How personal projects can save you from despair

Hindsight is 20/20.

This time last year was not a happy one for me.

To be totally honest, I had taken on too much work throughout the year and was burned out. I accepted work that was not my style and that I didn’t enjoy–because we needed the money.  Though 2010 had been the most profitable year to that point, I felt more  “poor” in spirit than I had ever felt before. To top things off, 2010 ended with a challenging client experience that was the final straw that pushed me into a year long sabbatical. Today I look back on that trigger moment that caused lots of tears and now I couldn’t be more grateful. I thought the world was coming to an end, but really it was an opportunity to rethink my life and business and go in a new direction I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Sometime soon I’ll write about the miracles that have occurred from choosing to step back. But today, I want to explore the magic of personal projects.

I knew that taking a sabbatical would only be as effective as I made it out to be.  I didn’t want to stop shooting, I simply wanted to stop shooting for other people for awhile.

I wanted to shoot things for myself and not for someone else’s expectations.  I wanted to explore my own vision. My own style. My own inspiration.

I reverted back to my beginning photography days in what I might consider now a “portfolio building stage”.  Only I wasn’t setting out to build a portfolio this time around as much as I was setting out to find joy and heal. I needed to fall in love with photography again and it needed to be on my own terms.  I gave myself homework for a shoot a week, just like I did back then.  Only this homework had a few important rules:

1.  It must be fun and make me happy.  I was shooting to find joy again, not to meet anyone’s expectations.

2.  It must push me creatively or technically.

3.  It must happen on Friday’s at 10:00 a.m.  (This last rule was only to keep me on task.  If I knew that there was an allotted time slot every week that was my personal “photo hot date” then I knew I would be more likely to make it happen.)

So WHO did I shoot?

Golly… I shot family, friends, friends of friends, my students, neighbors, total strangers that responded to a casting call on facebook, and our backyard goats for good measure.

No strings attached

Each shoot was completely pro bono. The subjects were gifted the images, but I was calling the shots for the session.  Remember, this was about my vision, not theirs.

Did it work?

Yes! Here I am in December 2011 quite delighted with photography and loving every bit of it!

Keep in mind that I set out to have fun. To find joy. In order to keep that as the main focus of these shoots, I did not treat them like I would handle business shoots ( I took out the parts that I dread about business and what stresses me out…the printing, ordering, burning CDs, packaging, pricing, selling, emailing, managing expectations, honoring special requests, having deadlines, etc.). I simply shot, edited, uploaded to an online gallery when I got to it and called it good. The end. Happiness sustained. Stress avoided.

You don’t have to take a sabbatical to do personal work.  But personal work can be the very lifeline of your creativity and sanity.  Fit it in somehow, on your own terms. And see if it isn’t just the very ticket to holding it all together with a smile.


What do you do keep the joy?





Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She used to believe that taking time for yourself was selfish.  She is much smarter now and understands that time for yourself makes it possible for you to give more and better. Cheers to taking time out for YOU.

Brooke teaches inspiring online photography classes that bring you confidence in your skills and creativity.

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20 Responses

  1. Brooke, Have I mentioned how much I adore the photos you’ve taken of us lately? Just want you to know, I treasure them. And love all the pictures in this post. What a talented, and amazing person you are.

  2. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I feel like I’ve finally discovered what I truly love in photography … but it’s not what’s in my portfolio so far .. so 2012 feels like I’ll be starting from scratch but I think your tips will help!

  3. This post was perfect for what I am feeling right now! Thank you for posting it!!! I had a photo business keeping me busy in Utah, but moved to Minneapolis in the August of this year. I also had a baby 6 days after moving to a new state! To make a long story short, I have felt so much anxiety on how to not give up my passion for photos just because I have no clientele, nor time to get out from mommy life with two busy boys. So THANK YOU for reminding me how to cure this anxiety problem. I hope to be back on task in a year or so with a business, but now I think I will take time to breathe, and have fun with photos with no pressure. THANK YOU!

  4. I’ve said before but I’ll say it again! THANK YOU so much for sharing your views and insights. This blog really spoke to me. I’m at a different phase but looking for what you have been this past year. I LOVE reading these!!

