The Power of Personal Projects

© Jane Ammon Photography

Every year since I launched my photography business, I’ve carved out time to pursue a personal project. It’s a part of my art that has helped me flourish as an artist, a person and as a business owner. Ranging from a large project that took over 2 years to complete and culminated with a gallery show to a small project I completed in 15 days with iPhone only pictures, each personal project has existed solely to help me create work that speaks to my heart and show the world the space I was in at the time.

Personal projects are exactly what they say: personal. They exist to give you a channel to explore parts of WHO you are and WHAT interests you with only parameters you set for yourself. With no money or time pressures and no voices of others in your head, they give you permission to make something …

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Using a Camera as Your Voice

When did photography become just a job?

Have you ever asked yourself this question during the dark hours of morning when you’re in a drowsy dream state? Do you want to tap into the power of personal projects, using a camera as your voice? You’re not alone. Many creative people who turn their passion into a profession ask themselves this same soul-searching question. 

Ji Lee, former creative director at Google Creative Lab, summed up this frustration: “I really wanted to not only think about ideas but also make something happen!” For photographers, making something happen means using a camera as your voice.

To explore the power of personal projects, The Photo Life is publishing a series of posts from photographers who have embraced risk and pursued long-term personal projects.

Rebecca Kiger knows exactly how terrifying it can be to speak your truth privately, much less openly to the world. But just as surely, she knows two …

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How To Crowdfund A Personal Project

Photographer Amy Toensing is a frequent contributor to National Geographic, but even reaching that pinnacle of professional recognition doesn’t mean she’s able to do whatever projects she wants.

“I consider myself an artist and I have work that I need to do to stay sane. I need to make sure that I’m doing my work,” she says. As we all know so well, even working for major publications doesn’t mean money to fund personal projects. So Amy is taking her first steps to crowdfunding her next personal project.

She’ll photograph the lives of urban refugee children in Africa, some of the most vulnerable people in an already disturbingly disadvantaged population of Africans driven from their homes by war, persecution, famine, or disease. It’s an attempt to draw attention back to the plight of refugees.

Amy has shared what she’s learned about using Kickstarter, encouraging other photographers to step up and declare their work …

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How to Make One Kid’s Year by Just Taking a Picture

Jane Goodrich has a simple question: “Can I actually make one kid’s year just by taking a picture?”

Turns out she can – and you can help too, by supporting her work and sick children who need us.

Jane loves photographing children so much, she’s made a career of it. She specializes in portraiture of newborns and children. And as an identical twin herself, she particularly enjoys making images of twins. (Turns out parents of twins are often reluctant to have a photo session, fearing it’ll be twice as crazy as regular studio appointments; Jane makes house calls to help simplify things for families.)

Lately, though, she’s engaged in a project that has become almost as dear to her heart as her DNA-matching sister.

Jane had known for years that her grandmother (and namesake) died of lymphoma in the 1950s. (It’s a type of blood cancer.) In the late 1990s, the daughter of a …

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What Wedding Photographers Can Learn from Documentarians – Part 2

Dorothea Lange and Jack Delano

Do you remember a time when photography was your way of experiencing and explaining the world?

This week’s series was inspired by Annie Leibovitz and the FSA Photographers of the Great Depression. The articled asked some challenging questions.

Is it possible to do the work that we are moved to create while we are doing commissioned work? What if we started looking at lists and schedules and the routine of shooting wedding after wedding as an opportunity rather than a hindrance to creativity? What if the shooting script expanded our creative options rather than limiting them?

The FSA required its photographers “to be more than an artist, more than an adequate mechanic. He must be something of a sociologist, something of an economist; he must be a good deal of wangler, equally at home with a hostess or a farmer’s wife; he must have a healthy nose for news coupled with a thorough skepticism of biased …

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The Power of Personal Projects – Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town

Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town, © Matt Eich

Sometimes a simple assignment turns into a multi-year photographic project. Just as Shawn Reeder spent years creating a visual essay embodying the vast beauty of Yosemite National Park, Virginia-based photographer Matt Eich spent years documenting the rural Mississippi neighborhood of Baptist Town. For some photographers, subjects that start as mere curiosities turn into longterm fascinations.

