Anyone in the photo industry will tell you that pursuing personal work is a key step to evolving and flourishing professionally, no matter what stage of your career. Such advice may sound obvious, but it’s easy to lose focus.
Consider the following scenario: If you’re always capturing someone else’s vision, you’re in danger of losing your own. And you’re also more likely to stop reveling in what drew you to photography to begin with. Before you know it, you only pick up a camera when you’re working—never in your free time—because you’re so sick of looking through the lens. Slowly but surely, you can hardly remember what you loved about the medium. What’s more, the work you do for others is becoming stale, uninteresting or unimaginative, and as a result, may even be adversely impacting your business.
But exactly how do you keep productive and inspired? In many cases, preventing or undoing this scenario is a matter of time management, discipline and letting in a sense of ease.
Here are some tips for staying productive and inspired as you navigate your career:
1. Determine when you work best. Some people are more creative or fruitful in the morning; others, in the evening. For some people, setting aside entire blocks of days provides them with the concentrated focus they need. Be honest with yourself about your natural rhythms; so long as you are working comfortably and productively, it doesn’t matter if they are out of sync with traditional work schedules.
For the past ten years or so, I’ve made my schedule coincide with the seasons. As a street photographer living in New York City, a lot more people are outside during the warmer months and the days are long, so I spend as much of that time photographing as possible. During the colder months, the days are short and there are fewer people outside, so I spend that time looking at the images I produced when it was warmer and taking care of administrative stuff (organizing files, corresponding with people in the industry, applying for calls and grants, etc.). This schedule has given me incredible focus—and a lot of joy. It just feels natural, like rising with the sun.
2. Schedule time to photograph by actually putting it in your calendar. If you don’t, it’s really easy for that time to get gobbled up by something else. Treat your personal projects like an appointment you can’t reschedule.
3. Obtain a job that doesn’t involve shooting for others to supplement your income. The main consideration is to find a job that doesn’t tax you mentally and physically. That will give you the energy to devote to your personal work.
It’s also helpful if this job has one or more of the following:
- You can do it easily because it involves skills you’ve already acquired or that come naturally, whether photo-related or not.
- It’s part-time, or at least fewer than 40 hours a week and/or has a flexible schedule so that photography can remain your focus.
- It evolves your artistic sensibilities in any medium.
- It provides exposure to the photography community, so you can keep networking and meeting colleagues and industry professionals.
4. Find your equilibrium. Creativity is like fire: it needs air to thrive. Don’t make your personal work or your professional career your only focus in life. Make time to hang out with family and friends, take in other art work, exercise and eat right, volunteer at an organization that means something to you, enjoy nature, etc.
If you don’t and your life isn’t balanced, eventually you will feel its effects. Not only will you become less creative, you’ll be a lot less joyful.