Lesson 6 of 8
In Progress

Passion Projects

As photographers, we focus on how we can improve our art.  We make goals for ourselves, take classes, join an awesome photography community like SPS, and practice new techniques over and over again.  But oftentimes we forget that the real value of our art is that it has the ability to be a blessing. 

We are all uniquely created with personal interests and passions.  We can use that individuality to create a photography Passion Project – one that sparks a fire in us to create something lovely and life-giving to ourselves and others.

Allow the stories below to inspire you and get you thinking about how you can use your gift of photography to create your own Passion Project, in order to benefit you and your family, or those in your community.

Sarah Greening – 50th Anniversary

My parents were married on November 7th, 1970 and they celebrated their 50th anniversary this year! Due to the pandemic, my sister and I couldn’t plan a party as originally intended so we had to get creative and find other ways to help them celebrate their special day. We decided to host a brunch at my house (just for our immediate family – 9 of us), which included a replica of their wedding cake. Little did we know that the famous local flavor we chose (Danish layer), was actually the flavor of their wedding cake! The brunch was followed by a surprise drive-by parade which included an entire local fire/rescue team including vintage fire trucks! 

My sister and I agreed that I needed to take their picture for the announcement in the paper and that it would be fun to try to recreate a few from their wedding day. About a month before their anniversary, I asked them to look through their wedding album and pick out a few of their favorites. They chose a few of them just inside the church before they opened the doors to all of their friends and family waiting outside. I took cellphone pictures of the photo album so that I could refer to them during the shoot. About a week before their anniversary, we coordinated a date/time with the church for us to use the space.

Once at the church, they showed me where each of the original pictures were taken. The only difference with the church entrance was that the doors had been replaced. For each pose, I started by first showing them the original picture, and then directed them with specific instructions and tweaked along the way (Ex: step closer together / Dad, tilt your head to the right  / Okay, now Mom turn your chin a little more toward me…etc.). Once I felt I had the right pose, I snapped away. Before they moved positions, I showed my parents each of the pictures and compared them to the ones in their album.

Once finished with the reenactment photos, we headed to a nearby art museum to take some outdoor shots. My Dad is an avid fisherman and for one of the shots, told him to whisper his fishing/bait shopping list to my Mom in his sexiest voice (the list consisted of jigs, minnows, and fishing line…LOL!). I prompted them to walk toward me, hold hands, look at each other, look at me and then kiss. We had so much fun and they are so grateful for the photos. My sister’s husband passed unexpectedly in July and I know that they know how truly valuable and important these pictures are and the impact photography has on people’s lives. 

Okay, now onto the set up, equipment and settings. I used my Nikon D750 with Tamron 70-200mm lens. I brought my speedlight for the church pictures, however, I rarely use flash (I’m a natural light girl).  Honestly, once we got started I totally forgot I had it with me and in hindsight, I wish I would have used it for at least the first 2 images. The outdoor shots were taken a little before golden hour and used the north side of the museum where we were protected from 25mph winds.

My biggest takeaway is that I wish I would have used my speedlight in the church. I’m also so grateful I asked my friend Elizabeth Brown and fellow SPS member to take pictures of the surprise parade. I was able to be fully present in the moment…just where I needed to be. 

Darcie Tallman – Project Emmaus


After being a stay-at-home mom for three years, our youngest daughter started kindergarten last year.  For the first time in 14 years, I had time to myself! I had completed the SPS Photo Fix and Lightroom Fix courses. I was loving it and learning and practicing tons. In addition to photography, I enjoy writing and have used my writing in past professional positions. I started thinking how I could use my photography and writing for a greater good. 

