Jun 19, 2023

Shoot Personal Work - Photo Authentic Podcast #6

12 min read


Welcome to the Photo Authentic podcast. I'm your host, Lincoln Barbour, and this podcast is dedicated to helping emerging photographers like you become successful and have a long lasting career. When I moved to Portland in 2005, I had only been a photographer for a couple years. I was still kind of in that assistant transition phase of my career.

Since I didn't go to photo school or studied art in college, I was kind of just learning photography on my own. What I felt like I lacked then and decided to change was a style. You know, the good photographers, the great photographers all have a certain kind of look to their work and you can pick them out of the crowd. Think of the Annie Lebowitz of the Worlds, or the David LaChappelles. You can tell one of their photos when you see it. And I knew that was important if I was gonna stand out in my market.

So not having a lot of resources and not having a lot of experience, I had to like figure out how to get a personal style.

So what I did was and I'm gonna date myself, but I started a photo blog. So this is pre-Instagram. This is even before Flickr. I started a photo blog where I would post one photo a day. At the time I was working at Pro Photo Supply as a, as their web designer and then also shooting part-time for local magazines and stuff like that.

So when I had free time, I would go and just kind of wander do like street photography and shoot things that I thought were interesting. And this helped me refine my look. Uh, part of it was the way I shot, but also part of it was the way I processed my photos. And over time, after doing a photo blog for, you know, I did it for at least two years, I really started to hone in on what I liked and what was different about my work from other people.

And that's when art directors and creative directors started noticing my style of shooting. And that's when I started getting hired to do bigger jobs. You know, started getting magazine covers rather than just a single page.

So, this process of doing personal work is a super important part of your long-term career goals as a photographer.

It helps you set up your style and helps creatives and art buyers, you know, know what you like to do and then how they can take your style and apply it to a job that they may have.

So in this podcast episode, I want to kind of talk about tips for shooting personal work. And that goes over everything from actually shooting the work to promoting it and how you can use your personal work to help you get better assignments both commercially and editorially.

So when you're doing a personal project, it's really important to sort of come up at the beginning, come up with some clear goals.

You know, for me it was with my photo blog. It was, you know, post one photo a day no matter what. So that pressure deadline to post something meaningful and something that I would want out in the world was the goal. And even though some days photos were better than others, I still posted every day. So that was my goal for that project. Uh, and it really helped.

So when you're thinking about your own photo project, come up with some parameters, some goals, like you want to create 20 images or you want to shoot this over 24 hours. You know, kind of come up with a goal for the photo project so that it's outlined and it can be framed for success.

You can also come up with sort of some creative goals for like, how you're shooting. So say you want to like, try a new lighting technique, like you want to try a ring flash, um, or you want to do something where you usually use strobes to shoot something. You want to do it with all natural light.

Talk about what techniques you can use that are either interesting to you or different or just a new process. You know, maybe you wanna shoot on film for example.

For another goal your personal project is to have it kind of reflect your interests and your passions. Before I was a photographer from my art and design interest, a lot of my photography is about design and that's kind of why I shoot a lot of architecture. So, when you look at your own personal work find out things that are interesting to you in your life and then try to photograph those in a way that's unique and speaks to you.

So is very important to come up with a purpose. Once you have your goals and your general idea of the project, you need to decide, where you want to take it. What is the end goal? Are you gonna put it on your website? Are you gonna do an art show? Are you gonna do a gallery show? Are you gonna put these for sale, for stock? Have a place for them to go. Don't just do it and sit on it like, you really need to get it out in the world so you can get feedback.

So, you know, come up with the concept, come up with the parameters, and then come up with the outcome. And those three pieces will help you stay on track for your personal work.

Once you have all those things in line, you wanna start doing the prep. So this is like pre-production. So in, in larger photo shoots, this is a very important step, is sort of getting all everything lined up before you actually do the shoot to make sure that you have all the resources that you need.

So, for example, like if you're doing a shoot with people, you know you wanna organize your team. You're gonna need models. You're gonna need stylists, hair and makeup, you know, those kind of things. if you're doing something with sets or with props, you want to make sure that, if you're not doing the work yourself, you have somebody that you're gonna partner with. You know, maybe somebody wants to do some portfolio work and you can do a trade where, you know, you shoot the stuff and then they make it. And you guys both get to use the photos. So, organize your team, figure out who you need to help you come up with these photos.

Then you wanna gather your equipment. Obviously you need your camera, but you also might need certain kind of lights. You maybe need to rent something. When you need to rent something, I like to use lensrentals.com. They have pretty much anything you could think of. And if you rent over a weekend, it's really affordable.

If it's a longer term project, maybe you want to buy a new lens or maybe a buy a battery powered light so you can do lighting on location in remote places. Think about what you're gonna need for your equipment this project.

Next: do you want to scout your location? So for example, I was thinking of doing, um, Personal project where there's all these abandoned buildings in my town. Like gas stations and hotels and stuff, and they, they were all owned by one person and he's just sitting on them and he's not selling the land. He's just letting these buildings decay. So it's a very sort of interesting architectural study of what happens to a building when it's just left alone for years on end. So I need to look at all these locations, make sure I can get permission to be on premises, and then we also come up with a time of days.

If you're doing something in studio, you want to make sure that you're gonna have the room to build the sets that you want to build. And you're gonna have to have the time to do it. If you're do something that it's more like documentary, you wanna make sure that you visit all your subjects before you do the shoot so that you can have a idea of what you're getting into before you get there. Not every personal project needs a scout, but if there are certain goals with the shoot, like a certain look that you want to create, it's definitely important to scout those.

