Last week in Part 1, I asked you to take a moment and remember back to why you picked up a camera and started making pictures; to remember the excitement that drew you to photography. Now that you’re back to that moment when photography was new and exciting, how can you keep it there?
For me, the answer is doing person projects. There is no one right way to start a personal project. Some people need and prefer structure. Some people just go with their gut. Both are fine. But what I’m hoping to encourage you to do is to just start. For me, the best personal projects are those that I stumble upon–ones that emerge from what I’m drawn to or have suddenly realized I’m shooting a lot of. For example, I love my garden and the prairie preserves that can be found all over my hometown. When I first started shooting and learning how to shoot my camera in manual mode, flowers were my favorite subjects to practice on. I still shoot flowers in the garden and on the prairie every summer looking for ways to make the images new and meaningful to me.
My other favorite kind of personal projects are those that help me improve my skills as a photographer. For example, last winter, I wanted to feel more confident about my abilities to shoot film with strobes, so I created a project and put out a model call and shot twelve mini-sessions to gain more experience with strobes on film in the studio. It doesn’t matter what your personal project is; the important thing is that you’re actively working on at least one.
So how do you go about starting a personal project? Start by looking at your past work. But only look at the work you love. Figure out what it is you love about it and what it has in common. Continue that work. The only difference is that now you’re consciously working on a personal project. The best personal projects are the ones that are meaningful to you. What do you want to get better at doing as a photographer? What are you afraid of doing? Do you have a problem that you need to solve? Is there a technique or genre that you’ve always wanted to try? What do you feel passionate about? What makes you emotional? What are you curious about? Answer one or more of those questions and start shooting. A photographer once asked me, “What would you photograph even if you couldn’t show it to anyone? Go shoot that.”
Still not sure that’s what you want to do? Here are some more ideas to get you started. But remember, this shouldn’t be an “assignment”, something you feel like you have to do. It should be something that you want to do.
- Do a 365 project. You don’t have to start on January 1. These are especially fun if you’re part of a community. Check out my_365 or 365gifts on Instagram. I did a 365 project for over two and a half years, and it was the best way to improve my photography! If you want to see some blah photography, scroll back to the beginning of my Instagram feed. Yikes!
- Photograph your pet or children in a way unique to them. Does your cat sleep in weird positions? Does your daughter like to dress herself in a style all her own? Document it! One of my dear friends makes touching images of her daughter that always move me.
- Play tourist in your hometown. A local photographer in my hometown is a master at this!
- Are you a fantastic cook? Photograph your food! This is the author of one of my favorite cookbooks ever!
- Create a project using that new piece of gear you bought but haven’t really used yet.
I’d love to know your ideas for a personal project! Share them in the comments and let’s get inspired!
Jen Golay is a Midwest mom of two boys–ages 14 and 10–who constantly amaze her with their creativity and cleverness. She is married to her best friend who willingly indulges her love of film photography and never rolls his eyes or complains when she brings another film camera into the house. Learning is Jen’s real passion, and she is always willing to share whatever knowledge she has collected. If she’s not hiding behind a camera, she’s probably hiding behind a book. You can find Jen’s photography on her blog Daily Life Photography and Instagram where she shares film images from her every day life and work. She loves comments and questions and promises to reply!
If you’re looking for a little guidance and encouragement to start your own personal project or want to take your film photography to the next level, Jen is excited to offer in-person and online mentoring sessions! She can help you with finding the right personal project for you, portfolio review, creative film techniques (e.g., double exposures, long exposures, Polaroid), strobes on film, or just getting started shooting film. Get in touch with Jen to find out more. firstname.lastname@example.org!