There are lots of distractions that can pop up and make your creative undertakings more stressful than they should be. This is especially true when doing work in a professional capacity — you have the work-related stressors to deal with, and then everyday life manages to get in the way at the most inconvenient times.
Not all distractions are bad, though. Sometimes it helps to have a distraction from work.
This crossed my mind recently as I observed a group of photojournalists covering the ticker-tape parade that the city of New York held for the US National Women’s Team in honor of their World Cup victory. They all were huddled around a central mobile workstation near City Hall frantically scrolling and clicking away on their laptops trying to get their photos submitted.
One particularly efficient photographer tucked his laptop under his left arm while continuing to shoot with his right.
It’s high-pressure situations like these where distractions are especially unwelcome.
On the other hand, when your regular job (photography or otherwise) begins to test the limits of your patience, a deliberate distraction is just the thing you need. If you’re the type who just can’t put your camera down, then all you need to do to distract yourself is start a personal project.
When you’re busy doing work for others, answering to the demands of others, meeting others’ deadlines, it’s easy to lose yourself.
Don’t let that happen.
A personal project will help you drown out the noise of your daily work and remind you of why you are so happy to call yourself a photographer in the first place. I think it’s safe to say that your initial fascination with photography had nothing to do with trying to become famous or even making a dollar.
Rather, you likely connected with photography as a way to communicate with others or to create something beautiful or satisfy a curiosity.
While you do have clients or a job that you need to be responsive to, it can’t be all about that all the time. When you need a distraction from them, shoot something for yourself, something that conforms exclusively to your creative vision so that you can rediscover your love of the craft.
To Your Own Specifications
Doing client work means they get to set the parameters and you are required to work within those boundaries and complete the project with precise detail. Being detail-oriented is an important quality to possess, but it takes a lot of mental and creative energy to maintain the level of focus needed to live up to a client’s expectations.
It can be draining. So you need a distraction.
When you do a personal project, you only have yourself to please. You can finish your project in one month or in one year. You can change the rules as you go. You can tell everyone about it or tell no one about it.
When you’re able to distract yourself from the demands of others for a period of time, you are essentially hitting the reset button on your attention span. You will return to client work feeling re-energized.
Of Grand Importance
Your personal work is as important — if not more important — as anything you do in a professional capacity. You may not earn money from personal work and you may not reach as wide of an audience with your personal work, but this is the work that nourishes your creativity.
Paid work is, of course, important for a variety of reasons but there are times when the level of importance feels artificial. There are clients who can manage to attach a trivial sense of urgency to the assignments they dole out. If you’re on the receiving end of such an assignment, you just have to play along.
Eventually, you will need a distraction.
A personal project will grant you the freedom to make photos for the sake of making photos. You will have room to be as creative as you can be and to experiment with different styles and techniques.
Allow yourself the distraction of doing personal work as often as possible. Enjoy the freedom of being able to work independently of the constraints and expectations of others. Then take that newfound energy into your next client project.