New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

Every January many of us make good-faith resolutions to improve our lot in life for the coming year; losing weight, being kinder to others and spending more time with family and friends are among the most common. And despite the best intentions, some of these resolutions remain unfulfilled—only to be reaffirmed the following year.

So as an avid photographer, why not try something a bit different this year and devote your intentions to a few resolutions that will enhance the enjoyment you derive from shooting and enhance the quality of your work? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Strive for Quality—Not Quantity
This resolution is at odds with a more common notion that the more you shoot, the better your images will be. The conventional wisdom here is that with quantity comes improved odds that one of your photographs will be a great one, and I couldn’t disagree more. This, of course, is a potential pitfall of the digital age in which it’s easy to fall into the trap of firing away with the thought “I can always fix it later in Photoshop.” Personally, I prefer another adage which states “Garbage in, garbage out.” So slow down, think about what you’re doing, and strive to get it right—in the camera.

Give Yourself an Assignment
Periodic self-assignments are a great way to enhance your skills and broaden your perspective. The idea is to get outside your comfort zone and experiment with less familiar forms of photography. If landscapes are your thing, spend a weekend shooting nothing but portraits. If you typically shoot indoors in controlled situations, grab your camera and spend a day walking around town concentrating on candid street scenes. If you’re an action-sports shooter, give macro photography a try.

Get Serious About Critiquing Your Own Work
It’s funny how many folks are quick to criticize the work of others, while lacking the capacity to be introspective about their own photography. So try this: the next time you feel like heading out for a day of shooting, put the camera down a spend a few hours honestly evaluating the last couple hundred images you shot. Divide the images into three stacks; 1) Excellent images, 2) Good images that could be improved, and 3) “Why did I even save these?” Then ask yourself what makes the first stack so successful and how you could have improved images in the second stack. As for images in the third stack; trash them. Seriously.

Practice the Art of Seeing
I actually learned this lesson years ago from an expert fly fishing guide after a long day of travel to a pristine location in the mountains. We hiked down to the stream as the sun was getting low in the sky and I quickly began to string up my rod. To my surprise, he said “leave the rod in the case; today we’re just going to contemplate the stream. Fishing can wait until tomorrow.” We spent the next couple hours studying the bugs that were hatching and analyzing the flow of the water in an attempt to identify where the biggest trout would be hiding and the best way of presenting the appropriate flies to those spots. And you know what? Not only did I catch a bunch of trout the next day, but this tactic works great for photography too. Leave you gear in the bag and scout out a great location, think about the best time of day to capture the scene you envision, and think about the best equipment to get the shot. Then return at the right time with the right gear and nail it.

Pick a Focal Length
This one takes some self-control, but pays dividends in helping you make the most of any situation you encounter. The idea is simple: Choose one fixed-focal-length lens (or a specific focal length on one of your zooms) and go out and create the best images you can. Try it with wide-angle one day, and telephoto the next. Once you get beyond the initial perceived limitations you’ll find there are a number of images worth capturing from the same vantage point—regardless of the lens on your camera. And the next time you head out with a full bag of gear, you’ll find the possibilities are almost limitless.

We hope these five suggestions will get you thinking about other ways to challenge yourself to improve your photography in the new year. Best yet, you’ll likely discover that photography resolutions are more fun and easier to keep than those you’ve made in the past. Happy New Year!