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The Importance of Personal Projects


by Alan Winslow – January 10th, 2019

A piece of advice that I have gotten over the years from editors, mentors, curators, and other photographers is the importance of personal projects. I would describe a personal project as a body of work that you were not commissioned to do. You sought out the subject because it’s an exciting story, you have a personal connection to the question or a host of other reasons. The point is you are excited to get out and work for the sheer joy of producing.


If you are a working professional or an amateur life can quickly get in the way of creative pursuits. We can easily justify putting that project on hold for another day, week, or year. We need to make a living and pay our bills. Yes, that’s true but taking time to produce something without any pressure can be extremely valuable to your career and development as an artist. Isn’t the desire to create one the reasons we pursue this career anyway? Here are a couple of benefits I see in working on a personal project. We will also hear from some Coloratti as to why they believe personal projects are essential. Finally, throughout the article, I will also be sharing a project that I have been working on for two years involving Volunteer Firefighters around the United States.


©Alan Winslow 2018


“The best advice I can give any photographer is always to have and complete personal projects. No matter what you are doing if you want to advance as an artist, you must have personal projects and work on that every bit as hard as you would your commercial work. Your personal work is your passion and if you can’t come up with something you are passionate about you might consider doing something else.” – Andy Katz

Develop a new style/approach:

It’s great to be known for a specific style, color pallet or subject. Being known for a particular look is how editors and producers remember you. However, if you are looking to break away and explore something new a great way to start is with a personal project. It’s hard for an editor to take a risk on someone who they’re not 100% sure can do the job. For example, if your portfolio is full of portrait work and you want to shoot a product campaign, a client might hesitate to hire you.

©Alan Winslow 2018

Here’s where a personal project comes into play. Take some time making your own “campaigns” experiment with lighting, angles, and approach. Bring these images to that new client and discuss the plan. First, you will have more fun experimenting when a job is not on the line, and second, you will give the client confidence in your style.

Spark Creativity:

Naturally we are going to get comfortable producing in a particular style. Sometimes it’s good to look at your work with fresh eyes. A personal project is a perfect time to do that. With nothing but time on the line, you can experiment freely.

“Personal projects are the only way to stay alive.” – Douglas Dubler 

©Alan Winslow 2018

Just Because:

Getting out and producing for no other reason other than to do it is liberating and an excellent way to spend a day!

“Personal projects help bring our vision into focus. They help us give direction to and find greater depth within creative life.” – John Paul Caponigro

For me, I have always been fascinated with firefighters. I grew up going to the fire station because my parents, and grandparents all volunteered. Whenever I go home, I head down to the station and visit with old family friends and get caught up. A couple of years ago I started to do research and found out that 60% of our firefighters in the US are volunteers. I became interested in investigating these heroes, so I set out to upstate New York to meet and make their portraits. I ended up photographing multiple stations over the years and getting invited to come back whenever I wanted.


©Alan Winslow 2018

©Alan Winslow 20


Recently, one of the fire departments reached out to me about a training session they were about to conduct. Would I be interested in coming up and photographing them burning down a house for training purposes? The owner had donated it to the fire department to provide invaluable training. I agreed immediately. I had a wonderful time creating images that I wanted to make while connecting my subject. The project is slowly building and who knows where it will end. Right now I’m having a blast just making images.

Coloratti John Paul Caponigro quoted above has a beautiful piece about the personal projects on his blog titled “Developing Personal Projects” make sure to give that a read.

Always remember to pack your X-Rite ColorChecker Passport when you are setting out to produce your passion projects so you can get perfect colors!

To check out the rest of our color management solutions head over to Xritephoto.com

If you, have a personal project you’d like to share leave us a comment. Maybe we’ll share it on our social feeds!

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