Tips + Techniques

The Pieces of a Personal Photography Project (and What to Expect)

July 8, 2021

By Sophie Lin Berard

© Sophie Lin Berard

Film scans from a personal photography project that, at times, tested time management, wardrobe choices, lighting and locations. Read on for a breakdown of each.

Inspiration for a personal photography project can stem from a variety of sources. For some, it’s more conceptual—an emotion that needs to be portrayed or a story told. As I grow in my craft, I find that I’m often drawn to locations and the way each environmental element engages with the space.

[Read: How to Create Luxury Beauty Photos Anywhere (and on a Budget)]

The Wardrobe

Other times, like the shoot shared here, personal photography project ideas spring from a single piece of clothing.

With this shoot specifically, the stylist, Christina Flannery, had a stunning vintage wedding dress she wanted to shoot, which drew me to photograph it in more run-down and ordinary spaces as we didn’t want it to feel like a bridal shoot.

[Read: How to Push Your Creative Photography with Series and Challenges]

I tend to like having a conceptual contrast between environment and wardrobe since environments have the capacity to compliment the subject as well as alter our perception of the subject. That’s why I think it’s one of the most important elements of a shoot.

personal photography project with model contrasting wardrobe and environment

This image was a favorite from the photography project as soon as I took it. It was our first location in the space, and I loved the contrast between the simplicity of the space and the elegance of the gown. We used natural lighting for this shot, and while there weren’t many obstacles outside of the mask repeatedly falling, we were racing against the clock as things ran a bit behind with the crew having to pick up space before we could start. But I think sometimes I perform best under pressure.

The Location

Location is an important aspect of a personal photography project. Location searching seems like an almost constant thing. You see nice light and an interesting space and think of what could be photographed there. I’m always observing interesting light and taking photos of spaces I hope to shoot. I use my iPhone for this because I love how you can revisit the geotag and get the address, and it works well when you want to revisit spaces for outdoor shoots.

[Read: Creative Lighting Techniques for Portrait Photographers]

When I have a specific vibe for a location in mind for my project, especially for an indoor shoot, I’ll book it through Giggster since it’s designed for commercial and creative use. It’s pretty limited in its options in smaller cities, but if you’re in any major metropolitan area, it’s a great tool for finding locations for commercial or editorial shoots. Locations range anywhere from $50 to $1,000+ per hour, which is nice because you can search based on your budget and book places hourly rather than daily.

black and white portrait of model for personal photography project

I love her gaze and the overall composition. For this image, we had her in a completely dark room backed into the corner and used the Profoto’s direct light to create the shadow. We wanted the light to have a rounded shape to it but didn’t have the correct equipment to create the lighting effect, so we found a circular object, wrapped it in cloth to block out the rest of the light, and it worked as a pretty good makeshift spotlight!

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The Model

Because this personal photography project was so specific to wardrobe, we did have pretty strict model requirements. The measurements had to be exact, and often with shoots that we’re putting together with our own budgets, we’re looking for test models rather than paid models. This often means that we’re working with models who are looking to build their portfolio. But in Los Angeles, where I’m based, even the test models are pretty phenomenal.

[Read: The Do’s & Don’ts of Working with Modeling Agencies]

If you do hire on a contracted model that has an extensive portfolio, you’re usually looking at spending anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per day, which is standard.

The Creative Team

From there, we secured hair and makeup artists. For this photography project, we were lucky enough to partner with Andres Copeland on hair and Paloma Alcantar on makeup.

[Read: 4 Tips to Building Solid Relationships with Beauty Teams]

We always share our mood board with hair and makeup artists, and we try to pick creatives that have a similar aesthetic to what we’re going for. That said, we do love giving others on the team free reign to bring their creativity and vision to life.

challenging location and shooting environment

This space was a bit trickier than the rest. We were dealing with mirrors, clothing that didn’t completely fit and incandescent lighting, which every photographer knows is a nightmare. Even while shooting with a shutter of 1/125, I was still experiencing flickering with the bulbs, which made banding across most of the images we took. There were a lot of clothing adjustments and angles we had to work around so as to prevent them from showing up in the reflections or accidentally capturing clips on the back of her clothes. I would have loved for us to have more time in this space, but I’ll take this as another learning lesson on time management. 

The Challenges of a Personal Photography Project

As always, there are speed bumps along the way in every personal project. Sometimes, they look like models bailing the morning of our shoot; other times, they look like our location being completely trashed. That happened at this shoot, actually—fortunately, the management team cleaned it up quickly. You could also find yourself working with creatives that don’t share the same taste as you, which is why it’s so important to work with people whose work you vibe with.

[Read: How to Photograph Your Way Out of Creative Roadblocks]

For this photography project alone, we probably spent $1,500 on the location, apparel and lighting. The location came out to $700 for four hours, and because it was a collaboration, we saved money on styling, hair and makeup artists, and the model. The rest of our budget was able to go to lighting, which was around $200, and wardrobe, which was around $600.

switching from natural to artificial light

The last outfit and one of my favorite images. I set up the Profoto in the hallway and set the temperature a bit warmer. We had lost a lot of light that was coming from the window in the hallway, and I had intended to use that natural light for this shot as I loved the way it fell into the room earlier in the day. However, with things running behind, I had to default to external lighting. 

The Goal of the Personal Photography Project

While the goal is always to produce work we’re proud of—that will hopefully get picked up by a publication we love—there are so many learning lessons as a part of this process that have allowed me to grow my understanding of all the moving parts that come with working with so many creatives on a single project.

[Read: How to Make Portrait Projects That Educate and Empower]

Time management and kind communication are such integral parts to producing a photography project that has a collaborative and fruitful environment. Doing personal projects like this have been such an integral part of my own growth as a photographer, and to me that’s been substantial enough.

Sophie Lin Berard is a portrait, commercial and wedding photographer based in Los Angeles. She was designated as a 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2020.