Behind the scenes of a personal project

A personal photographic project isn't exactly work and isn't exactly play. It's not specifically for a client, although you might end up using or selling the final images. It's not entirely just for fun either, although it could start out that way. The aim is to develop a theme or a story into a series of images that work together as a whole. The result might even be just one image, if it takes significant effort to construct.

The major benefit of working on personal projects is that they show your own vision. You're not constrained by the needs of a client so you can shape the project in whatever way you wish. It might be an experiment to learn new techniques, a single idea that grows into a series of images or a lifelong passion that starts to take shape into a consistent visual story.

I recently uploaded a series of shots from a recent project called 'Visitation'. I like to explore old church buildings in Paris because the architecture and symbolism can be interesting and the light from the huge windows is often beautiful. I first had the idea to develop those shots into more of a series, then thought about incorporating other religious building too.

On a workshop with Claudine Doury (organised through the excellent Eyes in Progress), she suggested incorporating my portrait work into the concept, so that the project would be more about the people inside the building than about the buildings themselves. It was with this in mind that I started to shoot the images you see here.


Many are candid shots, taken inside Notre Dame. I spent a while just watching the visitors to the church and their expressions as they reacted to the surroundings. Then I would look for moments to capture, manually focusing because the autofocus was proving too slow in the limited light.

I approached a few people to ask if they'd mind helping with a few shots and the response was entirely positive. I give out business cards so that they can always ask for the images afterwards and I was happy to respond to a couple of people that did get back in touch with me.

As always, some images will be the most powerful. Others might still be personal favourites. Choosing and sequencing is something I find very difficult, but starts to make sense as you finalise the images and start to understand how they work together visually. While there is a constant temptation to just include the strongest individual images, sometimes a weaker single image can do more to help the story or visual connection between other shots. It's a process that takes time and, for me at least, numerous revisits to choose, revise, change, shuffle, re-pick. Gradually, and with help from at least one other pair of eyes, the project starts to take shape.

You can see the final series of images here.