After quite of bit of prayer and discernment, I had an idea to start a blog that would focus on providing hope and encouragement to others. After several months of development, I launched Project Emmaus which features stories from others who have felt the presence of God in their lives. The photography helps to bring these stories and Bible verses to life.  In the last year, I have had the honor to speak with over 25 individuals and share their stories. I have also written a few of my own reflections with accompanying photographs. I set up Project Emmaus Facebook and Instagram pages where in addition to posting the stories, I post photos that represent a specific Bible verse. Again, trying to provide hope and encouragement on social media. Originally, I envisioned I would photograph all of the individuals for their stories. Unfortunately, COVID as well as geographical distance got in the way so I had to resort to people sending me photos. I hope when the pandemic gets better, I will be able to get back to taking more of the photos for the stories and grow my portraiture skills. 

I have found that I really enjoy landscape and nature photography through my Scripture photos. I have compiled some of these shots and verses into a photo book that I plan on giving to family members for Christmas gifts. 

While it’s taken a lot of time and work, I have thoroughly enjoyed this project and I have seen many blessings through it all!

KELLI DORSCHEL – Photography to Fund an Adoption

My friend’s adoption of her son was finalized in October after a 3-year battle (and 3 years of legal fees).  It is my strong belief that friends champion each other’s causes and support each other to the best of our abilities.  Since I can’t personally cover their legal fees, I wanted to do something (anything) that I could do to help, which was to give of my time and efforts through photography.  I put a call out on FaceBook to my friends and family (it’s the only social media platform I use) and I offered to do a photo shoot for anyone who donated to my friend’s cause.  I am not a professional and I do not take money for my shoots (they donated directly to her), and everyone knew this going in and was ok with that.  My goal was $500, and I am happy to say that I have surpassed this amount!  So far I’ve done a website/branding shoot, engagement shoot, and family shoot, and upcoming is a pet shoot and another family shoot.  This has helped me to step outside of my comfort zone and given me the opportunity to do different types of photography that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have done.  So it really is a win-win!

JEN HEAVENER – 365 Project

I completed a 365 project in 2017.  I was a little apprehensive because I knew it would be a time commitment and wasn’t sure I could handle an entire year.  The longest photography challenge I had completed at that point was the one-a-day monthly challenge with SPS.  I already knew how tiring it could be to take, edit, and post photos daily for an entire month.  On the other hand, I also knew that my photography grew so much during that month and that some of my favorite pictures ever taken were during the one-a-day challenges.  I went back and forth a few times before I finally committed to doing the project.  I was inspired by a few different people to give it a try.  There were photographers within the SPS community who had already completed a 365 so I knew it was possible to do it and their photos were phenomenal.  It was obvious that all of the practice had really paid off.  

 I also had a friend post a 1-Second-Everyday video at the end of 2016 by using an app on her phone.  She is not into photography and was just using it as a way to remember the year.  Since then, she has posted a video every year and I always look forward to seeing her year in review.  I was still a little worried about the time commitment, but she assured me that once she started taking videos every day, it just became second nature.  She encouraged me to give it a try.  

I decided that if I was going to do it, I would need to come up with my own terms in order to set myself up for success.  While the monthly prompts really helped to boost my creativity, I also knew my limits and fatigue with that project.  I decided to take a photo of each of my three children every day for the year.  I’m still not sure why I decided that 3×365 would be easier!  I knew that I had the time to do it.  I had recently become a full-time stay-at-home-mom and was already spending all day with my kids.  My youngest was only 4 months old at the beginning of 2017 so I thought it would be a great way to document her growth during the year.  I either wore my camera, stored it in the diaper bag, or stored it under the stroller.  It was always with me and it felt strange to leave the house without it.  It definitely became easier to take photos daily the more I did it.  

I know others have questioned if they can complete a 365 while working full-time.  I imagine it would be more difficult but there are people who have done it.  Maybe you could take a walk during your lunch break and find things to photograph.  Maybe set a daily reminder on your phone for when you get home from work.  If it’s already dark out when you get home, maybe try a project that involves off-camera flash or night photography.  If your kids are in school all day and can’t be your daily subject, it might be a good time to try macro or tackle some of the other projects that we’ve tried in the SPS courses.

