On Personal Photography

personal photography example

With more and more people getting into photography – through dedicated cameras, or the blasted iPhone – it seems like everything worthwhile has been done before.  So if you want to stand out from everyone else (or just try something new to get those creative juices flowing again), do your own thing – and you can start by making your photography a little more personal.

5 Tips for More Personal Photography


1. Photograph the Bad Stuff personal photography example

It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.  Hopefully.  While I don’t wish anything bad on anyone, having faults is what makes us human…so find your faults – vices, character flaws, deficiencies, imperfections, obsessions – and photograph the daylights out of them.

Get more cerebral and take photographs with  motifs you think about often – or highlight a universal truth.  It doesn’t have to be straightforward.  Here’s a picture of plants that is equal parts life and death:

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2. Photograph what You See

This tip might sound simple.  It is simple!  There’s nothing more personal than what’s going on in your life right now.  Does that in and of itself offer better subject matter?  No, but it can help you form a narrative of your own experiences.

personal photography example

While this might make for some interesting portraits, you can go another route too – and photograph yourself with the people you already photograph.  Whether they are casual acquaintances, or a model you’re working with, these shots are equal parts portrait, self portrait, and documentary – a fine recipe indeed for more personal photography.

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3. Think about Perspective

Tip Number Three is a little more challenging.  Don’t just think about your position to your subjects, but your view of them as well.  Your relationship with them.  The distance (or lack thereof) between the two of you.  A good photograph will put your audience in your shoes.  

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Don’t be afraid to experiment with crops and focus and everything else under the sun.  There’s no right way to use a camera, just like there’s no right way to use any other creative instrument (slap guitar, anyone?).

4. Take Snapshots of Your Life

A lot like Tip 2, but a gateway tip to more personal photography.  Here I can offer you some concrete examples of photography projects guaranteed to shake up your body of work.

First, the Apartment Project – take photos of the places you live.  Obviously a little-long term, but well worth it in the end, if you move around a lot.  But you don’t just have to take a humdrum portrait of yourself standing outside of your place.  No, go all in and photograph the things that happen in your apartment, or life.  A home is more than a roof over your head.  It’s a daily scene many people can recognize, and comfortable enough for you to try anything in.

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5. Take up Personal Projects

When I was younger, I had all kinds of ideas for projects, but most of them sucked because I was always reaching too far afield for interesting subjects.  Truth be told, the more interesting stuff is usually right under your nose…and much easier to get to.

I’ve always liked people watching, and one day on my long commute, a spark when off in my brain:  I should photograph people on public transit.

Boom.  The Transit Project was born.

personal photography example

One night while walking home, I realized just how alien I felt in my own neighborhood.  I didn’t just feel out of place, but almost forsaken by my neighbors, who were tight-lipped and elusive.  What was a photographer to do?  I decided to take a portrait of that neighborhood, showing human residue, but not too many people.  Welcome to Parkville, folks.

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Don’t know what your personal project should be?  Don’t sweat it.  The hardest part about photography is figuring out what to shoot.  But you can start with individual photos you want to take.

Maybe it’s a place, or a person in a certain light.  When I was a kid, I always knew I was halfway home from my babysitters when I saw a sign for a local park.

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When I think about home, and the town I grew up in, I invariably come back to this sign.  Sometimes beautiful and other times forlorn, but ultimately a very personal memento.

So there you have it:  five tips for more personal photography.  Some of it might seem like common sense.  It probably is, in a way, once you go through it.  But for those looking to amp up their photos, I hope this helps…even if it’s in a small way.



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