At the end of 2013 I was doing my annual review and I took a moment to look back at the work I had created in the past 12 months. A chill creeped up my spine.

I realized – looking at my work from a bird’s eye view that I was keeping it fairly safe. Meaning I was keeping to my style, shooting what I was comfortable with and what I knew would pay the bills. The problem with comfort is that it inhibits growth and progress. Comfort is too constant.

Now I did the Year of the Shot campaign which I took on multiple different personal assignments to challenge myself. But outside of that I took very few risks or artistic challenges. That is something I am self aware of and take responsibility for as a working creative.

I immediately shifted gears for 2012 and started concepting new themes, shoot styles and ideas for pictures I could make. From my shoot with NFL cornerback Jamell Fleming, to my editorial shoot with Olympic gold medalist Roland Shoeman, to my upcoming swimwear fashion spread I took fresh approaches to how I approach photo shoots.

Presently I am also taking on multiple personal projects to test myself. I got inspired to do this from my recent TheProExposure interview with Joel Grimes where we talked about how he gave himself about 50 personal assignments a year.

Here are my suggestions to you to fight becoming too comfortable in your work.

1. Assign yourself personal work – things that seem interesting and challenging for you. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high. There is no client on the line so it doesn’t matter if you fail or not. What matters is the intent to take it on.

2. Don’t over-think the work – just move forward and do it. If you set a personal project and you set the date too far in the future (or don’t set a date at all) then you think about it, think about it and think about it some more until you make the project too grand, too overwhelming and too difficult leaving the result of you not doing it. Don’t over-think it, just move forward, push ahead and get it done. Then evaluate it afterwards and reapproach it. Thus you act in the mode of Ready-Fire-Aim not Ready-Aim-Fire.

3. Keep your eyes open for fresh inspiration. Perhaps it is from music, movie, magazines, books, advertisements, all galleries, the list goes on. We are engulfed in a sea of potential inspirational sources. You just need to start looking and taking note.

And the most important benefit of doing this – apart from challenging yourself and growing in your abilities – is that it reminds you about why you got into what you do. It rekindles that fire and passion a bit and enhances the excitement.

James Patrick
instagram @jpatrickphoto