JS: A successful personal project, from my perspective, should be about something or someone that you care about, it’s much easier (and exciting) to make photographs when you are invested in that particular topic, issue, or community. The project should be a vehicle to showcase your aesthetic and the images should be presented the way that you see fit. It should also be about discovery, you should be learning during the process. A printed piece, a pop-up installation, a project-specific website, a hashtag, are a few examples of ways to present and distribute a body of work. Field time for my projects has varied based on the topic: 10 years, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Time is always a good thing but it doesn’t always result in a worthy project.

Self-initiated projects represent who I am as an artist. This type of work is the foundation that drives me to make photographs. Small Town Hip hop, The Farms, and The Skaters of La Paz are all examples of my personal work.

EG: Beyond what JS said, it should ideally represent the type of work you want to make. Every assignment will have an agenda that isn’t necessarily your agenda. A personal project should be 100% about your agenda.

CC: One project I found to be successful because I was able to demonstrate a new approach to lighting in studio. Another project was successful because I was able to tell stories and create images and compile them into a self-published book that I wanted to see exist in the world. Another was successful because I was able to stretch myself and direct, DP, and edit a motion piece. All this to say, I have found success in personal projects when I felt that I was able to do something different from what I typically do when I’m commissioned and stretch myself to apply a new skill or create something I hadn’t done before. I think a personal project is successful if it yanks you out of complacency to create work that tells people more about you (personally/stylistically/artistically). Naturally, this will be something you’re excited to share, and maybe someone will see it, be inspired by it, and hire you to create something similar for them. But, I see this as a bonus by-product of the project and it’s not my motivation because what if you don’t receive any response?

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JS: Personal work is the lab where you cook up and make a mess with different experiments. I often use smaller self-initiated projects to figure out and refine different approaches that I will either use in a longer term project or for an editorial client. The relationship between commercial and personal work is symbiotic, I’ve found that I’m often hired for a specific approach that I honed during a project that I pursued on my own. Always remember that the main through line with your work is YOUR VOICE- don’t get tripped up on if it is too much of a departure from your past work.

EG: If you’re not crafting new things and experimenting . . . then why are you even here??? Personal work is where you experiment and try out things you’ve been wanting to do. It also is the only time that you can be 100% selfish and do the work YOU want to do. No one else has a say in what you make. If you do personal work right, then assignments will follow in the same style as your personal work.

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JS: Personal work is the container that allows me to show who I am and what I care about. Also, it is a space for me to experiment. When I am reaching out to clients, the majority of the work that I share is self-initiated either a 1 one-day test shoot or a longer-form narrative project. This industry is evidence-based and you have to demonstrate that you can deploy a specific approach on your own before you’re hired for it.

CC: I learned the importance of test shoots when I was assisting. Even though the photographer I was assisting was working a ton, she still found time to test on her one or two days off and that’s the work that clients would see, love, and hire her for.
I’ve experienced the same thing – immediately after sharing a test shoot, a client used one of the images from it as a reference for the work they wanted me to create for them. 
Tests give me an opportunity to collaborate with different crew members and build a team. Every job is going to have different needs and the more people you work with the more you can confidently bring on the right people for the job. If you want to work with a crew, put together a mood board and reach out to people. Be specific about what they’ll receive in exchange for contributing their time and talent, ask about how they work and if they require a kit fee (HMU) or return fees (stylists), where the images intend to be used, and credits. 
Nobody has the same perspective, ideas, and life experience as you. Personal work is what will set your work apart from everyone else’s. Also read “What are the elements of a successful personal project?”

EG: Personal work yields editorial/commercial work. That’s just a fact.

A lot of people talk about making personal work only as a means to an end (ie commercial work). That sounds like a chore, not something you’re personally invested in. For me, personal work was something I needed to make. I was going to make the work regardless of anyone paying attention. If you don’t pour yourself into your personal projects . . . why are you even doing this?

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