‘Tis the season for making resolutions, affirmations and plans for the upcoming year. There is something very exciting and almost rejuvenating about the idea of a fresh start in a new year. The idea of the “failed” resolution is almost more common than the concept of resolutions themselves. So, in today's article, I plan to offer five concrete steps that everyone can make to become a better photographer in the coming year. These ideas are not all entirely mine. I will credit and share the relevant source for each item on my list. I am, however REALLY going to implement all five of these things. I look forward to sharing out the results of that growth as I progress, and I am reserving my final post of next year to be an analysis of how well (hopefully) each item has proved to be throughout the entire year.
1. Create “My Top 10 Images” each year
At the very top of my list is the concept of creating an annual top 10 images collection. Although Jeff Harmon attributes this idea to Martin Bailey's podcast, I am going to have to say that for me, the information came directly from Jeff. This is a phenomenal idea. Here is the Photo Taco episode where he spells out the technical side of how to do this using a workflow designed for Lightroom. I'm definitely going to utilize the workflow he described, and take advantage of the “target collection” feature.
When I cull my images, I use 1, 2 & 3 star ratings. That leaves 4 and 5 for truly outstanding work. I think that's fairly common practice for a lot of folks. If you don't already do that, I can give it a solid recommendation. On my first round of culling, “3” means that I will definitely revisit the image, process it some more, and I fully expect that to be an image worthy of delivering to a client. “2” means that it's certainly a usable image, but it's either very similar to a “3” image, or there is some inherent issue with it that I feel it is not worthy of a “3.” I know that particular image can be used if necessary, but skipping it wont cause me to lose any sleep, either. A “1” means that I'm not deleting the file outright, but it's more for editing purposes. It's just saved as “source material” for compositing, or other random purposes later on. Everything else gets deleted to save space. (From a workflow standpoint, the “delete” action is something that I will definitely force myself to do more often. That is not on my list of 5 things, but it's a way to save substantial space, and right now I have SO MANY pointless images saved. Some of the images just need to go into the trash. Seriously.
So what IS new on my workflow is that I am going to try to select a maximum of ONE 5-star image per session. I want to identify the singular favorite image of each session, and that image is going to be printed out and used in item number 2 on my list. I will not limit the 4-star images by number, but I do want to become more selective in what elevates beyond a “three.” Some sessions yield a LOT of wonderful images, and others, sadly, not many. So if there is a day where the light is dull, or my shooting is off, I will not allow ANY images to be a 4 or 5. Images have to truly deserve the top two ratings.
2. Create and Maintain a Photo Journal
Idea number two comes from one of my very favorite photography educators. If anyone is not yet familiar with Ted Forbes, I can't share enough positive thoughts of his YouTube channel. Ted covers an enormous array of topics on “The Art of Photography,” some very practical and actionable in terms of helping photographers improve their craft, and some more “artistic” in nature. His “Artist Series” is a magnificent series of interviews with many of today's most influential photographers.
Recently, Ted has initiated “photo assignments” with his YouTube channel. I LOVE the fact that he is recording them in a manner that is not time sensitive. So, if you haven't been watching his videos, you watch the “kick-off” video for his photo assignments, and just move on from there. Here is a link to his kick-off video for the Photo Journal assignment.
There are several other videos that follow this one, where the assignment unfolds, and details emerge. But credit where credit is due, line item #2 is directly from Ted Forbes' The Art of Photography.
So here's how I am going to implement the journal. As I mentioned above, I am going to select a maximum of ONE image from each shoot that is a 5-star image. Every one of those is going to be printed, and it will be placed chronologically in my sketch book. I am going to “double down” on this exercise. First, I am going to get professional prints made by Miller's for these 5-star images. I am also going to print my own. I have a pretty decent Canon photo printer, and I have never been confident in my ability to generate great quality prints on my own. So I am going to have an ongoing comparison between the professional prints, and the ones I can create at home. IF at some point I get to the point where I can do a proof print of images and be confident that the print quality is superb out of my printer, then I can save the expense of having the pro prints made just for a journal. But that will be a part of the process over time.
Why a journal, and why hard copy prints? Well that's pretty easy. My main objective is to get images onto the walls of my clients. Electronic screens are certainly the wave of the future, but I truly believe that a great quality print on great paper, up on the wall, serves an ENTIRELY different purpose. That's a purpose that I want to obsess on for a while. I want to create prints that “wow.” You don't do anything that “wows” without great intention and practice.
3. This Year, I Am a Student of Lighting.
So who in the world can I attribute this one to? I suppose I'll just attribute it to myself, and every other photographer on the planet. But in my case, I'll be more specific. Last year, I purchased a lot of equipment from a photographer that was going out of business. I have a lot of lighting equipment that I simply do not fully utilize. I have three pretty high-end Canon speed lights, lots of stands, modifiers, MagMods, all kinds of stuff. I have a Phottix Odin trigger and receivers for all 3 speedlights. I even have SUPER nifty high-capacity external power supplies, that allow for recycle times so fast I could burn those speedlights up, no problem! (I don't want to do that.)
