The point is that I have opened up the door to many more possibilities.

I have met an entire group of people connected to a niche that I never would have, had I not completed this series. I’ve learned about myself and my industry. Found out what I can achieve when I put in the effort and not only do I benefit, but so do many others, including the art-loving public who will come to the exhibit.

I would encourage you to set aside some time to explore a subject in-depth and put together a solid project that means something to you. Have you always wondered what a travelling carnival would be like to photograph? What about 20 of them?

Do you ever notice the self-proclaimed preachers on the street corner with the microphone and little amplifier, doing their thing? What would it be like to shoot a series of images of those guys?

There are an unlimited number of inspiring subjects that a photographer could explore for a personal series. Opportunities are everywhere beyond the everyday assignments. It’s time to dig deep into your creative self to make work that really matters to you.

Don’t wait for the perfect time. Make a list, set a schedule and just do it. I challenge you to make it happen and look forward to hearing about it.

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor Photo Arts

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