As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Billy Delfs




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How long have you been shooting?
I started photographing in high school when I took a class in high school and was hooked. It was something I could then use to document the people in my life. I’d go out and photograph everyday. I began with a pinhole camera and that turned into something I still have the same excitement for today. The process has endless possibilities and there was a lot to learn.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I started experimenting and learning the basics on my own. I then took a few classes at the local community college. After a couple of years assisting, I applied to ICP and was accepted so went. ICP was a great school in that they taught us to find our own voice. During my time there, I worked for a couple photographers, most notably John Dolan, where I assisted in the office scanning, filing, and helped his printer.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
I wanted to tell a story of those who surf Lake Erie and saw the potential of fulfilling multiple aspects of photography that I am drawn to. They inspired me and it wasn’t as much about surfing as it was about their commitment to do what they do and loved despite the adverse conditions. I focused on the tight-knit community that no one really knew about at the time. I wanted to get a few great surfing images but also focus on a story about them and portraits. I wanted to show how the weather didn’t matter (no matter how cold it was) and how committed they were.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
At least a year or two, the surf season is only a few months (late fall and winter) so I wanted to build up the story before sharing. I wanted to wait until I had a good variety of surf, portraits, and landscapes. Over time I met more people, so kept adding to the story learning more about them, and adding people who I had met but not photographed or tried to get better images than I already had.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
The ones I work on the longest I don’t know until after returning a couple times. There are personal projects that could happen within a weekend, but for the ones like this I kept returning when I wanted to gather more, learn more, or when I wasn’t able to tell the story enough with a couple tries. I like to return at a few times in order to see if it is working.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
My goal is to have personal work transition into portfolio and assigned work or at least get work based on personal work. When it comes to a commercial look that I know works for most clients, I definitely see how my personal work might not fit some clients’ needs all of the time. However, I work on personal work all the time to broaden myself and work on what inspires me. Usually, when that works clients are inspired too.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
I use social media and post a couple images referring back to the rest of a series but I haven’t necessarily posted a whole series on social media.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
I have never really had anything go viral

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
Yes, I believe personal work is the best work to promote.


Billy Delfs is ever evolving. Delfs started his career at community college and then moved to NYC to be classically trained at International Center of Photography. He is drawn to the magic of the outdoors, notably credited with capturing a series of prints documenting Cleveland’s honorable and inspiring surf community and is a advertising and editorial photographer based in Cleveland working throughout the Midwest and east coast. More at

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

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