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Whaley actually dropped out of photo school before graduation. Once she felt she had enough training to make a go of it as a professional photographer, she gave it a go. I'm not advocating that you quit your job or bail on your education, but what I am suggesting you could learn from her is how to push yourself creatively, become a better photographer and improve your portfolio all at once. And you can do it by giving yourself photo assignments. Here's how.
First, you've got to have a vision. It doesn't have to be some high-and-mighty artistic vision. No, I mean a simple vision for the type of work you'd like to do. That way you can set about doing it. If you want to be a landscape photographer don't “waste your time” shooting portraits. Give yourself landscape assignments. And if you want to be a fashion photographer like Ms. Whaley, you'll have to put together a fashion shoot. Daunting, yes. But that brings us to the next step of a successful self-assignment.