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How to Increase Your Skills and Profit with Personal Photography Projects

By Chris Nachtwey on April 12th 2014

Be it commercial clients, wedding clients, portrait clients, or boudoir clients, we need to book clients to pay our bills; it’s just a fact. Photographers work hard to market to the right clients, we meet with potential clients on a weekly basis explaining why a potential client should hire us, and at the end of the day we can forget why we picked up a camera in the first place. We love making images!

Fall back in love with photography and grow your business by doing a personal side project!

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My Personal Projects

Every year I make it a point to start a year long photography project. My projects are always ones that I feel will not only help me grow as a photographer, but also help my business. I do this for two reasons. One, I want to make images I love. Two, I want to use my side project to help grow my business.

Note: You will see images from both the projects mentioned below sprinkled throughout the article. 

2013: I did an iPhone Picture of the Day project. I used this project to let my Facebook fans into my personal life. A year long project where I would take a new image on my iPhone and publish it on my Facebook business page everyday. It was tough, no doubt, but it was a great success both personally and professionally. It increased my Facebook fan base and help me reach new clients through social media.

2014: The Portraits on Film project. I offer a free half hour portrait session to any adult who wants to participate. We go to a cool place, spend a half hour or so together and I make portraits of them on 35mm film. I then do a short write up on my blog about the person and our experience along with the images. I increase my chances of new people or clients seeing the project by sharing the blog post on social media. Not only am I driving traffic to my blog, I’m creating fresh content that includes good keywords to help with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This project has also improved and refreshed my portrait portfolio.

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Why You Should Consider Doing a Personal Project

Personal Growth

Personal projects are a great time to try out new techniques and increasing your skill set. Use your personal project to become a better photographer. This will better prepare you for working with paying clients.

The iPhone project forced me to look at light, composition, and shapes differently. Instead of looking at those important image factors when I only had a paying client, I was doing it everyday. It made me an even better photographer for my paying clients.

The portrait’s on film project reunited me with my love of film and has improved my client interaction during a session. Not only that, I have the chance to shoot with the medium I prefer, film. The removal of the LCD on the back of my camera has forced me to interact with my subjects more and get to know them better. I believe their personality shows up much better in the final image. Now, when I shoot digital for my paying clients I focus less on the image I see on the LCD and more on who my subject is. The end result is better.

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Grow your Business

Use your personal project to market yourself, not so much your business. Clients love to see your personal side. They want to know who you are as a person as much as they want to know who you are as a photographer. Most clients don’t want a photographer who is all business. They want to hire a photographer they can make a connection with and be comfortable with. This is extremely true in wedding and portrait photography.

  • Drive traffic to your blog and social media sites: Once people catch onto the project, they will come back to see more. That, in turn, will allow them to see your professional work and can lead to booking new clients. This happened for me with my iPhone project, it drove a lot of traffic to my Facebook business page, which in turn helped me book new clients.
  • Improved portfolio: If your personal project is similar to the work clients pay you for, you are now refreshing your portfolio on a regular basis.  My portraits on film project has improved and refreshed my portfolio and it’s paying dividends.
  • Relationships: Personal projects can lead to new relationships with fellow photographers, venders, people and businesses. This can lead to more word of mouth referrals.

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How to Start

1. Figuring out what to do for a personal project should not be a drawn out process. Don’t overthink it by thinking you need to do something that’s never been done before (Truth is, it’s probably already been done anyway).

2. Keep it simple and achievable. Make sure the project is something you love to do. Remember, you are doing a side project to make images for you. Attracting new clients will be an added bonus.

3. Write it on your calendar. Find an hour or two in your weekly or monthly schedule; mark it as “personal photography time” or whatever you want. Just schedule it!

REWIND: BROOKE SHADEN: EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT FOR PROFESSIONALS ON PERSONAL PROJECT

 

4. Don’t go it alone, get a buddy! Convince a photography friend to join you. This will help to keep you accountable.

5. Have a good time. That’s the point here.

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Project Ideas

Love black and white portraits? Tell yourself you will make one new black and white portrait every week.

Get involved with a charity or non-profit and offer to shoot for free. Maybe it’s once a week, month or just a few times a year. Either way it’s something you want to shoot and you’re giving back. That always feels good!

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Want to try more off camera lighting? Set aside an hour every week to have your friends or family jump in front of your lens. Finally try those great off camera lighting tips you’ve been reading about on SLR Lounge forever! Who cares if you don’t “love” the images, you’re having fun and growing as a photographer! Not to mention you’re spending time with people you care about.

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Start now

Personal projects need to be for you, but I believe you should use them to grow your business at the same time. Some of the best work we do as photographers is work that comes from the heart. When we’re passionate about something we tend to create great work, which can help your business grow at the same time.

What projects have you done and how have they helped you?

 

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

2 Comments

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  1. Chuck Eggen

    I try to start a project and then get sidetracked. I guess the message here is just pick it back up when you can.

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  2. Justin Cooksey

    Great idea and something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I must get a project selected and started

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