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The Value of a Personal Project--Especially Now!

Published: 18/05/2020

Ian, from Timmins, ON, Canada writes:

“At the PFRE Conference in Las Vegas last year, Mike Kelley talked about how important his personal projects were to his career and his photography chops. I’ve been thinking of doing one for myself but I’m not convinced of the benefits. Am I missing something?”

Thanks for your question, Ian. I think that if you’re going to reject the idea of a personal project, out of hand, without really giving it a shot, then I think you may be throwing away an opportunity for adding an element of potential fulfillment in your life through your photography. As Mike said in his talk at the Las Vegas conference, one of the key benefits of a personal project is to retain your love of photography. What you shoot doesn’t matter, because one of the key benefits of doing a personal project is that it allows you to explore your creativity and take your mind off of shooting real estate every day (if that’s what you’re doing).

Beyond the fact that personal projects tend to remind you of your passion for photography, there are many other benefits to taking on such a project, including:

  • It gives you a chance to experiment. A personal project allows you to spend a bunch of time trying new things and taking chances, which is something we don’t regularly have the luxury of doing in our day-to-day real estate shooting.
  • It improves your skills. Building off the previous point, when you experiment with things, you’re learning new things; even if you fail, and actually, you’re probably learning more because you fail! I’d bet that much of what you learn can be transferable to your REP, which is likely going to help you become a better real estate shooter.
  • It can make you more interesting to your clients. Many photographers open up a new gallery on their websites to show the results of their personal projects. This can have the added benefit of showing your clients a different aspect of you as a person and as a creative, which they might find intriguing.
  • It can help develop relationships with other photographers. Posting your personal project work on social media forums might also spark a conversation or even a relationship with people that you might not otherwise have met. It might even lead to collaborations with others who share similar interests. A great example of this comes from Scott Hargis and Mike Kelley, who recently collaborated on a project driven by Covid-19. In short, they “documented the architecture of 'shelter in place' by using videoconferencing software to conduct remote photoshoots of people’s homes around the world.” To get a closer look at this wonderful project, click here.
  • It can be therapeutic (especially NOW in these scary and uncertain times). Personally speaking, shooting stuff that’s just for me allows me to get out of the rat-race for an hour or two; and in that time, I’m having so much fun fiddling around with my subject matter, that all other concerns or stresses seem to melt away--it’s like a therapy session (and it doesn’t cost anything!)

Anyway Ian, I hope this has been helpful to you and that it inspires you to go out and shoot a personal project. If so, I hope that it brings you much satisfaction.

I’d love to hear about any of your personal projects and if you’d like to share, please add a link to your comment. It would be great to see!

3 comments on “The Value of a Personal Project--Especially Now!”

  1. Ian, I wasn't at the PFRE conference but I'm pretty sure that Mike's point was that the boost to his professional career was a by-product of doing something personal without consideration of any business element. I think first and foremost a personal project needs to be inspired by elements that have nothing to do with any potential financial benefits. Inspired being the operative word, as I'm sure many professional photographers will at least consider that there MAY be a financial benefit further down the road.

    I can't recall who I was listening to recently but they said one key point to a personal project is just to start it and see where it takes you. It doesn't need to be planned out to any particular degree.

  2. Personal projects big and small. They can range from multiple months to a single day. There's tremendous benefits to personal projects as Tony has mentioned. The few others that he hasn't spoken about. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from a buyer I don't see that type of work in your portfolio. Buyers tend to want to see that you can do what you say you can do before they hire you to do it. If you're looking to expand your photography business you can do personal projects to open up new doors.

    Matt Davis, I don't hundred percent agree with you that there should be some financial aspiration associated with your personal project. For the majority of my career I did at least three or four personal projects annually. And as my ex-wife used to always say as a criticism," Mike never did a free project he did make $10,000 off of." She is correct, all of my personal projects were done at my own expense, and use them for marketing or showcasing a particular skill of which I generally received $10,000 or better in new assignments because of the project. I always preferred to perfect a new technique at my expense not at my clients.

    I love what I do. And expanding my knowledge base and skill base through personal projects is a great way to remove the pressure of the client. Side note most of my personal projects I ended up reshooting at least three times before I got it exactly the way I pre-visionist it. Today I can pre-visualize and set up the shot and 9/10 nail it on the first exposure. I don't think I would've ever been able to achieve that level without diligently working on my craft through personal projects.

    I guess the bottom line of personal projects, is its personal. Is your photography a business or passion? Are you at that point in your craft where you can pre-visualize any shot and nailed it first attempt. Are you shooting in every field that you wish to shoot and thought of as a professional in those chosen fields? Are you hundred percent satisfied with your business as is without concern for expansion of the photographic aspects? These are personal questions that you should answer.

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