What I Actually Love About Personal Photography Projects

I remember when I first became a professional photographer and I was devouring advice from those further along in the path than me. People talked about personal photography projects and how important they were. They were important for developing your skills and getting noticed and setting yourself apart, but in my experience, there’s something more important.

Personal photography projects are personal. They’re self-assigned and self-motivated. Sure, they can help you practice and learn new skills or diversify your portfolio, but more importantly, they help you reconnect with your passion.

Photography is a great career but I’m not sure anyone does it for money or prestige, most photographers do it for their passion. When we start to get burnt out or jaded it’s important to reconnect to that passion. Personal projects are a reminder to give yourself permission to create things that inspire you and sometimes those are the exact things you should be creating.

How Personal Projects Help You Reconnect

When photography becomes your job or your career you tend to worry about things like pleasing clients and making your numbers. Photography becomes work. Sure, it’s great to get paid to do something that we love but that only works if we continue to love it.

Blocking out some time to work on a project that matters to YOU is important to remind yourself what you love about photography. With a personal photography project, YOU are the client. The person you have to please is YOURSELF.

When was the last time you did something for yourself? Self-love and self-care help give us the strength to do all the other things we have to do. Think of it like putting your own oxygen mask on first and then tending to your child (or client in this scenario.)

Permission to Create

Sometimes you have an idea or a dream you want to pursue. But that dream ends up at the bottom of the to-do list. You can’t justify it because it doesn’t pay the bills or it’s a little off-brand or because for some reason you won’t give yourself permission to do it.

Personal photography projects are all about giving yourself permission to tap into the personal. In 2020 when a lot of our work got canceled for some reason we don’t need to mention, suddenly a bunch of items on my to-do list got crossed off. What was left were the things that were someday maybe dreams, meaning they were the things I would do someday if I had the time or freedom.

What resulted was permission to work on something I wanted to do. Or maybe it’s not about permission but about eliminating excuses. We created a kids’ book called ABCs of Adventure filled with photography combined with playful sketches. I wanted it for my kids but as it turned out a bunch of our audience wanted it for their kids too.

Other Benefits of Personal Photography Projects

There are a handful of other benefits worth mentioning which will only add to feeling reconnected to your passion. Personal projects often mean creating a series of images that tell a story or are a cohesive part of a collection. It’s pretty rewarding to have something like that completed.

Some photographers use personal projects to work on specific photography goals. It’s a great way to practice specific skills or subjects and use the project to grow as a photographer. Whether you’re going outside your comfort zone or expanding your strengths, goals are always great for motivation.

While again, I don’t want you to overthink it, personal projects can fill gaps in your portfolio or make your portfolio stronger. They also might simply show potential clients what else you are passionate about and humanize you beyond what you normally shoot.

Who knows what else will come from your personal project? The unknown benefits could surprise you. Maybe you learn something new about yourself.

How to Start a Personal Project

Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things. We want to come up with a perfect personal project that will make us instafamous. It’ll be trendy and flashy and it will rocket your career ahead.

That’s too much pressure. How about this, what do you want to shoot? What do you love shooting, have you always loved shooting, and is the reason you pursued this crazy path in the first place?

What’s something that’s at the bottom of your to-do list, not because it isn’t important but because you haven’t given yourself permission to do it?

Start there. If you start by doing something that sounds fun you won’t have to force yourself to do it. Instead, the challenge will be giving yourself permission to follow your heart.

No More Excuses

If you have a great idea for a personal photography project that is sure to be a market sensation or bolster your portfolio, by all means, pursue it. But more importantly, I want you to give yourself permission to create something simply for the joy of it. Remember when you were a kid and you colored just for fun or built a fort or made up a skit with your friends?

We come up with countless excuses for why we can’t work on something just for ourselves. We’re too busy with client work, we can’t justify the time or financial investment, or it’s not worth it because it won’t actually advance our career. Forget those excuses because for one they’re not true, who knows what the results of your project with bring forth.

And, for two, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need a reason or justification to create art. Create it simply because it inspires you and because it brings you joy. Create it to remind yourself why you love photography or to discover what else you might love. Do it for yourself, it’s not selfish it’s self-expression and that is art.

About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.