I got into the business of photography as a means to an end. The “end” was to establish a career that would give me access to the life I wanted to live – exploring other lands and cultures. In essence I wanted a career that would allow me to pursue my interests and passion projects, and get paid for it.
I was very fortunate when I started out to shoot stories for Travel & Leisure Magazine under the art direction of Adrian Taylor. Adrian was not only encouraging, he gave me a lot of latitude in terms of utilizing my vision and how I saw the story. He hired photographers for their point of view – their perspective on the story. That’s far different than being hired to illustrate a manuscript. It was then I realized that my work was my passion and my passion was my work.
I can’t say that I have always been passionate about my commissioned work, but I usually have project ideas that I want to explore. It’s the ideas that just “won’t quit me” that I HAVE to go forward with regardless if I have someone’s validation. I don’t call them “personal projects” however, because somehow that implies there’s no money involved. I call them self-initiated projects with the very real intent of monetizing them.
My first multimedia project was The Delta Blues Musicians.
My end goal was to produce a multimedia exhibition consisting of prints and a short film. My project was sponsored by the Blue Earth Alliance and I was able to solicit grant money through their 501c3. I further monetized the project with print sales, books, ePubs and by licensing the images and video clips.
My biggest project to date has been a feature length documentary, Opening Our Eyes. I financed the film using airline miles, hotel points and two successful crowd-funding campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The film has done better than just break-even, which is somewhat remarkable for a documentary. It also has had an intrinsic value by creating a tremendous amount of awareness for my subjects and their causes as well as for me as a photographer and filmmaker. The film’s trailer has been seen in over 150 countries and the film has been shown at more than 20 festivals taking top honor in 7 of them. I continue to monetize it through DVD sales, books, private screenings and licensing the imagery. But the true reward has been a sense of achievement and personal growth.
Tips for “personal work”
- Stop calling it that – call it a self-initiated project
- Make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about. If you approach “personal work” as something you have to do because your rep is asking you – it will show.
- Be strategic. Find out who else is passionate about your idea. Google “key words” that describe your project and find your tribe. These are your key supporters, potential funders, affiliates and audience.
- Crowd funding – Build your audience first. They will fund you and rally for your cause by sharing your message. This is imperative for a successful campaign.
- Think about ways you can monetize your project before you even begin. Most times it’s an afterthought and opportunities are lost.
- Share your project via social media. If you want it to go viral – make your message “sticky”. Come up with an engaging “pitch”.
- Always have an answer when someone asks you “what’s next?” I learned this from filmmakers at festivals – once you build an audience, you want to keep them engaged.