Personal Projects and How They Can Launch Your Photography in New Directions

Personal Projects and How They Can Launch Your Photography in New Directions

Even veteran photojournalists grinding it out day after day still find time and energy to develop a personal project and sometimes those projects circle back and grow into more work.

After my repost by Sarah Tillota I thought I’d start digging into personal projects and how they can impact a photography career. I reached out to a few people I know and Todd Bigelow came back with a pretty good story on how a personal project developed into something larger. If you’re not familiar with Todd’s work here’s a quick run-down. He has contributed to two Team Pulitzer Prizes, spent a few years  working at the Los Angeles Times before diving full time into the life of a freelance photographer. Since then he’s worked for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Time and the list goes on and on.

Bigelow’s approach to personal projects isn’t a distinct departure from his current work or a form of photography that moves him away from his comfort zone. It more like taking a personal approach to explore a subject, leaving behind deadlines, outside direction and constraints. In Bigelow’s words “Regarding personal projects, I just don’t break them out separately on my site, but like most I’ve always shot them. The personal project angle ties directly into my over two decades shooting immigration stories. It first started as a personal project and then when I showed some of it to TIME, Newsweek, NYT Magazine, etc. it evolved into assignment work. Even after getting a lot of assignment work at the border, I continued with personal projects (like the vigilantes I profiled) because I wanted to be able to control how long and how I shot it, things that you lose control of when under assignment. And, it continues to work out the way.” Timing, politics and a focus on the Southern border got Todd thinking about how else he could explore this topic and in 2016 he started to look at immigration and the election. “It was a look at the battle for New American voters at naturalization ceremonies. With help from the great Jeffrey Smith, Director at Contact Press Images, we edited it into a nice take and pitched it around. PRI.org ran it and asked me to write the accompanying story, which I did. In any event, it shows how personal projects play important roles.”

Bigelow continues to find new projects to explore on his own shifting his focus on this project from the border to the more tranquil and peaceful mountains and lakes of the Eastern Sierras in California. 

What personal projects are you working toward? Is it way outside your comfort zone or are you taking an approach more like Todd's and finding a project that you want to make familiar work but with no constraints? Let me know.

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2 Comments

Michael McCray's picture

Generally, I will spend a year or more on projects of my own choosing. Working as a medical photographer has given me this luxury for over forty years. I have begun to explore conceptual photography which gives the satisfaction of creating what I feel vs instead of what I see. I enjoy it more now than when I began.

Joe Klementovich's picture

Good luck exploring.