Balancing personal and commercial photography

As a photographer, it can be hard to make the transition from building a portfolio to working in the commercial world. We all want to make a living from photography, but there are times when it can feel like we are abandoning our creativity for the needs of our clients. I believe this can be viewed in a number of ways and that it is possible to balance your own creative process with the more structured demands of the industry.


The potential for growth

Some photographers view working in a commercial environment as a sacrifice of their own artistic vision. This is true to a certain extent - in order to meet a client’s brief, a photographer might be restricted in how they shoot and may have to make decisions for the benefit of their client rather than their own artistic development. However, in the middle of these challenges lies a fantastic opportunity for professional and artistic growth.


Look for creative opportunities

The goal of commercial work is to achieve the objectives outlined in your client’s brief. It is important to remember that the brief is an evolving document based on the inputs of the stakeholders involved.


Creative directors and CEOs will have meetings in order to better understand their brand’s positioning and you may be invited to attend these. This is a great opportunity to provide input and shape the direction of the project. Use your experience and creativity to discuss ways to deliver what your client wants. While this might not be as free as working on your own personal projects, you can get a lot of satisfaction from maximising the creativity within a restrictive environment. You will also bring any of these learnings to your personal projects.


Finding your work-life balance

I recommend dedicating time to your own personal work. While this can be difficult to do when you are busy with multiple professional briefs, personal projects do not happen spontaneously. Some photographers try to stick to a monthly routine for working on their own projects, others are much more infrequent. However, without conscious planning, there is a strong possibility that you will not engage with your own artistic work.


Another way to balance your creativity with the demands of the industry is to merge these two elements, where possible. For example, I know a wedding photographer who organises a number of styled shoots per year with friends or family as the bride and groom. This allows them to have a greater artistic influence, collaborate with suppliers (e.g. florists, hair and makeup, venues) and also enjoy the occasion.  


A rewarding career

Photographers often question the nature of their commercial work and this is a completely normal process. This questioning will help you to find a balance between commercial and personal projects. By constantly reflecting, you will be able to understand how commercial work can benefit your own creative process. While it can certainly be a challenge to work in the industry, the commercial environment provides you with endless opportunities to develop as a photographer. Try to look at everything as an opportunity to develop your professional portfolio. Most of all, don’t forget to dedicate time to working on what you find interesting.


How do you balance your professional and personal projects?

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Written by: Emma-Jane Lewis

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