ABS: in my book is Always Be Shooting(Not, Anti-lock Brake System). I think this is highly important in any creative business, especially photography. Honing your craft takes time, as it is a process and a journey. The more you shoot, the more you develop your skills. I think it's a good idea to always be shooting your own work. My theory in this relativity is that if you are always shooting for yourself you will always be progressing. I learn new things every time I shoot. I'm not talking about shooting just for the sake of shooting, but if you are always pushing yourself, pushing your boundaries, creativity, lighting techniques, etc., you are growing, and that is what this business is all about. All in All, if you're shooting for yourself, every time you click the button you are expanding your eye, and photographic instincts. By shooting more, you also begin to discover what it is you really love to shoot, along with developing more of a Vision and Style. Vision and Style are the most important elements, and if you're always shooting, you're always refining those them. Photography is all about your "Eye" and what you see.
Shooting for yourself can be whatever you want it to be, and that's the beauty of this business. I feel like this career is a bit of a choose your own adventure book. In reality, you're going to get hired for what you show in your portfolio in both style and content. If you want to shoot a certain type of work you need to show that you can do that, but better yet how can you do it differently than everyone else? The best way to go about it is to shoot it for yourself and put it in your book. The idea is to focus on what you love to shoot and build a business around that.
For me, it took me a few years to really figure out what aspect of photography I loved, and I'm still discovering new things, but I've focused my passions within photography to travel, lifestyle, a bit of lifestyle fashion, and a bit of a new endeavor: editorial/celebrity portraiture. Over the last couple years, I've really began to push my capabilities within each category by testing. "Testing" is what we call setting up and shooting for your portfolio. They can be simple, and they can be involved. Depend on what you shoot/want to shoot. Over the last year, my tests have become more production elaborate, involving Hair, Makeup, Styling, Models, Locations, etc. (More to come on testing) Creating higher production value images is what is needed in the realm of Advertising and Editorial photography. Now my tests are less frequent, but more involved, but I'm always planning the next one.
The goal is to always be shooting whether you're doing paid jobs or not. Developing your eye, and capabilities only comes from doing it constantly. On top of that, it fills that creative desire that you may not always get by shooting the paid jobs. Eventually the two will converge if you market what you love to shoot and people hire you for that.