For years now, I’ve always preached the importance and value of personal projects or personal work. The million dollar question that I always get asked is any variation of “How do I get work? How do I get to where you are? How do I make a living as a photographer?”

Well, the best answer is personal work. The path to nearly every success story with famous photographers is personal work… some project that they started on their own that got discovered by an art director, then another, and so on.

See, it’s not enough anymore to just take nice photos. Nearly anyone these days can learn how to take good a nice photo. But it’s rare that you see that combined with a unique passion project (unique being the key word there).

All that being said, I try to walk the talk and do my own personal projects. I’ve done projects in Haiti, Africa and in the states as well. My latest is a project called PortraitQA and the premise is simple. Photograph someone and have them ask a question that the next subject answers. Then they ask a question that the next person answers and on and on and on. It’s an endless cultural dialogue of strangers. Sometimes the subjects know each other but it’s mostly stranger to stranger.

Here are some favorites thus far:

Bradley Spitzer – 33 – Art Director/Photographer
My question to Bradley:
What do you fear?
Bradley's answer: I fear I will be alone for the rest of my life, as my wife and I will soon be divorced. I worry that the stain of a failed marriage negates the possibility of having a healthy, loving relationship in the future. And even beyond those, I fear that I won’t learn from my mistakes and bad decisions.
Bradley's question for the next subject: What do you regret?

Andres Martinez - @ondrace – 28 – Photographer
Answer: What do I regret? Well, a lot. One of my biggest regrets is letting fear run so much of my life. When I think back on how many times I didn't seize a moment or an opportunity that’s presented itself due to being fearful of failure or a less than comfortable outcome, my heart breaks a little bit. What could simply saying “yes” instead of a hesitant “maybe…” have done for me so many times before? What makes taking that first small step so difficult sometimes? Every situation that’s be tough has ultimately made me stronger. Why can’t I learn that lesson? So here’s to taking some risks, making some mistakes and being better.

Reese Cowart - 12 - 6th Grader (I had Reese hold up her IPhone with the flashlight on. I had no idea the lens flare would do this.)
Previous question: With technology expanding at such a rapid rate, how do you see yourself living 25 years from now?
Reese’s answer: I see myself living in the future with flying cars! In the future I hope that I will be able to carry myself around on Aerial Silks! When I am 37 I will be able to have a robot to do all chores for me!
Reese’s question for the next subject: I lost my Daddy this year. How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?

Jason Brown - @jasonbrown0 – 34 – CEO of Aroluxe Marketing
Jason’s answer: Reese, first off I’m very sorry for your loss. Second, I know how you feel. I lost my dad 35 days ago today in a freak accident, and I miss him so much. “How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?” For me, my answer has been a single word: “God.” I’m extremely weak in a lot of areas, including understanding what’s best for the world. So I chose to do it with God, because without God death is the end, but with God death is the beginning of something that God tells me is glorious for my dad. Without God, a burial is a permanent rest below, but with God a burial is temporary until my dad is raised up again. Without God, I don’t get to see my dad again, but with God, I get to see and hug and talk and kiss him again one day – so I chose with God. I wasn’t built to “deal” with death or loss, so God does it for me. He wraps up the confusion, the emptiness, and the heartache in perfect wisdom, love, and understanding and he hands it to me in every situation – when I’m strong and want to do everything that I think my dad would want me to accomplish and when I’m alone in my car, and a song that reminds me of him comes on and I break down and cry, God gives me exactly what I need at that moment. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier or hurts any less, it just means that I’m not alone and I know that I don’t have to deal with the “loss”, because it’s not a loss, it’s just a temporary separation.

Gaylon Wilcox – 62 – Retired Construction Worker
Previous question: They say smell is the sense that is tied most to memory. What is your top memory associated with your favorite smell?
Gaylons answer: My favorite smell and best memories was when we poured Italian dressing over the brisket and it would drip down onto the charcoal below. We used to enter cooking contests and we would cook everything that could crawl… alligator, raccoon, you name it. We had such a blast.

