Steve Simon is an award-winning documentary photographer and author of five critically acclaimed photography books, including The Passionate Photographer, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s "Top Ten Art and Photography Books."
Steve is best known for his work focusing on the human condition, capturing life as he encounters it. He shines a light on important subjects and issues using the power of photography in the hope of facilitating positive change. His go-to camera is the Nikon D850 and go-to storage – LaCie: never without a trusty LaCie Rugged RAID Pro coupled with his camera! Today, he shares his thoughts on how to find yourself in your personal projects.
In my experience, having a personal project or two (or 10) on the go at any given time is one of the best ways to accelerate your progress as a photographer and ultimately elevate you business.
One of the great things about working on a project is that it’s very personal. A mantra I’m always repeating is one attributed to the great documentarian Diane Arbus who said something to the effect of “the more personal you make it, the more universal it becomes”.
It’s a powerful and liberating thought. It lets you be selfish and follow your own curiosity, which in my experience has lead me to projects which have inspired and pushed me past frustrations and through obstacles and allowed me to peel the photographic onion to deeper visual coverage of a subject that stands apart from what others are doing. It can separate you from the pack and springboard you to new opportunities for you and your career.
Story ideas can come from anywhere. I tend to read as much as I can, looking at blogs, magazines, news sites, reading books, listening to music, visiting galleries, looking at the work of other artists and photographers. But many of my best ideas come from my own life. Personal experience and exploring your own connections often yield some of the best and most rewarding projects.
On of my projects has been to cover the political theatre that is the conventions held every four years for the two main political parties in the United States.
It is a tough shoot considering you’re at an event with 15,000 of your fellow journalists (covering less than 4,000 delegates) it’s obviously a tight squeeze reminiscent of trying to squeeze into a packed subway car during peak New York City rush hour—and then start taking pictures.
But what I like about this subject as a project is its finite nature. It’s two weeks every four years where I can schedule to immerse myself in this world to document it.
It’s all about the idea. So here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you come up with personal projects of your own.
- What is your story idea?
- Why is it important to you, and/or to others?
- How does the story fit in the larger realm of community, society, or the world?
- How can you make your story relevant to the viewers?
- How will you advance the story, making it different from similar stories already published?
- Describe at least three of the images that you pre-visualize the story will include.
- How much time do you need and how will it be spent?
- Where do you need to go? (Be specific and research, places and contacts)
- How much do you estimate the story will cost, both in time, and money?
Once you find your project and start working, it will no doubt change from your original vision of it, often for the better. And once underway and nearing completion, the process of assembling, sequencing and showing a set of pictures will be illuminating and force you to make tough decisions. If two images are similar, maybe you need to choose the strongest one or the image that adds to or moves the communication of the project further. Some projects, use repetition as a way to build momentum, a portrait series for example. Regardless, you get deeper and deeper and start to make images that scratch and dig below the literal surface to photographic places new and exciting.
All my projects have turned into amazing adventures.
I keep coming back to the conventions because as a newly minted American Citizen (from Canada) I find the American Political process very interesting and I love capturing it from my personal perspective. The challenge for me visually is to peel back the curtains and show my perspective on what I’m seeing and experiencing…hopefully offering some insight that is not often seen in mainstream media coverage.
If you haven’t worked on a personal body of work, I implore you to do so. Regardless of your discipline, I know the experience will be a huge positive for you and will help elevate your work and business life.