I know the most popular answer to the question of New Year's resolutions now is not to make any, because we never keep them anyway (although I kept mine last year), but just in case you might be looking to improve your photography in 2011, I have a small bit of modest advice. Set mechanical goals. That is, goals of time, number, frequency, or duration. Photography is a game of doing, and things get done only when you get going and do them. So what I'm suggesting is to make a decision on some purely literal basis. Such as, how many exposures you're going to make every day, or every weekend. How much time, or how often, you're going to spend out and about with your camera in your hands. How many prints you're going to make every week. How often you're going to find a model or set up a portrait shoot. How many new things you're going to try.
It can really be anything—the specifics are up to you. Although I have a suggestion for that, too: attack your weakness. Whatever you think you're worst at, set a mechanical goal for that. If you're bad at editing, make yourself spend 15 minutes a day editing. If you're awkward shooting strangers, make sure you shoot a stranger three times a week. Keep the goals small, and simple.
If you set a plain mechanical goal, you make success easy. Not everybody can guarantee that they'll shoot 12 great pictures a year (this was Ansel Adams's goal for himself). But you can guarantee that you'll shoot twelve exposures a week. Leave the elusive parts of success to work themselves out. Plain, literal goals can be met more easily—all it takes is things you can control like dedication and discipline, not the more ephemeral things you can't control like talent or luck or weather or opportunity, or things coming together in that semi-magical way the way they sometimes do.
I've set mine, but I'm not going to tell what it is. I'm afraid I'll jinx myself, and anyway, my goal doesn't matter to you. Yours is the important one. I'll tell you what mine was on Jan. 2, 2012. It's an easy one, and if I just keep at it, I can get it done.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Marshall: "Well put. A coach I've worked with and I talk to our team about goals like this. We discuss them as process and outcome goals. Outcome goals (win the game; shoot the perfect landscape) are always to some extent out of one's control. Process goals are the ones you can control. Achieving process goals contributes to achieving outcome goals. Hadn't thought to apply this thinking to photography in this way, but it makes a lot of sense to me."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "If you have detected in yourself a certain talent, and if you spend two hours a day intelligently exercising that talent, you'll become very good at it. Most intelligent people have a talent of some kind. The reason they don't achieve excellence with that talent is that they don't work the two hours a day. They could find the two hours if they really wanted to, but they don't. Instead, they find excuses. I've watched lots of artists work, and it's almost invariably true that the best of them work that two hours a day. And those who work four hours a day are even better. I want to become knowledgeable in a certain area of Photoshop. So, I'm going to make myself learn it. I'm going to spend an hour a day at it, until it gets done. I'll let you know in a year what happened."
Featured Comment by Bernd Reinhardt: "I have a suggestion that works really well for me and my friends: about once every two months about five of us get together drinking beers and showing prints. We call it 'print meeting.' Each of us brings five to twenty five prints of any size, kind, or subject matter. We take turns throwing them on the table and we offer comments and suggestions, and simply enjoy each other's work. We started this so that all these photographs wouldn't just end up forgotten on some hard drive. It is a ton of fun for everyone. We keep it small and limited to good friends so that there is no competition, just the motivation to get stuff done."
Featured Comment by Dave: "A few years back I made a simple resolution to just shoot more. I stuck with the resolution. Over time I saw that I was getting better photos. The success led me to shoot even more and the improvement continued. My enjoyment of photography swelled. I bought some heavy duty Photoshop books and some art photography books. I continue to improve and my love for photography grows in an upward spiral. It all started with a stupid New Year's resolution."