Lenisa Ann Careaga – @misslenisalove – 26 – Dance instructor, Nutritionist, Nanny, College student
Previous question: What to do you want to do? Get married? Stay single? Go into the army? You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you.
Lenisa’s Answer: My favorite quote is, "Dance as if nobody's watching, Love like you've never been hurt, Sing like nobody's listening, Live like its heaven on earth." My dream is to be able to inspire women from around the world that have been through domestic violence. I plan to use nutrition and art therapy to help them heal from their harsh experiences. Exercise and eating healthy are powerful tools that ease the pain created from their emotional struggles. Art therapy, such as painting, dancing, journaling, etc⦠build confidence, compliments the healing process, and helps women explore who they are. I would love to get married and have children in the future but I definitely want to never lose sight my dream, while helping spread self-love to other people.

Peter Court – @peterrcourt – 22 – Leading Initiatives for Q Ideas
Previous question: What's the happiest part of your life right now?
Peter's answer: Great question. It would have to be the people in my life. I recently relocated from New York City to Nashville just three weeks ago, huge change in basically every aspect of my life. The friendships and relationships I have already established here in a few short weeks have encouraged me like nothing else. Moving and leaving “comfortable" is always tough, but necessary for any type of growth to occur.

Fairlight Hubbard – @fairlight – 36 – Photographer/director
Previous question: If you were offered a million dollars, would you skip the next year of life? Why or why not?
Fairlight's answer: The funny thing is, I just spent the last 3 months taking time away from my "life," or at least the life I have built thus far. In that time, I revisited the life of my childhood living off grid, I remembered how I love to play in creeks⦠forgot why looking in the mirror seemed important⦠I lost touch with most everyone⦠but I got in touch with me. I remembered what I was made of⦠who I am. Although I don't think money should be a catalyst for meaningful decisions, if a windfall allows one to break free from a routine that is no longer serving them, it is a gift that should not be passed over. Perhaps skipping life is when we don't take this time…

You can follow this project on Instagram, OKDOTHIS, and Facebook, and see more of Jeremy’s work at You can also catch him live in person at Photoshop World in Las Vegas next week!

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  1. Jeremy, great post. While reading this I found myself asking questions to myself like “what are you going to change”, “what can I photograph totally different”, “how can I be a better person”. It seems sometimes there is just not enough time in a day. Thanks for sparking these thoughts.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy, for sharing. Incredibly creative (and personal) approach to a portrait series. I’ve really enjoyed learning from you and your projects over the last few years – from “Hope in the Dark” to Help-Portrait to this. Good stuff.

  3. Some great questions and answers there, fantastic idea, I enjoyed reading it and checking out the portraits, great stuff Jeremy

  4. Great article. It got me thinking about that fear and to simply jump back into personal work again.

  5. The pairings are powerful, and it’s so refreshing to read thoughts like this from such a variety of humans. I get a strong sense of encouragement from every one of these; to be better, go further, DO more. It’s fantastic. Thank you.

  6. I’m a follower on Instagram and love the idea!

  7. Inspirational – thank you for sharing.

  8. Jeremy, I’m one of your biggest fans, and it has so much more to do about your character, than even your exceptional photography! Keep the hammer down my friend!

  9. Very good, thoughtful post. It really does scare me at times that I invest so much time as an amateur photographer and that it may not go any further than that. I would love nothing more than to turn it into a profession, a lifestyle. Point is to keep on going…keep trying. Learn, adjust, try something different. Develop my voice, something different than the next guy.

    • Even if you don’t become a professional, you can still turn photography into a lifestyle. I’ve been photographing for over 4 years and have done a number of commissioned shoots for people and bands, but I still fight the idea of going professional. I think the longer it takes, the more apparent it becomes to me that my photography is very much an artistic outlet, not a way of making money. I don’t want it to become a chore, or be producing work that doesn’t inspire me, simply to pay bills.

      Finding a camera club or group of photographers you can become friends with is one way. Shooting your friends and even people you haven’t met before (say, through Facebook connections) is another, as it gets them involved in your photographic side and it will spread as you do more and improve.

      Probably 40-50% of the work on my website ( was not commissioned, but is actually personal work. I also run a Tumblr photo blog that is 100% black and white 35mm focal length photographs of street and personal photographs.

      I like to have a creative / work / life balance though, so I’m not always shooting, but photography has become my lifestyle regardless of my job or the frequency in which I shoot.

      Hope this helps.

      • Hey Nick, that does help me a lot thank you. I think you are right being a photographer doesn’t have to be all business and if in fact it is it can become a chore. Your passion could disappear. ..a horrible thing to happen. I checked out your website and it is very impressive! Thanks for sharing.

        Have a good day!


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