The Value of a Self-Assignment

Quite often we, as photographers, struggle to find the motivation to get out and create images. In our daily lives many things influence our creativity, or lack thereof. During the winter months we often struggle to find the enthusiasm to brave the elements and do what we love to do: make photos!  One sure way to feel inspired is to take on a Self-Assignment.  A Self-Assignment motivates you to pick up your camera and shoot but, also inspires you to push your creative limits while exploring your chosen subject.

The recent winter here in New England was extraodinarily mild.  The lack of typically cold weather meant many opportunities for venturing out with camera in hand, the lack of snow left the landscape brown and unattractive for the most part.  Most of my photography is done in the outdoors so, the snowless winter left me uninspired for any scenic or landscape photography.

So, to combat the boredom of a featureless winter, I gave myself a specific assignment with purpose:  Haverhill at Night.  My project would be to shoot scenes of my hometown, Haverhill, Massachusetts, but my images could be done only at night and then presented in black and white.  .Haverhill was once a mighty manufacturing center in northern Massachusetts.  During it’s economic heyday 10% of the countries shoes were made in Haverhill earning the city the nickname of “Queen Slipper City”.   In it’s height of productivity the downtown section was full of mills and businesses that were booming.  Today, after years of  lean economic times, Haverhill is a small city undergoing a much needed revitalization.  The long abandoned downtown mills are being transformed into condominiums and new business opportunities including restaurants and eclectic shops.  Once again, Haverhill is thriving.


I have lived in Haverhill for 10 years now but, know very little about the city other than it’s history.  I am unfamiliar with the many roads in and around Haverhill let alone any of its more significant buildings or urban scenes.  The original intent of my project was to get myself out shooting. and learn more about where I chose to live.   In the field  Bob and I strongly advocate Exploring Your Subject and this project allows me to heed my own advice.   If you invest your  energy thoroughly you will not only gain more knowledge of your subject but, your images will reflect growth and new perspectives as well.   Proudly, Haverhill at Night has taken on new life as I embraced my project and fine tuned my vision.


One particular benefit to my project is the opportunity to expand my growing passion for black and white photography.  Haverhill and its storied mills are rich with texture and detail:  perfect for black and white images.  By narrowing my vision to only shooting at night I am also creating the circumstances to fine tune my skill at low light and night photography.   My snowless winter yielded nothing for dramatic New England scenics but, my self assignment has given me a very fun, energizing, and marketable body of work.

Now that spring is here, once again I will be outside finding beautiful colors to shoot but, I will still continue with my project.  I can envision a gallery show of my work, possible sales to downtown restaurants and shops, and presentations on Haverhill and night time photography.  I could not be happier with the results or the possibilities.

So, when you are feeling less than inspired to pick up your camera, put your mind to work on something that will motivate you to take part in the creative process of photography.  Find a self assignment and stick to it.  Embrace your self assignment and grow as a photographer.  Your potential is limitless.

Don Toothaker
“Photograph What You Feel”

1 Comment

  1. Amy Astolfi

    HI Don,
    love this blog entry…as you may remember, when i started off in photography back in 2006/2007 I started a 365 project…(take a photo a day and posting it to my blog and flickr) and i did that for 2 full years. I could see myself improve, as well as my photo friends. As the years have gone by I have done smaller projects…but just yesterday, I decided to take on another 365 project to get me some of my photo mojo back….and this photo a day project is specifically centered around photos of Danvers…the town I grew up in, the town I live in today..My Home Town. I am excited about this project and hope to capture some hidden gems along the way.

    Don, I want to thank YOU personally for all YOUR inspiration as I started on this journey and as I continue on.
    Thanks my friend

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