For this full year, I am going to make the commitment to myself to find a lighting set-up each month, and grind and polish that set-up to death. The key is not to just get it to the point where it “works,” but to get it to the point where I can go to that set-up with absolute confidence at ANY time.
I have a ton of different areas where I want to improve. I certainly will not be doing this to the exclusion of any other progress, but for the coming year, I AM A STUDENT OF LIGHT.
4. Observation of Other Photographers
Here again, I don't have a single person to whom I will attribute this. This is something though, that I almost never done. This year, at least once per month, I'm going to go shooting with another photographer. I have second-shot weddings, and had a second shooter. That's really not what I'm talking about, because they are not actually by your side, watching how you work. You aren't looking over their shoulder to see what they do, either.
I will be reaching out to photographers in my general area of the country, and looking to shoot together, and trade tips, tricks, knowledge and ideas. This will lead me to grow, and hopefully it will be a two-way thing for those other photographers, and benefit them as well.
At least two of the six months, I'm going to make sure to work with a photographer from a substantially higher “tier” in the pecking order of photography. At least twice, I want to either participate in a workshop, or partner up in some way, to work with someone well “above” me in the study of photography. One wonderful thing would be a meet-up with Ted Forbes, who I mentioned up above. He does them from time to time, and that would be great. Of course the Improve Photography meet-ups and workshops would be AWESOME. Unfortunately, a new roof on my house to be followed by at least 1 (probably 2) new bathrooms, and some major reconstruction due to water damage, these will not be able to be super-expensive outings. Traveling to Iceland with Nick Page is SO crazy high on my list, but the wallet wont allow that just yet. But there are other options… other things, and I need to find the ones that I can afford, and go do them!
5. Shoot More of What I Love the Most
Here again, this has been said too many times to credit anyone with the idea. Personally, I am incredibly thankful that I genuinely ADORE a number of different aspects of photography. Much like Nick Page has discussed before, I think I would burn out if I was only doing one particular thing, over and over again. But, there are definitely some things that I aspire to do more of, and things that I have no interest in doing. In looking forward to the upcoming year, there are a number of these that I want to be very intentional in how I move forward.
This is an area that I both adore (as a musician, how could I not?), but also one that really happens very organically, BECAUSE I have a vast network of musician friends. It's a genre of convenience, but also a genre of passion and love. It just works GREAT! I already have six Concert Photography “gigs” booked for the coming year, but I want to attempt to increase that to at least twelve. A concert per month average seems like a great amount. I don't want to burn out on any one thing, but it's important to do it enough to keep advancing and growing. So the goal for 2017 is a dozen concerts.
B. Family & Senior Portraits
While many folks probably consider these as two separate categories, to me they “feel” the same. The amount of time is about the same, and I absolutely love doing both. The intentional goal here for me is to focus on more of them early in the year. I'm sure I am in the same category as many other photographers, that about 80% of my family portrait sessions take place between September and December. I am actually thrilled with the amount of shooting I do in that time period, but I want to try to get my Spring portrait season to match up. I will study and figure out how to market Spring portrait sessions in a more effective manner.
I LOVE shooting weddings. I wouldn't have expected that of myself, if I had asked for my own thoughts just two years ago. I have a self-imposed limit of one wedding per month, simply because I have a very busy schedule, and the editing and post-event obligations are VERY time consuming. I want to figure out a way to get the word out that I am looking to book a few more weddings a year, without making that huge investment that could potentially result in me actually turning away inquiries. This one is actually very tricky, because I would like to add about 3 more weddings in 2017, but not really much more than that. I don't want to pay “Wedding Wire” or “The Knot” for advertising, when my desire to expand has limitations. This is one I really need to work on, and plan out carefully. I would LOVE any feedback from other photographers in the same situation, and hear what you do to generate some wedding business, but not too much!
Again, not an area where I would have anticipated a great desire from myself just a few years back, but I LOVE capturing formal wear. Gowns, tuxedos, suits, beautiful surroundings – I love capturing that stuff! Weddings are not the only place where people get dressed up beautifully. I have never done “pre-prom” photography, and I want to do that. So… how to generate that business? Again, I'll be strategizing, and trying to build those opportunities. I have a potential shoot with a designer gown shop, although I haven't heard back from them since we set our tentative date. I'm fortunate enough to live in a very densely populated area, so I can certainly do other outreach to generate that type of photo business.
I would love to hear feedback from everyone on what your action steps are for the upcoming year! HOW are you going to make things happen in your photography journey, over the next 12 months? Best of luck to you, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with all of your friends and family close to you.