I nearly broke up with photography: Why shooting personal projects matters

Three images one of a sunset over mountains, a sunrise with birds over water and finally a white car in the foreground with buildings in the background

Do you remember the first time you photographed something just because? No ulterior motive, not for ‘folio’, not for Instagram, not for a client, not to go on the wall, just because the light was just so, or the subject moved you and you wanted to capture what that moment felt like?

I had not done this for a long, long time. I had fallen into the same trap that many working photographers fall into. I only picked up a camera when someone was paying me, or when I felt the need to shoot new folio shots to attract new clients.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to really, really love taking photos. Photography became a job, a chore I had to do. The honeymoon was over. I could relate to the words in one of my favourite Madonna cover songs:

“You abandoned me. Love don’t live here anymore, just a vacancy. Love don’t live here anymore.”

Just like when a relationship starts to go sour, I was going through the motions without the love. The passion had left the building and it was taking its toll. I was bored and beginning to dislike photography. My work was all starting to look the same and I began shooting on auto pilot. I had enough experience to know how to get the shot and deliver what my clients needed but I wasn’t stretching myself.

That was five years ago. I was shooting every day. I was retouching images at night. I was making great money. I hated every minute of it. I was bored. I was burnt out. I wanted to break up with photography. I’d fallen out of love.

I decided to splurge on a three week holiday in Italy to rest and recover. I was exhausted. I remember I’d half heartedly thrown my second camera and 24-105mm lens in my luggage just in case. That “just in case” turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

I’m not sure if it was the excitement of being in my favourite country in the world, the quality of the light, the location, or the sleep deprivation, but suddenly I felt inspired to start taking photos.

I wandered the streets until it was dark and noticed beautiful images everywhere.

That night I could barely sleep because I was so excited to explore the city again. I woke at 4.30am and headed out. I blissfully wandered the streets of Rome non stop for the next eight hours. I ate my bodyweight in Italian pastries and took photos of random things I love like bikes, fiat 500s, coffee, and men in their 80s “just because”.

I continued this pattern for the next 10 days as I travelled across Italy. Everywhere I looked I saw beautiful light, interesting faces and images that I wanted to capture.

I was taking a break from my full time gig as a photographer by going away and taking photos every day. Crazy right? But all of a sudden it no longer felt like work. I’d found my happy place.

I hadn’t fallen out of love with photography, I was just bored and needed to see differently.

I came home recharged and inspired. I uploaded the images to my website and social media and then something really interesting started to happen.

I started getting booked for jobs based solely on those travel images. Clients commented on how “alive” those images looked and that they could feel the passion in my work.

The three biggest campaigns I’ve shot this year have not come from my celebrity work. I picked up these gigs because clients had seen my lifestyle images and loved the look and feel of them.

These images are not my slickest work. They are not lit, I only ever shot with one body and the same lens. Many are shot without a tripod. Most were captured without even thinking. They are raw and real and 100% me.

I simply photographed the things I loved in a style I love “just because”.

I now take a camera on every holiday and I take photos “just because”.

You don’t need to travel to Rome to rekindle your love affair with photography. You can be a tourist in your own city. Personal projects help you get out of shooting ruts, step out of your comfort zone, and make you a better photographer.

Does thinking about your photography and shooting really light you up? Are you photographing the things you love? If you are not in love with the work you are doing, then how do you expect anyone else to love what you do?

The beautiful Maya Angelou sums up my feelings perfectly in this quote:

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

If you’ve never considered a personal project before, then here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • 30 day project
  • Red heads only, or blondes or brunettes, or people with pink hair project
  • Stick to one lens only and do a 50mm project/28mm/100mm project
  • iPhone only
  • Go old school and shoot 35mm film
  • Photograph reflections in puddles, windows, car rear view mirrors.
  • Black and white only
  • Single colour project
  • Red balloon project
  • Take an image of the same location everyday
  • Self portrait every day
  • 100 stranger project

Do you have an idea for a personal project or are you doing one right now? I’d love to hear about it.

How to direct and pose like a pro

About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

instagram Instagram