The Importance of Always Having a Personal Photography Project

Ever wondered what it takes to make a living from photography? In the video below, professional commercial photographer Jen Pottheiser shares sage advice while recounting her journey from being a serious amateur to shooting for the likes of SLAM Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Nike, and the National Basketball Association. She stresses the importance of always having a personal photography project and gives examples of how shooting personal projects, with the experience and exposure it gave her, lead to commercial assignments and how these paid jobs, in turn, gave her the credence to pursue even bigger personal projects:

Jen lists 12 guidelines for getting your work seen by others and what to do once you start to get hired for paying jobs.

  1. It doesn’t matter what you take pictures of, just take pictures!
  2. You never know how your clients are going to find you.
  3. You are not going to meet anyone when you’re home on the couch.
  4. Always do your research.
  5. Pitch your good stories to the people that should know about them.
  6. Always have a personal project—even on paying jobs.
  7. See what’s right in front of you.
  8. Do the extra setup.
  9. Use your personal work to get better work.
  10. Make sure you are having your pictures seen.
  11. Keep in touch with the people you meet.
  12. Shoot, market, shoot and market some more!

In an inspiring example, Jen tells the story of how she sent portraits of local high school basketball players, which she shot for free, to SLAM Magazine. They were so impressed by the photos that they paid her to shoot the next issue’s cover.

high school basketball photography

Through years of doing commercial work, Jen has not lost her zeal for doing personal projects. Her most recent one, titled “Olympic Moms”, offers a glimpse into the lives of several athletes as they juggled the demands of motherhood and training for the Olympics.

Olympic basketball photography

Her story is a nice reminder of how commercial assignments may bring home the bacon, but it’s the personal projects that keep the passion and love for the craft alive.

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