As a photographer you may not always be able to photograph the subjects you dream of documenting in your billable work. It is not that you don’t enjoy what you photograph, but it is just not that one subject which you can document with the camera. Being a photographer means we love the art and what we create, however sometimes this can be lost in the normal course of business as we photograph with our style but also think about the clients needs for their project.
When you look at a personal photography project this is an opportunity to pick a subject for ourselves which is being shot in our style. This is important not only to the professional, but photographers at all levels. I quite often come across photographers who are shooting anything in their free time (I’ve been there), instead of trying to focus in one area. In many other professions you will find people are specialists in a specific area. Off the top of my head Information Technology, Law, and Medicine are some which come to mind. If you find out someone is an attorney the natural instinct is to ask what type of law they practice, which is also the same with photographers. I am frequently asked if I shoot weddings, as they were just recently engaged or know someone who was. With law, you may find someone is handling family law and may not be too excited about the work however they continue to work in that area to build experience and maybe later find a different area to practice. The difference between a lawyer and a photographer is that it is hard to try something on your own when your billable work is done. With photography you can always photograph something for yourself which is where the personal project comes to light.
When trying to find the best personal project a source of inspiration can be what others have done in the past. Of course you don’t want to copy exactly, but the ideas you see in other projects can help spark a format to approach your project.
- In November, I photographed every day for Thirty Days and posted one image a day to this blog. Now that the project is over, I am asking people to vote for their favorites. This first started in 2007 as something to get me photographing again and 2009 marks the 3rd year I have done this project.
- Lesley Kerr and Zola Kell in the past have done a weekly photograph which they would put together as a diptych. Lesley lives in Georgia, while Zola is in British Columbia and this allowed them to remain connected.
- Salt Lake City Photographer Mike Tittel, recently blogged about wanting to get those local photographs which have always been put off as he and his wife may be moving soon. Even if they don’t move, it is important to capture the moment now.
- Daylene Wilson posts an image a day on her Flickr page showing work she has taken with a point and shoot camera.
While the above can be good suggestions, you can even mix it up by only photographing one color, metal objects or anything else which will challenge you even more in a set period of time. This suggestion was given to me by Missoula photographer Marcy James as a possibility for the next thirty days project.
When picking a project, the best advice is find a subject which will interest you as this will be something you will be spending time photographing. If there is no interest in the subject, the photography becomes a chore and it will show in your work. You will also want to limit the scope of the project and not take on too much at the beginning. If you make the overall goal too broad or daunting, it will be very easy to not carry through with the project. It is possible to add more, but taking away becomes an issue as the focus is then lost.
I have mentioned setting a goal or finding your objective. This is important for your personal project as it will provide a vision and make sure you stay on track. A tool I use when setting a goal or objective is the mnemonic SMART, which will help you create Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Related goals. How you use this is shown below.
- Specific: You want to make sure your project has a specific focus. Saying you want to photograph Colorado is probably too broad, but making that subject the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in all seasons is starting to bring it to a more realistic goal. Do the research and find out what you want to photograph in that area as even a wilderness area can be a daunting task, and maybe you will focus on a specific drainage, trail or town.
- Measurable: What will you measure success by for this project? Do you have different goal levels, where maybe you will post to a website or blog first. As the project moves forward you will pitch to a magazine or journal with a goal to build it towards a book. Likewise, do you just want to build creativity with your project and how will that be measured. Will this be with number of quality images, what is published or some other type of metric. Find something which will allow you to measure the success. In a 30 Days type project, it becomes easier to state the measurable goal.
- Attainable: If you live in Colorado and want to photograph the Oregon Coast or the inner city of a East Coast city is that truly attainable? A project which will be something you can access is going to make it easier to be successful. For some people a drive 3-4 hours away a couple of times a month is easy to do and for others it becomes a burden, so you need to know your limits. Also when picking your subject safety should also be included in this category. You don’t want to pick a subject which could put you in a place which may not be safe at all times.
- Realistic: Is the project realistic? Can you get access to an area? Going back to the example of the Indian Peaks, this may require hiking and backpacking with a camera and equipment. Is this something you are able to do? An aerial perspective of an area is always interesting, but once again how will that be done.
- Time-bound: What is the duration of the project? By setting a project time frame you will be making sure you have a set duration and not postpone getting the work done. This time frame can be an overall goal or a duration which is segmented in order to keep the momentum of the project moving. These segmented time goals are important if you want to document your project in different seasons or in various build steps since it most regions the landscape is changed by the time of year.
As I mentioned under attainable, safety is something which you need to be aware of no matter of the project. This holds true for any project as there are various risk factors no matter where you are photographing. Additionally, security is an issue in some areas and locations may be off limits or restricted. If there is any doubt ask permission first, you never know what additional access you may get as a result of asking.
While it may seem like a lot when picking a personal photography project, the reward is well worth the thought process and working to get those images during your free time.
Is there a personal project which you are thinking about starting or have recently started? Let me know in the comments and on New Year’s Day I will feature some of these projects in a blog post. During the course of the year it would be good to hear about your progress as well on your personal project.