Photography is a craft almost everyone indulges in at one time or another. For some, it’s a weekend hobby. For others, it’s a full-time affair. Either way, photographers are forever debating amongst themselves whether or not it’s a wise career choice. Should we attempt to forge a career from something we enjoy so much or save it for our own pleasure? When finances become a factor, it can alter the way we think about our photography. Here’s why it’s so important to allocate time for personal projects and the ways in which I keep myself just as passionate about photography as I was when I first started out.
Running Yourself Into the Ground
I’ve been shooting now for a little over seven years. Since my first official shoot, I was bursting with ideas and couldn’t execute them fast enough. I shot a circus-themed series, experimented with a "Seven Deadly Sins" set (we’ve all been there), and was quite literally playing with fire, all in the name of art. But a lot has changed since then: I’ve discovered much of what I do and don’t like about photography, including what I do and don’t like shooting. But I love photography so much that I decided there was no other career path for me. I moved to the city almost four years ago to pursue it full-time. It took a couple of years and an initial part-time retail job before finding my feet — especially when freelance — but I got there, and now, my entire income stems from both my photography and/or writing articles about it, just like this one.
I’ve spent many years working for other people. Sometimes it paid, sometimes it was "for the exposure" or the hope of further opportunities. As someone new to the industry, I was just happy to be working, regardless of the financial return (or lack thereof). Many shoots I’ve taken part in — even as recently as this summer — haven’t been projects I was particularly passionate about, but were more or less a means of getting my foot in the door with a client I wanted to work for. With that said, it’s easy to get carried away, either by doing favors or through accepting jobs you find dull purely for the money, the latter of which isn’t quite so negotiable, assuming you want the rent paid. Thus, it’s easy to feel there’s no time to shoot projects purely for the love of doing so.
Throughout 2016, I’ve hit a number of huge milestones, so it's definitely been a success. But what I’ve come to realize is that I’ve been neglecting my personal work in the process. Thankfully, many of my clients allow me most, if not all the creative control. However, it’s never quite the same as working on your own projects, where the only person you’re aiming to please is yourself. I’m an incredibly work-oriented person and have a hard time turning jobs down, so it’s easy to get wrapped up in taking on too much and trying to impress other people. Except recently, I’ve realized I’m committing a lot of time and effort to projects that I’m not even including in my portfolio. That’s the point it becomes time to work on something that inspires me again.
I’m really starting to notice the consequences too. My social media pages are slowing down, as I’ve nothing new that I’m particularly proud to put my name to, so I’ve not been posting as much. I’ve begun to notice more frequently that I’m yearning after pictures I see on the Internet, wishing I could shoot something similar in concept. Except there’s no reason I can’t. I attribute it to the fact I’ve had no real creative output for what feels like the best part of 2016.
Something else that’s come to my attention has been the similarities within the work I was producing. It’s great to have a signature style, of course, but my images were just starting to look the same to me. I was becoming robotic almost, simply on a mission to fire out as much work for as many clients as possible. Quantity overtook quality as I focused on what the client wanted. I lacked the freedom a personal shoot provides, so now it’s time to take a step back.
Making Time for Personal Projects
So why then is it important not to lose sight of personal projects? In my eyes, being a working photographer is a privilege. Even now, years from setting out as a freelancer, I still have days where the thought of being able to make a living doing what I love still feels completely alien — almost like it shouldn't be allowed. I can be editing pictures at home on a Tuesday afternoon and suddenly feel I should be in an office working for someone else, not running my own business and actually enjoying it. But in the midst of trying to run a successful company, it’s instrumental to never lose touch with why you started taking pictures in the first place.
Photography is your creative outlet. It’s a way to express your imagination and curiosity; it’s something to channel your anger and your passion into, and as such, on a regular basis, you need to work on something that's free from pressure or rules. Just let it happen: do what you please. Dedicating time to work you actually want to create is a means of keeping motivated and inspired, and you’ll soon see the difference in the results of the jobs that you take on solely for the money too since you'll feel refreshed.
Sources of Inspiration
I’m stubborn. A lot of the time, I don’t like to look at the work of others too thoroughly, because it concerns me that I may mimic their work, be it consciously or subconsciously. But I’m also aware it’s important and is a great way of staying inspired. Moodboards, for example, are a necessary requirement for many of my client shoots, and of course involve compiling a gallery of images that will essentially shape the images I’m looking to take. Sometimes, viewing the work of others can spark an idea or motivate us to attempt to do better than what we're seen our peers are producing. Take the time to scroll through Instagram; feature accounts are a great way of seeking out many different photographers’ work and photographic styles with minimal effort.
Collaborations are also invaluable. Working on a personal project allows you the privilege of selecting a creative team of your choice, people you know you get on with and bounce off artistically. Work with people who collectively will all help bring the best out of each other. With the likes of a stylist and makeup artist each bringing their own skills to the table, there’s a much greater chance you’re going to be able to bring to life the images in your imagination. You also never know what ideas may come forward when an entire team of people are contributing.
Other Ways to Stay Inspired
Creative ventures outside of photo-taking: sometimes, it’s because we have to, other times, it’s because we work unconventional schedules that allow us the time to. Creative people express themselves in many ways, which is why I and many of my photographer friends have other sources of revenue. Personally, my income is predominantly from paid shoots, but often, there are other photo-centric incomes involved. Take Fstoppers, for example. I actually studied English Language at University, having always been interested in writing, before I started taking photos and got obsessed with doing so. So for me, writing articles about photography is the perfect medium.
Where articles are concerned, the requirement for topics about which I can write an article on actually inspires me to dig a little deeper when it comes to photo themes and ideas. Perhaps there’s a new technique I can try and then report on? Maybe I can write about a shoot I did or the things I’ve learned. Doing just that only reiterates to me how much I love what I do. Sometimes, it’s not until I’m typing about what I did that I realize ways in which I could have improved or done something differently. Writing about it certainly helps reflect on the work I’ve created. Video blogging is much the same, with an ever-increasing number of photographers and creatives generating video content to discuss or explore work they’ve produced.
In the end, you should never worry about losing your passion for photography. If you’ve made it as far as even attempting to forge a career in the creative industry, you’ll likely never get bored of it. Even the shoots I’m undertaking solely for money are more enjoyable than having to work any other job. It’s just a case of remembering to keep the balance between shooting for money and shooting for love. Always make time! Your passion from photography is innate; it's just that sometimes, you need a little refresher.
How much time do you devote to personal projects? What are your techniques for staying inspired?