Photography Goals

Spruce trees in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Spruce trees in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Please click on the image above to view a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

2013. It’s a new year already. The days are getting longer, so I’m told. I’m another year older, slower, fatter and balder. But a new year can also mean a great time to focus on our work. Draw it into focus by outlining and giving voice to where we might like for it to go. Without that articulation, it’s easy to wander in circles, and not really move forward with our art.

I’m reminded of a great line by my friend Craig Tanner, when he was asked what is the most important concern to him, as an artist; his answer, so simple, was “the only thing that matters is, is my work moving forward”.

What can we do to move our work forward? Well, make some goals to move toward, for one thing. And really, goals is the wrong word, I think, for art. We don’t score goals. We don’t target anything; we make art, we create stuff. That’s all. 

But how to figure out what we might want to create. An outline, is a better word, for me. Because it takes away a little of the judgement or pressure inherit in the word “goal”. I don’t have a “goal” with my art. I don’t want to feel like I “failed” or “missed”, and I don’t see it as a“score” if I actually do what I set out to. I just want to make photos, or music, or write stuff that I haven’t before. That’s all. I don’t need to “achieve” anything or perform any kind of “personal best”, etc. I just want to see the work I do continue to move forward.

I bought myself a day planner, and the first thing I realized was, I didn’t really have a plan to put in it. So I began outlining a plan; simple, sometimes obtuse, ideas, as well as some more specific and tightly defined ideas. A few of those, for 2013, include

  1. shoot more (very loose and obtuse)
  2. shoot more macro and closeup images
  3. focus-tune all my lenses
  4. write down EVERY idea that comes to me for a specific photo
  5. follow through on my efforts to turn those ideas into photos
  6. be more disciplined about completely checking dof before I shoot, either with Live view and/or after shot review.
  7. sell some gear
  8. buy more gear
  9. write more
  10. learn how to use Tony Kuyper’s Photoshop Masks
  11. undertake to keyword all of my unedited files
  12. delete all those “hhmmm, nice, but not quite” photos on that 1Tb drive (NB, do this one BEFORE item # 11)
  13. be better about backing up my working hard drives every time I edit files on them
  14. That means EVERY time I edit files on them
  15. specifically, for my Wrangell-St. Elias Park book project, some of the things I want are
  • photos of salmon
  • photos of the Copper River at breakup/freezeup
  • a black bear photo
  • photos of Chisana
  • photos of the bottom of a glacier
  • an aerial photo of the Wrangell-St. Elias coastline

Those are just a few of the things that leap out of my plan for 2013. Not everything, of course, as my fear of failure is bad enough; my fear of failure and having other folks KNOW about it is even more scary.

But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, I think, to set out on a trip with certain things in mind. Simultaneously, we should be open to experiencing what comes along our way, unforeseen and unexpected, so I’l be sure to leave my plan with room for context and spontaneity.

We’ll see how I do. Prioritizing things in a list is a good idea, as well. If I don’t get a good black bear photo from Wrangell-St. Elias, it won’t bother me too much.  If I don’t write more, or improve my file management plan with backups, it’ll bother me.

Those of us who sell our work, or aim/hope/try/dream to, should do the same thing, with more tightly defined lists and outlines, for the business end of our photography. And that could be a good topic for my next blog.



6 thoughts on “Photography Goals

  1. Mark

    Great post man. I can relate to everything you have written here, many of these I could apply to myself, especially the focus tuning and being more vigilant on DOF on the technical side. And you are very right, writing them down if at minimum a step, but posting them to the public almost doubles down on the deal.

    One thing I have thought about when it comes to these things, and somewhat examples by your list here, is that all of these things have very tangible “deliverables.” I see that as a good thing, as it is easy to know if you succeeded. What about not so concrete goals in areas such as creativity and the like? Do you think that comes along for the ride by writing more, shooting more, etc? I am sure “being more creative” could be listed as any photographers goal, but how could it be broken down into segments, bits that may have more definitive outcomes?

  2. Greg Russell

    You really hit the nail on the head here, Carl–great list. Like Mark and Richard I can relate to everything you’ve put down here, especially the bit about being more diligent in my back-ups, and using TK’s masks…I’ve a feeling I’m not using them to their full potential.

    Best of luck in 2013, Carl!


  3. Carl D Post author


    Maybe you should start a project on Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. 🙂


    I think having some kinds of measurable plan is important; at least from the things I’ve read about plans and planning, anyway. At the same time, especially with art, most of what we do isn’t really measurable. So we should include subjective plans as well; as long as we give ourselves the freedom to be completely subjective when we ‘measure’ them later.

    By that, I mean, (to use your “be more creative” goal as an example), understand that today I may well look at my work and stand in wonder at how amazingly creative it is, and tomorrow, those same set of images may appear drab and boring and contrived to me. While another viewer has a completely different reaction. So as long as I give myself that kind of latitude, I think it’s important to consider things like that.

    Similarly, for example, things that we have no, or very little, control over, particularly via a timeline. One of the things on my list, for example, is a photo of a marten. Yet I can’t make that happen today, or tomorrow, or next month. So I’ll have a list with things very tangible, and very identifiable, and very “doable”. I know I can sell some of my gear. I know I can shoot more, and shoot more regularly. I know I can shoot more macro and closeup images. I have control over those things. I also can keyword more of my files. I’ve even ticked some of the things off my list, already. If I don’t have things I can actually tick off, the list becomes a little too abstract, I think.

    So a specific, tightly defined list is important. And breaking general topics, like ‘shoot more’, that down into actual specific actions is important. Shoot more what? Shoot daily? Shoot more regularly? Head out more regularly to photograph (which is really what we mean by ‘shoot more’, I think). So pick one of those actions, like shoot more regularly, and enact a plan; shoot every monday. Shoot twice a week. Shoot once a day. etc, etc, etc.

    This topic, I think, can really be a big one.

    @Greg – thanks man, and best of luck back atcha!

    and I think most folks don’t use TK’s masks to their full potential. Just the little bit of work I’ve done with them seems almost scary in how infinitely they might expand what we do. Which, in line with what I just wrote to Mark above, is why defining things more tightly and scheduling smaller pieces of a plan is important. So I’ve started with just the Luminosity Layers Masks. We’ll see if I can figure these things out once and for all! 🙂



  4. David Leland Hyde

    This is a great practical application follow-up post to your blog about focusing on the art rather than the social media. I have lists, and more lists for my photography business representing my father. Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I see all that there is to do, but putting it all down in writing does help to chunk it into smaller bites. I’m sort of jumping straight from Kindergarten into my Doctoral thesis playing on my dad’s level. What has helped me has been putting everything up on a giant white board to see all of the to do and outline lists all at once. You might think this adds to the overwhelm and it did at first, but after looking at it for some time, it has helped me wrap my mind around various parts and eat the elephant one bite at a time. What I just realized while reading this though is that I don’t do these outlines and lists for my writing. Probably why it is not moving forward as well as it could.

  5. Carl D Post author

    Hey David

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think you nailed it when you said “putting it all down in writing does help to chunk it into smaller bites” – that’s everything, right there, I think.

    And I agree with you about having to see both the forest and the trees, sometimes together. Good luck with that and the writing!



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