Mike Kelley: My Resolution is to Make Even More Personal Work


While I may not be winning any awards for "most influential" or "biggest social media" following any time soon, I've managed to build a great business photographing architecture and aviation since first picking up a camera in 2009. I honestly attribute most of my success to my drive to complete more personal work than most people I know—and my resolutions for 2015 are shaped around that idea.

People who are familiar with me and my work know that I am a huge fan of personal work, and that I devote at least a couple of months each year to pursuing work that only I want to do—just for me—to further my creative development and keep my mind from getting in a rut with regard to my paid work. It's a difficult proposition, and one that people struggle to rationalize. A question I often hear is, "Why would you take more than a month off from your regular work to pursue something with no guarantee of a payoff?" While the payoff isn't necessarily immediate, it can be huge in terms of finance and creativity. 


Mike Kelley's Gear:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II

Canon Wide Tilt Shift TS-E 17mm f/4L

Lowel GL-1 Power LED

Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod

Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head

CamRanger Wireless Transmitter 

Pursuing personal work allows you to shoot exactly what you want to be shooting and put it into your portfolio. Then, when a client sees a portfolio full of the things you want to be shooting, guess what? They're going to hire you because they liked the look of what you love to shoot. I would say at least 25% of the material that I shoot is personal work, whether it is architecture, aerials, landscapes, people, or something else, and some of my most successful commissions and most viral content has all been personal. Most of my craziest career opportunities have happened directly as a result of personal work—things I was never paid for! If you have an interesting enough vision and the tenacity to plan and execute a great personal project, it will help you, in many ways, more than even some commissioned work. 

That, to me, is one of the best parts of being a photographer. That I can make a living built on the pictures I want to be taking is just incredible. So, in 2015, my resolution is to make even more personal work. I've blocked out more than three months just to pursue work on my own. I will be traveling around the world, going to locations where I want to work, putting myself to work there so potential clients can see that I've been able to handle a church in Iceland, a home in Singapore, an airport in New Zealand, etc. This way, they will have the confidence that they've hired the right guy to photograph their hotel in Italy.

Personal work is big, and no matter the genre. It needs to be front and center on your 2015 to-do list.


Mike Kelley is a Los Angeles-based architectural and interior photographer with a background in digital art and sculpture. He enjoys combining his mixed backgrounds and love of design, minimalism, and surrealism in his fine art photography to create imagery that feels tangible and lifelike, yet also otherworldly.


Great work, especially the imagination behind the airplane cabin tableau.

I really like the photo of the planes taking off.  Did you do that in photoshop?  How did you do it?  


Investing in yourself is a wonderful resolution.  Inspiring thoughts.


I applaud your resolution. I believe personal work is key to creativity.