With the new year at our doorsteps, it is time not only to revisit our creative achievements of the past twelve months, but also to think about how we want to evolve photographically in 2019.
What is it that you aspire? Do you want to expand your creative view by exploring a new genre? Are you looking to improve the technical aspects of your photography? Do you want to study the masters? Have you been sneaking around that new camera or other piece of gear that you hope will jump-start your motivation to shoot better pictures or simply shoot more? Or are you seeking some recognition for your work, beyond the friendly comments of the peers following your blog or your social media accounts?
Whatever it is, this is a good time to set yourself some photographic goals for the new year. Time has never been better. Excellent cameras have become very affordable and the latest smartphones are 24/7 companions that allow everyone to do serious and high quality photography wherever you are.
Focus on education, not on new gear
With the growing numbers of aspiring photographers, the amount of educational and inspirational information has vastly increased. Photography magazines, how-to books, websites and blogs provide a wealth of technical knowledge and inspiration for just about every genre of photography that you can imagine, and most of those resources are free. Thanks to this resources, improving the technical and artistic aspects of your photography is not difficult at all if you learn to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. And if you want to take your education a step further, invest in either a web based training made available by professionals or join an in-person photography workshop, which will give yourself also the opportunity to build a network of peers. All this requires much fewer investments than a decent piece of gear and will definitely help to improve your photography more than buying the next generation camera body or a new lens.
Find a new genre you want to explore
Think about if you want to explore an area of photography that you haven’t yet practiced. Landscape, portrait work with available light or strobes, boudoir, street photography, macro, wildlife, fashion, travel, documentary; there are plenty areas to choose from. While all of those genres seem attractive, some come with caveats that are not easy to overcome (e.g. getting yourself models for portrait/fashion shootings, getting up in the middle of the night to catch the golden hours of landscape photography), so the genres that eventually attract you will narrow down themselves. And if you really want to become good at something you need to focus. Most great artists / scientists have been or are specialists of some sorts. Sure there are exceptions. Bryan Adams is a great Rock Star and also a well-known photographer, but in music he focuses on Rock and in his photography on portraits and fashion.
Shoot, shoot, shoot
I’m sure you have heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s Book “Outliers: The story of success” in which the author writes extensively about the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. I believe there is a certain truth to this thesis. So go out and shoot. The more you shoot, and try to implement the things you learned from studying the theory, into your practical photography, the better you will become. Master your gear and the technicalities first, then improve your creative focus. Then your way of shooting will become second nature, you walk through your days with a “photographic eye”, picturing in front of your eyes what your lens would see. You fall into repetitive patterns that will also show in your images, will eventually show your style.
There is nothing wrong by finding inspiration in other photographers work. Browsing Instagram, 500px, flickr and the likes lets you find lots of images that attract you visually or even from a technical point of view. This goes also for finding inspirations in photography magazines or books. Once a genre attracts you, you can research it in more depth by finding image sharing platform users, websites or blogs that focus on a particular genre. Compare images, find common elements in images “that turn you on”. Identify the names of masters of the genres that attract you, look at their published images and books and study their work in more detail. There is nothing wrong in trying to replicate their work for yourself in order to understand and master their techniques. Then use the acquired skills to create your own variations or take it to a complete new level. Have faith in yourself of developing something new out of “external” inspiration.
Go out and shoot – and shoot what you want to shoot
The best goal for the new year is simply to go out and shoot. And shoot what your heart tells you to shoot. Shoot for yourself, not for an audience. Shoot the scenes that you yourself want to capture, where your senses tell you to press the shutter because something in front of your lens stirs your emotions. Don’t take images because you assume they generate lots of likes on the social networks or image platforms. Repetitively capturing what inspires you personally is the best way to find a focal point for your photography, discover the style of images that are satisfying for yourself as a creator, an artist. And the best motivation to go out and do more photography is when your own results “turn you on”.
Use the new year to broaden your photographic horizons with an open mind. If you explore, experiment and work with dedication and passion, and if you are your own hardest critic, your photography will certainly improve and you will find and evolve your own style. Enjoy it as a journey, and don’t be afraid of any turns your photographic road will take.
For a quick start check out all my tips and inspirations around photography in my free Learning Center.
I wish you a great and creative 2019
Gear & Camera Settings for Street Photography
My Eric Kim Workshop Experience
My Photography Equipment Checklist
Little woes of a traveling photographer