Category Archives Guest Blogger

Above photo: © Greg Lawler

My name is Chris Orwig and I am a photographer and a teacher. While this post is about photography, my goal is not to help you take better pictures but to help you become more creative and alive. I hope to stir things up a bit with a few simple ideas, some pictures and quotes. Here’s to breaking out of our routines and to starting something new!

Photographers are an interesting bunch. We are different and diverse yet bound by a common desire to capture and captivate. The best photographers are those who have discovered the key to a full and vibrant life. It is the insight that comes from making photographs. For by doing this we discover that life’s small mysteries and moments can be magnified. Somehow we get more out of life with a camera in hand. When we take pictures, we see more clearly, we remember more deeply, and we live more fully.

Above photos: Jeff Johnson is an accomplished photographer, big wave surfer, mountain climber, skateboarder, and adventurer. He is not one to settle for the ordinary life.

I like things that are hand made—my young daughters’ drawings, pencil-written notes, and the old driftwood gate in our backyard. There is something special about those things that cannot be mass-produced. This interest is one of the reasons I make pictures. As photographers, we aren’t technicians who repeatedly follow the same steps. We create our own path. We are driven to create something that is one of a kind. We want to expresses our unique voice and vision. It is something we have to do. Taking pictures satisfies an internal thirst. It is an essential part of who we are.

Next Chapters I’d like to show you how two events helped to propel me into changing my thinking and improving both my life and my photography. Here's what I looked like as a young tyke On Valentines Day of 1984, my mother passed away. I was in high school at the time and lived with her and my brother, as our parents were divorced. That day I was forced to start a new chapter in my life. I suddenly started to think a little more independently and started to focus a bit more on how my future might unfold. Multiple exposure light painting lit using flashlights and sparklers After high school, I enrolled in college where I tried to conform to the expectations that I receive an official education (since I didn’t have an obvious alternate path), find a reliable job and build my career. Near the end of my college experience,…

Hello Scott and friends of Scott: Forgive my intrusion today. I feel especially bad taking you away from Scott’s amazing photographs of guys with sculpted abs and veins popping out of their luridly developed biceps. (Good grief, I’ve got to get my comparably itsy-bitsy jiggly-wiggly body into a gym!) But today, I offer you a body of an entirely different nature. This body is round. Round as one half of a baby’s bottom. With rings around it. And it has a name that you might have heard of: Saturn. Aw, don’t you feel better already? No six pack, no gruesome musculature. Heck, you can achieve a body like this just by lying in a tub all day and eating donuts. But here’s the catch. Saturn is not something you’ll get a chance to photograph. Not in this lifetime, or the next, or the one…

Developing Personal Projects

As a fine artist, I advance my career with personal projects. Personal projects also create a clearer direction for and develop greater meaning in my life. My life would be unfulfilled without them.

You don’t need to have a fine art career to benefit from personal projects. Many commercial photographers find that personal projects re-energize them, add purpose to their lives and quite often lead to new assignments or whole new streams of income. Many amateurs, making images purely for the love of doing it, find greater satisfaction and personal growth through personal projects.

As an artist who mentors other artists in workshops and seminars, I’ve often been called to speak about the importance of personal projects; how to find them, start them, develop them, complete them, present them, and promote them.

Here’s an overview of what I share.

Personal Projects

Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.

Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Create a mission and set goals.

Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.

Make a plan to achieve your goals.

A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.

Set a timeline.

A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.

Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.

While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.

Stay focused and follow through.

You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts in related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.

What’s your project?

A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

You’ll find an extended version of this content and many other related resources here.

Now, let me speak in more specific and personal terms, as a way of sharing a few more of the insights I’ve found over the many years I’ve developed personal projects.

First off I would like to thank Scott (and Brad) for inviting me back as a guest blogger.  It was an honor the first time and it’s an even greater honor to have another opportunity to be here again. Before we get started, here’s a little bit about me… I am a professional wildlife and nature photographer. My images have been published in Outdoor Photographer, Outdoor Photography (UK), Photoshop User, Elements Techniques, and Layers magazines. My work also appears regularly on Audubon calendars and National Park Service postcards, calendars, and posters. I lead popular wildlife photography adventures in North America.  I am also a moderator for the Nikon Digital Learning Center on flickr. Prior to working as a professional photographer, I spent more than two decades in photographic sales, helping pros and hobbyists decide which equipment suited their particular needs. In the book Outliers,…

I’m honored to be Scott Kelby’s publisher and proud to publish Scott’s books under both the Peachpit Press and New Riders imprints. Today I have a piece of exciting and important news to share with you that hasn’t been made public yet, so you’re the first to know. Drum roll, please... The numbers are in, and for 2010, your friend and mine, Mr. Scott Kelby, has been recognized as the top-selling photography book author! This has been confirmed according to Nielsen BookScan, which is the industry standard for tracking the book industry’s sales. Congratulations, Scott, so well deserved. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t tell you how amazing it is to work with someone who has consistently written so many best-selling books that truly transform people’s lives. In my entire publishing career, I’ve not seen any single author make…