As I develop as a photographer, I discover things I wish I had known years before when I was starting out. One of the most important lessons I wish I learned at the beginning of my career was...
"Always shoot for yourself."
It forces me to practice my composition and technical skills. I strongly believe anyone can be a photographer. (Side note: I do not believe everyone can be a professional photographer. That's a whole other animal and blog post waiting to happen. ) To me, photography is a language. I speak through my photographs. I show my emotions, my perspective of the world, my ideas of love....etc. So when I say anyone can be a photographer, I mean everyone speaks through their photographs. (Some will speak more clearly and distinctly... i.e. the professional.) And the way to hone photographs as your language is by practicing, practicing, practicing. Look at your personal work and evaluate it. Is the photograph look how you want it to look? How can it convey your distinct point of view more clearly? And personal work is the perfect time to explore those aspects of photography.
It keeps photography from being just my job. I've been a professional photographer for some years now. In my early years you would absolutely never see me with my camera unless I was working. People were constantly asking me to take pictures of them, and I quickly became burnt out and burdened by photography. I just wanted to enjoy the moments and events. I did not know how to rationalize photography as a job and a hobby. When I started to take time to shoot only for myself with personal projects, I regained that balance. I realized I had allowed my photography to be solely dictated by other people and was no longer doing it as a creative outlet. Shooting for myself reminded me of why I love photographing friends and family and clients. Photography brings me joy.
And, most importantly it keeps me true to myself. I look back on my own images at the start of my career, and I am disappointed by how much I let my respect for other photographers influence my style. I admired these photographers so much that I adjusted my style to theirs. So often I see new photographers comparing themselves with other photographers and not investing enough time in finding themselves. I struggled with that. Back then my personal and commissioned projects looked as if they were shot by two different photographers. My personal projects were wholly me, but my other projects were trying to hard to be something I wasn't. The more personal projects I do, the more consistent I am in my style and to myself.
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By the way, the pictures above are of public transportation. I love public transportation. <3