  5. I believe it was around this time last year when I stumbled across your blog and have been a committed follower since! I absolutely love that I found you and your online classes. I am in the beginning stages of my photography business myself and it is hard to keep going somedays. Thank you for writing from the heart and inspiring me! I think we, as artist, are very emotional people and somedays that makes this journey challenging!!!
    Thankful for you.

    1. Thank YOU April! It is hard sometimes!! No doubt! Shooting for yourself is a beautiful way to counterbalance the icky parts of photography business 🙂

  6. Someone showed me this post after I announced a sabbatical this week on my blog. I couldn’t be more grateful. What I have been doing for the past 2.5 years is clearly not working. All I know for certain right now is a) photography is in my blood and I will never stop shooting and b) I need time to think about what’s next for me.

    Thank you for your honesty and sharing your experience with taking a sabbatical. It is empowering for me.


    1. Dearest Jess,

      I wish you the most joyful sabbatical 🙂 Choosing to step away from my business was a really hard decision (and one that I had to make again a few times throughout the year when requests would come in and I’d have to remind myself to stick to my guns), but it has been the most rewarding choice for me. I’ve come to understand how photography fits in my life and have come to know that when we shut a door, it only makes it possible for other opportunities to become available that there was no room for before. I believe that with all my heart, and am thrilled to see what happens for you in the next year!

      Wishing you the best!

  7. Brooke,
    I only found your sight within the past month but very much appreciate the insight you share. I think this post is wonderful to remember that at what ever stage you are at find the joy and love in what you do! I find it amazing when we feel things are at their worst often wonderful possibilities arise. I am just starting out with photography and plan to keep your story in mind as I continue.

    Thank you, this was a wonderful post!

  8. Brooke,

    First of all, I LOVE these images!
    Second, I love giving yourself the time to take photos for yourself. I am blessed with the world’s most adorable granddaughter and she has become my muse, my fun, my inspiration. She is the most photographed child in the world but the photos are the best of me. I would love to turn this into a business. To shoot from my heart for people instead of what they want. Surely this is what God wants us to do with this gift!

  9. Thanks for sharing. I am ready for me photography time, but I’ll want to take some for others still. What online gallery did you use? Also- I have a hard time giving up some perfectionism. I am worried giving files to people without prints (because sometimes they mess prints up) and what about sharpening for each print size? How did you let go?

    1. Hi Jacki! I use for my online gallery. I also double the purpose by using them as online backup for all my images both personally and professionally. I also use them to print through. (all my clients can print through them and have great quality…and all my fun shoots can print through them at cost which is really affordable). T hey are absolutely a lifesaver to me. LOVE THEM. I never sharpen my prints. Personal preference. As for giving up control… I just decided that I much preferred to not have to spend all the extra time it takes to police everything. If you do your job educating people on what to do with files and how to have the best experience printing, they’ll listen.

  10. Your quote: “I needed to fall in love with photography again and it needed to be on my own terms.” was profound. I know that a lot of times I get wrapped up in the business aspect and stop seeing the wonderful joy of photography in its own right. Thank you for the reminder that I need to let myself, my camera, and the images I create stand alone and I don’t need to have the business side prop it up.

    1. Oh Sara! I love your words! “I don’t need to have the business side prop it up”. Love that. I think too often we think our success as a photographer must rest on whether or not people pay us. Really, success comes from within, and not from the outside 🙂

  11. One of the things that is so cool about this is, in my opinion, the pictures you posted above are some of my favorite images of yours. It’s obvious your heart and soul are in it. Hopefully this year has taught you how to have heart and soul boundaries for your clients so you can give them your best. If I hired you, it would be because of these images and would absolutely give you total control so that I could get some of this magic. Because that’s what these images are – magical.

    1. Oh thank you Rhonda! Yes indeed, there is something to be said for people creating from their heart. I see it all the time in my students… when they’re shooting what they are passionate about the images are totally different 🙂 Whether it’s images of flowers, their kids, landscapes, you name it. Passion shows through. its a good lesson to us all! and p.s. You sound like the most ideal client…total control given to the photographer 🙂 You already understand this concept don’t you?!! 🙂

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