Photography self assignments are an excellent way to build your portfolio. In fact as an emerging pro or serious artist you should be shooting self assignments frequently, at least once a week.
A self assignment, often referred to as test, is a way of testing your skills in a particular creative area. This is done by coming up with a concept or theme to the shoot, detailing out the particulars and finding the resources to help you achieve the overall vision for the test.
The beauty in testing is that you’ll learn a lot about yourself, face unknown fears and obstacles all the while growing as a creative being. The team you work with is also testing you (although that might not be spoken) and you them. The benefits of testing are endless really. Even if you don’t complete the self assignment you’re still going to grow. Complete the project and you get the biggest reward - a mix of accomplishment, completion, keeping your word to others (the team) and some killer imagery.
Ready to get started? Here’s some tips to help you set up a successful test.
Advice for Successful Shoots
Start a vision log
A vision log is simply a collection of media that inspires you. As you find images online and on the go capture it and put it into your vision log. As your vision log grows visit it every week and add descriptive words to the images that inspire you. This will help you discover where your true passions live and will help you communicate that vision to others. I use Evernote since I can share privately with my team and capture content everywhere, even with my iPhone.
Keep it simple
Testing does not need to be a complicated project especially for your first few tests. My very first test were to find particular objects around town and shoot them - abstract images of garbage was one. Then I moved to shooting models on white seamless which required me to work with upcoming hair, makeup and wardrobe professionals. When I wanted more of a challenge I worked with a small team on location shooting. This helped me learn how to work with scouting and sourcing the right locations.
Be clear in your communication
Photography is a form of visual communication. To be a good photographer you need to be clear in your verbal and written communication. Be direct, be descriptive and be friendly when sourcing your team. What you think is “sexy” is different from what your team might think is sexy. And please stay away from big fluffy words when trying to communicate. Defining ones personal hyperbole to manufacture visual representations of french and latin dialect is best kept for boutique bourgeoisie. See what I just did? :-)
Everyone gets something good
While I did mention that you don’t necessarily need to finish your self assignment to get something out of it, if you are working with a team you do need to finish the project. If you’re working with team, even if you’re paying them, they need to get something out of the project and they need to know you’re operating in integrity. Everyone on the shoot should be acknowledged and be kind to the people that work behind the scenes. In other words don’t be a jerk. There’s too many egos running wild in the art world and we don’t need more. When you are communicating clearly to your team (see above) let them know what they are getting out of the project. If you’re giving finished web ready images then say so and keep your word.
Don’t forget to enjoy the process of creating and collaborating with other creatives. Making art for yourself is one of life’s great joys. Coming together to make art with others is a special energy and can only be described as magical. By having a focused vision, communicating that vision along with expectations to your team you’ll ensure a smooth shoot.