Established in the 1800s in conjunction with the growth of the local cotton industry, Baptist Town is one of Greenwood, Mississippi’s oldest African American neighborhoods.

Eich initially focused his attention on Baptist Town, but then launched into a second chapter of the project about the adjacent area of Greenwood. His goal is to display the resulting images in both communities in an effort to actively engage residents in a dialogue about improving the lives of their neighbors. Eich explains, “These communities are separated by distrust and a history of exploitation. By visually introducing neighbors to one another in an …

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“Range of Light” – The Power of Personal Projects in Timelapse!

Imagine spending years on a personal project.

That’s exactly what photographer Shawn Reeder did to produce his spectacular time lapse film featuring the grand wonders of Yosemite National Park. A true example of patience, persistence and passion, Reeder’s five-minute film is composed of nearly 7,000 unique photographs.

Expansive, explosive, energetic and enlightening are all words that leap to mind when viewing Reeder’s “Range of Light.” In fact, it’s less about viewing and more about experiencing.

By examining Yosemite in such deep detail, with each changing glint of light or hint of shade, Reeder produced a visual poem. It’s appropriate that the film’s title ties in John Muir’s legacy. Each individual photograph in Reeder’s film, strung together masterfully, completely conveys Muir’s sentiments,

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of …

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The Power of Personal Projects – Part III

The question deserves to be asked again: Are you balancing work that fills your bank account with work that fills your soul?

In the first two posts in this series, we heard firsthand from Dan Milnor and Dave Wittig about the power of personal projects.  In Dan’s case, a desire to pursue personal projects changed the trajectory of his career. Dave, on the other hand, discovered how personal portrait projects infuse his commissioned wedding work with passion and insight.

If you’re facing burnout, boredom or just a nagging feeling of “stuckness,” then maybe you need to embark on a personal project?

So how do you start?

First, you’ll need an idea. What interests you? What challenges you? What inspires you? What enrages you? Seek stories or subjects that make you feel something, preferably something personal. The more invested you are in a project, the better it will be.

Speaking of investment, how will you fund your …

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The Power of Personal Projects – Part II

Are you balancing work that fills your bank account with work that fills your soul?

We’ve all made excuses. 

“I’m too busy trying to finish projects for my clients.”

“I’m too exhausted to wake up a the crack of dawn to chase perfect light.”

“I’ve got to focus on work that pays the bills!”

Sure, there are plenty of good excuses. But the truth is: you can’t afford to avoid personal projects. Consider the risks. Without work that fuels your creativity and feeds your spirit, you’re sprinting down a path to boredom and burnout.

To explore the power of personal projects, The Photo Life is publishing a series of posts from photographers who have embraced risk and pursued long-term personal projects. The second post in the series is an enlightening Q & A with photographer Dave Wittig.

CLICK BELOW TO SEE A SLIDESHOW of Dave’s ongoing personal project, The Naked Portraits.

Why do you make time for personal projects?

Because …

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The Power of Personal Projects – Part I

When did photography become just a job?

Have you ever asked yourself this question during the dark hours of morning when you’re lingering in a drowsy dream state? You’re not alone. Many creative people who turn their passion into a profession have asked themselves this same soul-searching question. 

Ji Lee, former creative director at Google Creative Lab, summed up this frustration: “I really wanted to not only think about ideas but also make something happen!”

Instead of staying stuck in the politics of commissioned work, Ji Lee harnessed the power of personal projects to fuel his professional development. He quickly changed his career trajectory with 30,000 stickers and a guerrilla art approach.

To explore the power of personal projects, The Photo Life is publishing a series of posts from photographers who have embraced risk and pursued long-term personal projects. The first post is by Dan Milnor, a roving documentary photographer and Blurb’s “Photographer at Large,” who splits his …

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