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The Importance of Personal Projects

Published July 4th, 2011

Every once in a while, I decide to do something completely different than what I’ve been doing. It seems to be good for me! Almost like a creative recharge. Usually I won’t work on the project for long… just a quick jaunt into something new. I think it’s about to happen again…

I haven’t decided for sure on a project title yet. But I am thinking about naming it, ‘Tree of Life’. What do you think? Generally, new projects of mine stem off of techniques I have been using recently, but use those techniques in a completely new (new-to-me) way. This project is going to use compositing, black and white conversion ideas and high dynamic range imaging to make really engaging images of trees. Just because of how amazing they are, I feel like they will pretty much all be really big, old oak trees.

As a side note, here’s why I think projects are good for a photographer.

They can be a good challenge.

They can help get you out of a rut or thinking in new ways

They prove you can do more than what your main forte’ is.

They teach you how to apply concepts instead of memorize steps to a product. (This one is HUGE)

There are more reasons for sure, but the point of this post isn’t a long list. I will say this though. I feel like I am seeing more and more photographers who are trying to memorize steps and not enough that are learning to apply concepts. This is a huge deal. Photographers who can apply concepts are the ones that recognize a really cool technique (for instance, HDR) but instead of getting hung up on just performing that technique and trying to make it look like what they see online, they are coming up with ways to combine that technique with others to create their own style or product. (for instance, HDR timelapse videos, composited HDR portraits, hypereal/simply true-to-scene hdr).

There’s an old illustration that I’ve heard countless times regarding the overall concept of leadership. Basically, the idea is that people are always either a thermometer or a thermostat. There are those who are setting the standard and pace of the industry of photography, and those who are doing their best to just emulate that pace after the fact. This isn’t some sort of self-absorbed statement where I declare myself a thermostat of the industry. Far from it actually. It’s a challenge. Mostly to myself, but a public challenge for those who may stumble across it as well. Study techniques. Ask how things are done. Pay attention to the gear people are using, the places they are going or the settings being chosen. There is huge value in those things. But, study them as a set of techniques, like tools to be chosen when necessary for the job at hand; NOT as numbered steps that must be followed for a presentable image.

Don’t dare lose yourself in the shadow and footsteps of those you wish you were, work you wish you created or gear you wish you had. Photographers who have lost themselves in those shadows and footsteps don’t seem to ever become the pacesetters.

Was NOT planning this post to be anything more than giving a glimpse at a new project idea. Stumbled up onto a soapbox somewhere along the way. It was good for me to hash those thoughts out though. Anyone agree with me on this?



This was taken in Indiantown, FL and is a concept photo of the new project I am aiming to start soon. To check out some of my previous personal projects, please visit

  • June 22nd, 2011
  • Nikon D700
  • 30mm / f/2.8

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Angie O'Connor  about 8 years ago

I completely agree! I find myself thinking I could take better photos with a newer camera and could do better editing with a better computer so I put off trying to be a better photographer until I get better equipment. Then I think back to when I was first starting photography and I had one of the crappiest PnS's on the planet yet some of those photos are still my favourites today!

It's about perspective, not how much money you can dish out. It's about enjoying it and having fun, not trying to compete with every Tom, Dick and Henrietta you meet. It's about pushing yourself to learn, not coasting along on other peoples techniques! Wonderful posts and I agree 100%. Great photo as well, can't wait to see more :)