Whether you’ve been a photographer for 10 weeks or 10 years, we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about yet another creative who’s packed it all up, sold off all their gear, and decided to do something else in terms of a career.
It’s with that in mind that I am writing about the importance of personal projects.
Most people hear those words and think of young art school students, who pull together friends to shoot some fun stuff in between their demanding curriculum of school mandated projects. Now while that is a good example, it is worthwhile to note its importance on the healthy creative ‘paid/personal’ work balance that really never goes away, but we often forget nonetheless.
A few notable professional examples of photographers who still instill said balance in their careers are Chase Jarvis and Joey L, both of whom preach a lot on this topic as they realize the long-term benefits and how it impacts their careers, and more importantly their overall creativity as well.
Well, this sounds all warm and nice, but how can you make this actually work? Here are some pointers:
Setting aside the time and sticking to it. Dependent on your focus, it can be as long or short as you prefer. The most important part is making sure you focus on unplugging from usual everyday routine.
Finding the right amount of time that works for you. It can be as short as a week, or you can do something for half a year. Finding what works best for you will take time; don’t despair.
Wedding photographers use the seasonal downtime to work on personal work and new ideas for the upcoming busy season. Commercial photographers can be lucky enough to have three busy months of big work can allow them 2-3 months of traveling and shooting passion projects.
Realize the workflow benefits as well as the creative ones. Walking around new cities with your camera can be therapeutic and a great way to shoot new plates for composite work or even limited run fine art prints.
Prospective clients sometimes follow photographer’s personal work closely for outside-the-box ideas for their creative needs or briefs. What starts out as something small may suddenly become a new direction for your career.
Start small and slowly expand your comfort zone. Like shooting cityscapes? The nearest city will always be great for discovering new neighborhood pockets or even new ways to shoot the same ones again.
However, when comfortable why not discover somewhere new by train/car/or even plane? Think #wanderlust. The creative lifestyle can be tough, especially when it involves family, so why not bring along your loved one/ones to help you unplug and remember why you work the long crazy hours?
Remembering why you picked up a camera in the first place. Ask a lot of professional athletes who get paid millions to play a game, and most (if not all) will say the best time in their career was the times coming up — the time before the money, contracts, and endorsements.
Being a creative is no different: picking up your camera with no creative brief or for no monetary gain can remind you why you got into the field to begin with. Doing anything for a career, it will eventually become a ‘job’ — getting burnt out on a fun, creative outlet is inevitable, and it’s all in how you remedy the pain.
Oftentimes in the roller-coaster lifestyle of being a full-time creative, we only come to these lucid understandings after some time away from it all entirely, whether we take a 9-5 job to help bring in a steady paycheck or just unplug from the creative side and move to another spot behind the scenes.
However, it doesn’t have to take such a stark departure to help bring about that understanding. Instead, try to remember the importance of on-going personal work while you’re in the midst of your creative career.