Caution: Personal work could kill your commercial success!

Caution sign that reads

Be careful personal work could kill your career!

Over the last few weeks I’ve hosted a couple discussions in various LinkedIn Groups asking “does personal work matter?” Predictably many of the photographers, who chimed in, answered a resounding YES! We get to show our capabilities without the constraints of a client brief, art buyers love to see personal work, it’s satisfying, ect.

The answers that surprised me though came from the other side of the desk, from art directors, creative professionals, designers and editors from around the world:

I can see how personal projects can become an obstacle. – Creative Director, Serbia

All personal work could seriously affect your commercial success. – Marketing President, USA

I have not hired someone, because of their personal work. – Designer, Netherlands

No personal work to me is an indication of stagnation. – Magazine editor, Germany

Wait, what? I thought personal work was always a good thing. Something that would always benefit your career. “Be careful” warns the US Marketing exec. “If your personal work is too provocative, it may leave the wrong or negative impression in a client’s mind.” Another US branding director echoes this sentiment: “If [the personal work is] very offensive I would reconsider hiring the [artist].”  I hear it again and again: Have two sites.  What about the case that someone has done pro-bono work for a certain cause, that you feel strongly against?

Personal work can make you a killing!

Now to be fair each one of these people who hire us also said that personal work is vital, critically important and that they love seeing it. Just remember that the assumption is you had unlimited time and resources to craft this piece of personal work into the perfect calling card for your brand. “To me [personal work] matters quite a bit. (…) that’s where we most often have the chance to stretch our abilities, research new methods and test them” says a US director of marketing “pet projects may very well become tomorrow’s next big service!”

Your personal work shows me what you’re really passionate about, and how creatively and independently you tackle such a self-chosen project. It tells me how you work conceptually. I also get a good idea about the style you prefer and you feel comfortable with.” says the german magazine editor “Or how versatile you really are.

Personal work is a two edged sword

Personal work is a must for today’s creative. The fastest (and scariest) way to revamp your career is to throw out the images that show what you have shot and only show those images and projects that you would like to shoot. Christina Force a folio consultant wrote a great blog post called 4 reasons to throw out your babies. Personal work is what your passionate about, stand behind it whole heartedly. Personal work must be excellent, award winning, your highest caliber work. Personal work must set you apart from the pack–take risks, be willing to fail. If you don’t go for the impossible, your results will be mediocre and average at best.


This article was first published on the American Society of Media Photographers blog Strictly Business.

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Mark Gilvey - 6 months ago Reply

I’ve always wondered about this. I think as long as you are not showing a Jekyll-Hyde contrast, you will be ok to show personal work. I have two separate sites for the two but after reading this, I may bring a few photos of my personal work over from my fine art site, just a few. Thanks Pascal!

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