Make It For Yourself

If you had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunity, what would you do with it creatively? What kind of project would you dream up if it were a fact that nothing was standing in your way? What story would you tell with the restraints of practicality, insecurity, fear, and realism completely lifted?

If you had an unyielding drive to share something, would you fight to make it happen, even if you had no resources other than the ability to genuinely express your desire to give this idea form to others? Would you put in the work to make it real? Could you improvise your way around any obstacles?

Do you remember those wonderfully energetic days of exploration when you first discovered your love of photography or writing or painting, days when you would take on a subject simply because of your interest in it, and you experimented with reckless abandon – having tons of fun doing it? Even if you look back at those creative acts now and scoff because your technique was rudimentary, you were filled with adolescent angst, and your interests have radically changed since then, there was something primal, cathartic, and amazingly fun about frantically scribbling lyrics alone in your room at three in the morning or long days spent in a studio with only your headphones to keep you company. There was no start or stop time and there was no concern for work/life balance because what you were doing wasn’t work, for those hours or days you threw yourself into your project. It was your life and you were exactly where you wanted to be.

I was surprised when I started to realize how many working creatives I knew that were not regularly working on personal projects. For many of them it seemed that the challenges of putting their creativity to task for others on a daily basis had robbed them of that initial spark that brought them joy through the act of creating. Some were burned out and bitter, others still loved what they did but found themselves running in place creatively – always moving but never advancing towards their goals. Many of them had lofty ideas for projects that they never seemed to start, while others drowned their simple and easily executable ideas beneath an ocean of doubt and fear.

There have been countless articles written from the viewpoint of every creative discipline about why you should dedicate time to personal projects. Some focus on the need to alleviate burnout, others propose it as part of a marketing strategy to engage potential clients on a more personal level, and the more introspective ones see it as a way to define your creative goals through self-exploration. These viewpoints all have their benefits and advantages, but few of them focus on the core of why many of you started creating in the first place…

…because you cared about something.

I have talked to photographers and artists at all stages in their careers, and I have heard a few common excuses as to why they aren’t exploring their own ideas:

“No one will like my ideas”

Don’t make it because you think others will like it on Facebook, or because you think it might get you work, or noticed by the art world, or turn a profit. These are byproducts, not goals. Make it because you give a damn about it and want to tell everyone else that you give a damn about it. You might even convince some of them to give a damn about it too.

“I have an idea but it is too difficult to execute”

If you need help, ASK!!

There are people out there who respond to genuine no BS passion – real passion is infectious. Some people fear the word “no” so much that they give up before they even get started. Don’t be one of those people who berates others into helping you either. Instead be so genuinely driven in what you are doing that they can’t help but want to be part of it. You will be surprised when you realize exactly how far unbridled enthusiasm can take you.

I guarantee that there are people out there who want to help you already – people who are going to be excited about what you are doing and want to get involved. They could care about your subject matter or cause, they might be fans of your work, or they may be friends who don’t even get your idea but wholeheartedly believe in you.

“I don’t have any ideas”

Yes, you do – you have an unbelievable variety of ideas that are swimming just below the surface. You have ideas every day and forget them in the rush of your daily life. You weigh them against the perceived expectations of others and discount them as invalid or stupid before they even get off the ground. If it means something to you, it is worth exploring. Think big, but don’t be afraid to think small either – you don’t have to change the world with every project. They can be silly or funny or painfully sad, they can be all about your nerdy passions, or they can start a worldwide movement. There are no rules. There is no minimum or maximum. You can travel around the world or stay in your bedroom. You can create it in an afternoon or spend your whole life pursuing it. What is important is that you give that idea in your head a tangible existence – make it as real to the rest of the world as it is for you.

The important part is starting.

Start recording your ideas – it doesn’t matter how. Keep a notebook, start a file on your computer, etch it into stone tablets, or go all Twin Peaks and record it into a dictaphone for Diane. Just as important is to start to pursue and act on these ideas – don’t just seal them away in some vault where they are out of mind. Revisit your notes and your ideas. It might feel like the most daunting thing in the world, but if you can take small actions towards starting you will build momentum in no time. Projects like these are an outlet that allows you to build something around your own passions and interests – something that you feel strongly about. People respond to these ideas because you are sharing something that you are 100% behind, that you are willing to take a risk for. The act of putting something out there despite your fears of how others will receive it is courageous and amazing.

A blank page, an unexposed roll of film, and an empty stage are full of all sorts of potential – they want to be filled.