As with any project, I started off the year strong.  I was taking photos and editing them almost daily.  As the year progressed, it got harder to keep up with the editing.  We went on vacation for two weeks in July to visit family on the east coast, so I was continuously taking photos and not editing them.  It wasn’t long after we got home that we had to evacuate in August for Hurricane Harvey.  I continued to document our days with photographs that still haven’t been edited.  I did notice that it got harder to document my oldest son after September when he started kindergarten.  It was even harder to get photos of him after the time change when the sun disappeared even earlier.  There were definitely days that I forgot to take pictures of everyone so I would grab something of theirs to photograph after they were in bed; a favorite toy, a homework worksheet, the antibiotic they were taking for an ear infection, or even the baby monitor video screen of them sleeping.  

It was a sense of accomplishment that I achieved my goal of taking a photo of each of my kids every day.  One of the main benefits was that I became very confident at shooting in manual on my camera.  It became second nature and I immediately knew what settings to start with when I was inside verses outside.  One of the things that I noticed I wanted to change and improve was my composition and the feel of my photos.  They didn’t have that wow factor or that storytelling capability that I admired in so many other photographers.  Full disclosure, many of the photos in this lesson have been re-edited using my current editing skills in 2020.  It was painfully obvious that I didn’t have an editing style in 2017 (unless wonky white balance counts!).  I definitely felt like I was less creative and took fewer photos towards the end of the year.  I was just making sure that I had at least one photo of each kid.  In the end, I averaged 1000-2000 photos each month and ended up with over 18,000 photos for the year.  It was pretty daunting at the end of the year to see how many photos needed to be culled and edited so the project took a back seat.  I still haven’t finished the project.  Someday I hope to get caught up on all of the editing and actually make the photo books.  Even now the project seems too big to tackle.  Gathering photos for this lesson has definitely been a motivator so maybe I’ll finally try to finish the project.

This is a really great time to remind everyone to back up their photos.  My external hard drive crashed in 2019 and only my edited JPEGs were being backed up elsewhere.  I had no backup system in place for my RAW files.  This meant that all of the RAW files that were patiently waiting to be edited were gone.  I was able to send the drive out for (an expensive!) data recovery and they were able to migrate everything onto a new drive for me.  However, many of the files are now corrupt and can’t be read or have lines through parts of the photos.  I now have an even more daunting task of figuring out which photos were backed up and which ones are now gone forever.  I can already tell that I have several days of photos that are now corrupt and will never make it into the project.  It is a little disappointing to know that I spent all of that time on the project and lost part of it, but it also means I have fewer photos to cull and edit so I’m trying to look on the bright side.  I also know that my photography has improved so much since 2017 and that many of the photos are ones I would toss today.  So, I’m not heartbroken. 

Overall it was a really great project.  I learned a lot and I know that someday I will look back fondly on these photos (when they finally make it into a book!).  Would I do it again?  Maybe.  I’d need to finish this backlog of editing before I even consider it.

Note:  All photos were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T5i and a Tamron 24-70mm lens.

Sierra Smithers – Using Photography to Serve Others

Take a look at this past lesson where Sierra shared how she uses her gift of photography in many ways to serve others.

Many of these projects took a lot of thought, effort, and time to complete.  Not all Passion Projects need to be this way.  Some are short and simple, but just as meaningful.  Maybe you want to create a grid of a loved one.  You may spend an hour with her and photograph details such as her hands and smile, as well as keepsakes that remind you of her.  Maybe your passion is nature.  Take a day to photograph the beauty that others may pass by.  Then create a grid of your favorites or enlarge and print to be a gift for a loved one.  Passion Projects can be anything that inspires you and stirs your heart to action.

 Take some time this week so contemplate what parts of your life excite you or what prompts you to do good.  How can you use your photography passions to give life to yourself or those around you?

Post your project to the album or if it’s a large project, share it to the feed with the hashtag #passionprojects. Let’s post our ideas of Passion Projects that we have done in the past, are currently working on, or plan to do in the future.  May we inspire each other to use our passions to be a blessing through our photography.