ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Caution: Personal Work Could Kill Your Commercial Success!

Be careful, personal work could kill your career!

Over the last few weeks I’ve hosted a couple discussions in various LinkedIn Groups asking “does personal work matter?” Predictably, many of the photographers who chimed in answered a resounding YES! We get to show our capabilities without the constraints of a client brief, art buyers love to see personal work, it’s satisfying, etc.

The answers that surprised me though came from the other side of the desk, from art directors, creative professionals, designers and editors from around the world:

“I can see how personal projects can become an obstacle.” – Creative Director, Serbia

“All personal work could seriously affect your commercial success.” – Marketing President, USA

“I have not hired someone, because of their personal work.” – Designer, Netherlands

Wait, what?!?! I thought personal work was always a good thing – something that would always benefit your career. “Be careful,” warns the US Marketing executive, “If your personal work is too provocative, it may leave the wrong or negative impression in a client’s mind.” This sentiment is echoed by another US branding director: “If [the personal work is] very offensive I would reconsider hiring the [artist].”  And, what if you’ve done pro-bono work for a certain cause, that they feel strongly against?  I hear it again and again: have two sites.

Personal work can make you a killing!

“No personal work to me is an indication of stagnation.” – Magazine editor, Germany

Now, to be fair, every single one of these people who hire us also said that personal work is critically important and that they love seeing it. “To me [personal work] matters quite a bit. (…) that’s where we most often have the chance to stretch our abilities, research new methods and test them” says a US director of marketing “pet projects may very well become tomorrow’s next big service!”

“Your personal work shows me what you’re really passionate about, and how creatively and independently you tackle such a self-chosen project. It tells me how you work conceptually. I also get a good idea about the style you prefer and you feel comfortable with.” adds the German magazine editor “Or how versatile you really are.”

Just remember that they assume you had unlimited time and resources to craft this piece of personal work so make sure it’s the perfect calling card for your brand.

Personal work is a two edged sword

Personal work is a must for today’s creative. Portfolio consultant Christina Force’s great blog post, 4 reasons to throw out your babies, shows how the fastest (and scariest) way to revamp your career is only show those images and projects that you would like to shoot, even if that means throwing out everything you’ve shot to this point.

The bottom line? Your personal work must be excellent, award winning, your highest caliber work. It must set you apart from the pack. It must show what you’re passionate about so you can stand behind it wholeheartedly. Take risks, be willing to fail, go for the impossible.  Otherwise, your results will be average at best. And that really could kill your career.

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