Fill them with something that you think it is totally cool, or something you believe in, or because you want to make a change, or have to tell a story. Everyone will find their own method. I just want to light a fire under your ass – you need to find a process that works for you. Whatever it may be, throw yourself into it all the way and start something new.

Where is your creativity going to take you next?

Required Reading 12.14.2009

I’ve been doing my best to avoid the weather and stay indoors this weekend, but to no avail, I keep having to leave the warm cocoon of my apartment to brave the cold temperatures and insane winds that have been demolishing my neighborhood and most of Buffalo the past few days. Today things seem to be lightening up a bit, and hot morning beverages are helping.

Action Method

After months of searching for a to do list / project management app that worked on my iPhone, I have finally fallen in love with Action Method. From my phone or anywhere with an internet connection I can check on the status of all my projects. Break them down into manageable steps, and even delegate those steps to stylists, assistants, etc. Rather than other solutions I have tried, which are always context based, I like having one whose interface is project based instead, it works very well for shoot production as well as managing marketing projects. And its very simple to adapt it to day to day uses as well. Right now I only have a free account and use it mainly on my phone, but will most likely upgrade to a full account in the future as it seems that Action Method has quickly become one of my most valuable tools.

The Quentin Tarantino Guide to Creating Killer Content


An interesting article aimed at writers but applicable to any creative endeavor. Tarantino’s method of selling a story through owning it provides many great tips, especially useful for photographers writing blogs. Working on your writing skills can help you in many aspects of your business.

Fashion Photography Blog

In a sea of photo business and technique blogs that exist on the internet so few are specifically targeted and offer real world advice in a such a specific industry, Melissa Rodewell’s blog and online community are the best example of a community that relates real life experiences in the fashion, style, and music photography industries to those just emerging into the industry.  The tutorials, stories, and anecdotes that she shares with her readers are topical and valuable. Featuring everything from behind the scenes looks at her photo shoots, tutorials on lighting, discussions on post processing, info on general business, and thoughts on developing ones own style and conceptualizing ideas.

Free Writing and Spontaneous Photography

In writing there is a structured exercise that is often undertaken to help writers develop ideas or to overcome blocks, it is called free writing. Based on a series of basic guidelines it allows an author to write freely, in a stream of consciousness style, without any regard to form, grammar, or topic. This action allows the writer to create raw output absent of self criticism or over conceptualization. Whether the end material is usable or not, the process serves multiple purposes. First, it allows the writer to build momentum, the actual act of writing can serve to exorcise a block that may prevent one from writing in a formal method. Secondly, it allows a cathartic purging of the half formed ideas that may prevent the writer from focusing on more urgent ideas or formal projects. Finally, in some free writing sessions it allows the writer to develop and record seed ideas that may later become fully formed concepts.


During a slow night I found myself with the itch to just pick up my camera and shoot… anything. I decided to call up my friend Jessica and have her drop by the studio for an impromptu session, we were walking into this with no expectations regarding the final product, it was simply taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures. There had been no discussions of concept, wardrobe, styling, lighting, or mood, all we knew was that Jessica would bring bags of clothing, and also that she would be bringing her pet rat. All other decisions would have to be made on the spot, in the limited amount of time that we had available.

From her pile of wardrobe and accessories, a decision of styling was made on the spot, we would attempt to create two looks with radically different styling and moods in just under 2.5 hours, thankfully Jessica is a talented stylist and was able to take care of hair and makeup with no problem. Concepts were quickly decided by choosing the first two that came to mind, we would do something vaguely inspired by Louise Brooks, a 1920’s silent film star, which involved Jessica cutting and styling a wig on the spot, as well as a warmer image using her own candy colored red hair. The entire process was put together quickly and on the fly, and the concepts were only loosely adhered too in terms of execution and final look, each look evolved and changed throughout the shooting session.


It was an interesting change from my normal workflow, which usually involves hours of script development, styling choices, scouting, casting, wardrobe, lighting etc.. What is normally a very structured process for me became very loose and intuitive by necessity of the parameters I had to work within. It was a beneficial experience that led to the development of a few other concepts that I’ll probably revisit in later projects, as well a chance to experiment in a situation with no expectations or pressure of self criticism. The rules of free writing can be  tweaked for a more visual medium like photography with some of the suggestions below.

Limit yourself to a specific window of time

All decisions must be made within this time frame, not outside of it

Subject does not matter

There are no bad ideas

Attempt more than one concept

Concepts should evolve organically as the shoot progresses

Team size is irrelevant

Experiment both technically and creatively

If you find yourself with nothing to photograph, photograph anything