Not every trip I take is about making money. Some are about bettering myself, challenging myself, and throwing myself out of my comfort zone in the interest of self-development. Personal projects are key to staying on your A game in photography, or in fact, in any creative art. As such, it’s very important for us to take a break from what is “normal” in our style of photography to learn some of the transferrable skills in other aspects of the art that we can translate into our own, everyday work, thus improving ourselves.
Personal projects are the leading method in this self-improvement. Have a little think about it and you’ll notice, consciously or otherwise, that there are so many personal projects out there ready-made for us to jump on. The “photo-a-day” challenge, the alphabet challenge, the colour challenge, the season challenge, they all serve to help us criticise ourselves, and this self-critique inevitably leads to improvement (although, in rare cases, it may lead to us throwing our gear down in frustration as well!).
If we are to stand out among a crowd, which is ever-growing and ever-changing, we must be noticeably different than the rest. If, in this industry, we remain stagnant, then we risk collapse. Everybody else will be racing forward, while we’re still stationary and stuck in our ways. Here’s a case study: –
Kaylee Greer, a great friend and an all-around amazing human being, told me about a problem she had. Her dog photography is world-class and she employs a simple setup and simple technique to create amazing portraits of doggos. She was approached by KelbyOne and asked to teach this technique, which she did. This meant that her “signature look” was being emulated the world over and she had a whole foray of photogs essentially catching her up. She was being joined by a crowd, from which she needed again to stand out! She told me what she did to step her shoots up a gear—I won’t elaborate, but needless to say, it was a personal project that was copied into her everyday shoots, and it worked!
At Imaging USA, I noticed that Joel Grimes was demonstrating a technique that was traditionally reserved for architecture photography, however, he was using it to photograph people! Models! And, in applying this technique from what was undoubtedly a curious personal project, he’s come up with something that is, for all intents and purposes, groundbreaking!
The cream of the crop, as you can see from these very specific examples, are pushing themselves with personal projects rather than simply “riding the cloud” because they know how very important they are. For me personally, I try to occasionally take whole trips which are “personal projects”—not having any prior knowledge of a location and testing myself in seeing what I can get, pushing the content to things I’m not comfortable shooting, and deliberately trying to make the best of bad light. It’s these personal projects which have carried me to where I am as a travel photographer, and if I may reference it, it’s my past life as a wedding photographer which has helped me understand composition and given me the ability to see light, alongside batting ideas off my partner in crime, Peter Treadway.
So, here’s my challenge to you: –
You may only venture 50 paces from your front door (communal front door if you live in a block) and I want to see you photograph light. Portray light, show that you can see light, read light, represent light, and use the experience to improve your skill as a photographer.
Then, I want you to upload a photo to Instagram using the hashtag #lightpp as part of this personal project, so we can all see.