So once you've got all those wheels in motion, it's a really good idea to do a test. That's where you just do one shot or just a handful of shots just to kind of test your idea, and see if you like it. So if you are shooting with a ring flash and you want to shoot models in baroque costumes. You know, like maybe just start with somebody just wearing something normal and just practice with a ring flash and do a test shoot, and kind of work on your technique and work on your style. Work on the look. Just don't build up all the stuff, all the expense and time of a full on photo shoot of a full on personal project until you have a real clear idea of what that look is gonna be like for this project. So do a test to help you come up with that.

Once you kind of refined your, your idea and you've got your, all your goals and your team and everything's organized, so you want to schedule it. So again, depending on the personal project, this could be a one day shoot, or it could be a long term project where you're visiting a location every month for a year.

So whatever the dates are, you want to make sure that you have those in mind and you wanna put 'em in your calendar and hold yourself accountable. You don't want to overbook, you don't wanna skip it, you wanna make sure that you treat this like you were treating a paying gig. Because this kind of work will get you the paying gigs that you want to do later.

It's a good idea, especially if you're working with a team to share these dates, so that, everybody can plan for their time and get it all organized.

So once that's all dialed in, now it's the easy part really. You gotta shoot the project. So, you know, start the shoot, make sure you're doing all the quality control stuff. You're checking focus, you're shooting tethered, you're doing everything that you need to do to make sure that this project is a success. And not just something that was like, meh, you know, you want this to be as important as a paying gig. So, treat it like you were getting paid.

So the final part of the shooting project is that you go into the edit and retouch mode. So this is when you take your work back to your desktop or you drop your film off at the lab . Um, and then you, you edit, you know, you, you kind of take a look at the photos.

You sit with 'em, you work on the retouching, the color treatment, and you get everything looking the way that you like and that you feel connected to. This is a good time to share some of the work , especially if you have people on the team be like, Hey, this is where I'm at with these photos. You know, what do you think? You know, share that with the model. Share it with the stylist. Try to get feedback from the people who were there at the shoot. See if you can refine it, make it any better, and then go back and finish it up and just deliver the job. And then that's when you get ready to share it.

So there's a lot of ways to do this. I would recommend first putting 'em on your website and writing a blog post, you know, announcing a new project. Once you do that, then you could send out a newsletter. So if you have an email list, you can share the gallery on your website and get it out there.

Then once you share with your email list, then start putting it on social media and always, have a call to action where you have people go to your website to see more of the work. So don't put it all out there at once. Kind of drip it out, you know, photo by photo over couple weeks and get people to go to your website.

You know, it's kind of the point of this personal marketing is to drive people to your website so they can learn more about you. Once you've kind of done all that sort of pre-marketing or outreach marketing, then you can look to, putting it in a gallery, even if it's just a coffee shop, you know, like, like get it out in the public and try to get, you know, people to see your work in real life.

There's something magical about a real print that a digital screen just can't compete to. Use your connections and try to find somebody that can put your work in a gallery.

So just to recap, shooting personal work, the most important thing is to have some clear goals and some parameters and the scope of the feeling of the shoot. So you want to have like a clear idea of what you want to take a photograph of. You know, it's something you would write out before you get too far into it.

Then you want to organize your team, you know, models, stylists, retouchers, prop makers, set builders, you know, whatever you need to, to accomplish the goals of the shoot.

You wanna gather your equipment and test it out. You wanna make sure you know what you're working with before you do the actual shoot.

You wanna scout your locations if you need to, or book time in a studio.

You wanna do a test to make sure you can refine the idea and the look and make sure that this is something that you want to want to pursue even further.

Then you wanna book the shoot. So you wanna set the dates or the date, the one date, or the many dates or the, the time period that you're gonna be shooting. And you wanna hold yourself accountable by sharing your schedule with somebody. Especially with your team, if you're using people to be a part of the shoot.

You shoot the project and you have a start in an end. So you have your goal in mind so you know when you're done. So it's very important to not have it be nebulous and open. So you start shooting, and then you edit and you do the retouching. You send it out for some feedback from your core group of people you trust and get some comments on them.

If you have a coach or a rep, share it with them so they can give you some commercial, you know, if it has a commercial viability, like if it's something that would be interesting to a commercial audience. Then once the photos are all done and retouched, you then, share it.

You put it out in the world. So start by putting it on your website, then put it on a blog post or a gallery. Send it out to your email list and then put it on social. Then after that, try to get it in a local gallery. Or even maybe even a local magazine. You know, sometimes like the regional magazines will want to publish a feature, especially if it's kind of a photo essay or you know, something that features something in your community.

Personal projects are something that you should strive to do every year, a couple times a year if you have time, uh, especially when you're first starting out. The more personal projects you can do, the better off. You'll have quicker way to develop your style and art buyers will then know what you're good at and what you like to do, and you can get hired to. The more complicated you can make your personal projects, you know, like by bringing in crew and bringing in team, the more you'll help other people realize that they can trust you on these larger productions.

So, I encourage you to start shooting personal work. You know, start small if you've, if you're new, you know, just start real small. Start with something you can do by yourself. But if you've been in a photographer for a couple years, you know, reach out to the people you've worked with in the past and ask if they would want to do a personal project with you. You know, like a trade for portfolio type of situation. They get fresh work for their book and then you get fresh work for your book. So it's definitely a win-win and a lot of stylists and models are open to this kind of situation.

So get out there, start doing it. If you need help, I'm here to help you.

Go to photoauthentic.com and you can join the community. You can also hire me as a one-to-one coach. Just go to, photoauthentic.com to learn more. As always... happy shooting.

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