Why passion projects are worth all your time.

Finding time to shoot personal projects-

The more and more I spend my time working on other projects I realize more and more that these are the same projects that someone else wants to be done- what I mean is that even work is producing someone else’s dream. 

Here are a few things that I think will help you put yourself on that list of “things to do” 

-I take fun too seriously

-Making inspiration 

-Personal makes professional

-The 20-minute project

-When to say “No” 


That means that I’m always planning for the things that I enjoy. It makes doing the things you have to do a little more bearable. “If I can get this done I know I can play with the dog/ watch our favorite show together after dinner/ take that surf trip/to go play golf/ etc” I could list a million things. When we figure that thing out, we might as well document it to some extent. It’s rare that someone doesn’t have their phone or camera with them, or record a voice message if you’re writing. 

Personal projects are the fuel to feeling good and continuing to produce. They are essential. It’s rare that someone is always able to work on exactly what they want to all the time. I do not allow things to interfere with my “fun” because that’s the only reason I do anything. I do things I have to obviously, but I’m always chasing the fun…

Do that shit. It keeps you clear and it keeps you stoked about your life, don’t always put that off, and make sure you are vocal and keep that time sacred. Document it so you can keep track of home/work/fun balance. You’ll find more work coming from these things and you’ll always be glad you did. 


I read a book called “Get to Work” by Zach Arias. The gist of the book is that Inspiration doesn’t fall into your lap. It’s something that you have to make. Now that being said, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You’ll have to take a break if you’re burned out… but I’ve found that if you’re a writer and stressed, go take pictures. You’ll suddenly have something to write about. If you’re a photographer, try to write a piece about something you enjoy. You’ll certainly jog your memory about things you want to photograph. 

“Book the ticket, take the ride” - Hunter S. Thompson

I find that pressure sometimes makes the best Inspiration. I sometimes by myself on a job and realize that there is no waiting to be inspired, these are the things I have to work with and I have to make something good. It’s fun to tweak and make that puzzle work. If your light dies, we have to do X Y Z. We have to keep going. You’re at work. You are getting paid, and let’s both take a second to pray and hope that we have the skills to satisfy the complete task at hand. 


What I mean is - Lots of personal projects are good examples of what you can show the world you’re capable of. The more you try things that are free, the less likely you are to find yourself in a bind with no bag of tricks to push through. Learning to shoot with one light has made shooting with one light my preference. Knowing how to add fill light later on personal projects gave me the confidence to try this technique on paid jobs. Not to mention the confidence to approach those jobs that I might not think I could do. This isn’t “fake it til you make it” stuff this is unpaid training. 


It sounds easy, but I’ve had a hard time with it from time to time. This is an exercise so many different vocations recommend. Do something for 20 minutes and you’ll find that you’ll do it for longer, or if you do it habitually for 20 minutes, you can become fairly skilled. This is the practice of starting and letting things flow. If you can just pick up your guitar and Start, take note of the time and you’ll find that the 20 mins you just set aside flies by. Same with starting at the gym or running. Getting started is the hardest part. The time flies by, even if you don’t really enjoy it. Brainstorm a project and then take 20 minutes to try it. If you’re learning something read about it for 20 minutes. Next time try it for 20 minutes. Just start. It’s the hardest part most time.


When I first started my motto was to say yes to anything with a time frame and a check. Nowadays, I get to be more selective, not because I’m rich, but because some things are just humongous time killers. Like very low-budget weddings, they’ll likely not be portfolio work, the customer will be upset with the images and you’ll not make very much money. You’ll also miss out on other things that would be a better use of your time. 

I recently worked an event and it was a “pay per download”. I know some folks find this to be profitable, but without the correct amount of research and experience, I found it to be a humungous waste of my time and resources. I paid for printed material, digital materials, and the website to host the images. Needless to say, I had to take a loss on the project and I should have asked more questions and or required a day rate for the photos. 

I like to say I follow the “fame, fortune, fun” model and It has to check two boxes. If it pays well and it’s fun, cool. If it’s going to make me known by other brands or folks I want to work with and it’s fun, cool. If it’s none… then I will have to pass. 


Thank you for reading. I hope some portion of this writing helps you. Please follow me on Instagram and Twitter- @jonstellphoto @thedesigncypher 

Check the page www.thedesigncypher.com for more info about what we are doing in sunny coastal South Carolina. 

Fast Cars And Slow Shutters

Here we go with another photo helper blogpost. I have a friend that has a 2017 BMW m4 coupe. Super fun car. He was thinking about selling it, and before he did, he needed photos of it for a listing to put on the web. I took him up on this offer for the simple fact that I really wanted to try some rolling shutter images.

We started with the standard stuff like right front/front/ left front. Side. Back. Interior. Standard stuff. How it looks from the drivers seat, to how the navigation looks turned on. Who cares right.

Next we started playing around. The BMW is super easy to break lose from the ground, so he did some donuts and we did some more staged stuff with the doors open and whatnot. But what I really wanted was to have him drive and let me drag the shutter for some really fun motion stills.

I learned a lot again on this one… such as you don’t have to be driving very fast, it works really well if you just maintain a constant speed. Next, I learned I prefer to drive/ride at the same speed so the subject is easy to focus on and keep steady (it’s harder to do with a pan shot, especially without a tripod or some way to keep the other axis stable) side by side was the winner. Also… I would never recommend doing this on a public roadway and driving at the same time. Don’t be an idiot.

Compose. Look around first. I hated the background at first, but I loved the asphalt and concrete contrast. I also liked the trees in the foreground. The weeds and debris in the parking lot gave it the “mad max” ish vibe, without the toe cutter causing a threat. (Ha) There was dirt, cars, speed, churches, power lines and burnouts. Everything a little boy loves.

I set my shutter to 1/30 or 1/15 and somewhere close to f/5.6 s I didn’t lose any of the car to shallow focal depth. I really wanted to see the entire thing, not just a wheel or a grill. The ISO was set to make the image exposure meter a little high because of the nature of the scene. Sadly I never think to meter in different parts of the frame because I get too excited (hard to admit at times) I took a ton of images. I only liked a few, but that’s how it goes in this digital photo age.

Why I take gigs like this sometimes because the valuable knowledge gained is so much better than just reading about it. I’ve seen this technique used over and over. Commercial car ads have used it for ages, and they’re going to come and go with it. Cars are for motion, and that’s what I wanted to capture. He ended up selling the car, and was really happy we took some time to enjoy it before it was gone forever. I made sure the entire vehicle was in focus and made sure to make the image wide enough to capture the surroundings, but not lose the object in the busy background. All in all I’m really glad I have these images, and so is my client.

Holden Beach NC

During a solo surf trip to Holden ran into these very animated characters that had taken a bike frame and flipped it upside down, welded the seat on and extended the forks and handlebars, apparently it always takes two to mount this tall fun machine. i thought the trip was fairly mundane as I didn’t catch many waves or have anyone i knew there, but then this opportunity presented itself to take photographs of these fine, fully committed mullet wearing individuals. I normally stick to the corporate headshots, but I hadn’t done an environmental headshot in a long time. I’m so glad that I hadn’t wasted the last few shots on this roll on taking photos of the ground. I love personal projects of headshot of strange folks doing extrodinary things, and just being out in the North carolina sunshine. I love it. I pray I see 100 more people like this. 

signing off. 

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