10 Essential Questions Every Photographer Should Ask Before Starting the New Year

10 Essential Questions Every Photographer Should Ask Before Starting the New Year

Is your art good? Is it mediocre? Is it expected? Are you surprising yourself? Have you seen growth in your craft, or are you simply doing the same thing? Are you proud of your body of work in 2023? As artists, sometimes, we get so busy in art-making that we don’t take the time to evaluate our art. I’ve crafted these 10 questions as an evaluation tool for you to pause in the process of art-making and to congratulate yourself, correct yourself, and direct yourself.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how do you feel about your year as a creator?
  2. What is one big lesson you learned as an artist this year?
  3. Glance through your calendar for this year, are you happy with how you invested your time? Why or why not?
  4. What piece or series was the best one you produced this year, and why was it the best?
  5. Evaluate your photography. Are your pieces where you want them to be artistically? Technically?
  6. What do you like about your images? What do you dislike about them?
  7. Are you producing great work, mediocre work, expected work, innovative work, or poor work and why?
  8. What did you accomplish this year that you are most proud of?
  9. What are you most disappointed about from this past year as a creator?
  10. What is one thing you want to stop doing (1), start doing (2), and continue doing (3) in 2024?

It was John Dewey, in his book "How We Think," who said: “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”  Although some scoff at the idea of annual reviews, and New Year's resolutions, taking time to think about your art-making and evaluate is infinitely valuable, whatever time of year you choose to do it. If you're bogged down with gatherings and family visits now, I encourage you to save the questions for another day. 

My self-assessment drew out some great observations. This, for example, is what I wrote when answering what my biggest lesson was in 2023: "If I don’t build a particular segment of my business, it won’t grow. Growing and directing the business requires investing time in strategizing. I can follow where and how my business grows organically, but if I want it to grow in a certain way or direction, it takes time and intentionality. Often I'm so busy between answering my emails and keeping up with my shoots, that I just grow in the way referrals lead me. However, if I want to grow in a specific direction, I have to strategize and direct my growth."

To counterbalance the value placed on self-improvement in this article, I believe that taking photographs, solely for the joy of creating art, is a valuable end in and of itself. Wherever you find yourself in your artistic journey- whether you need the inspiration to propel your skills or simply wish to revel in the joy of being an artist without any other purpose—I extend my heartfelt wishes for a joyful artistic journey in 2024 to you. If you care to share a portion of your own 2023 end-of-year artist reflection, please do in the comment. Cheers!

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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maybe one or two more :

what would be your best purchase or investment (e.g. e-learning, onsite workshops, seminars, spending time with other creative or inspiring people, books, visits to galleries, etc.), and

what did you waste the most time and effort and resources on and why

GREAT ONES! I wrote an article about the best and worst gear last week.


Wasted time and effort on... That's a great question. Mine would be buying continuous lights. I just love the look and the power of strobes better. I initially bought them for stop motion so it wasn't a total waste I suppose. A $1k class (on stop motion) and about $1k+ on lights. Meh. What's yours?

i would say my foray into medium format digital photography in the form of a Fujifilm GFX 50R on clearance and a GF 32-64 f4.0 which i later traded for a GF 45mm f2.8. i was unable to tame the Fujifilm colours even with a 140 swatch X-Rite ColorChecker Digital SG and found the close focussing of the GF 32-64mm not quite what i expected. it was much better when i switched the lens to the GF 45mm f2.8 although autofocus was still slightly slow. it might have been Okay had i purchased the faster focussing GFX 50Sii instead

my best purchase or investment was the combination of Adobe Lightroom and the ColorChecker Digital SG which allows me to obtain great colours without the expense of purchasing a Leica or a Hasselblad even though i realise that Leica lenses are legendary. also, having a companion to come with me whilst taking photographs in the field or wherever i find myself and to help me with AB comparisons of video edits

one of the best uses of my time was going to the local Camera Store and testing new cameras and lenses of interest to me on a regular basis and bringing raw photographs and video footage home to view on my iMac. it has saved me all heartache as i have had the chance to preview equipment before i even realised that i needed it and to be aware of the iidiosyncrasies of the equipment before i made a purchasing decision

one of the greatest wastes of time was an almost unsuccessful MacOS system update where my iMac entered a restart loop that it could not get out of. i finally realised that it could restart in Safe Mode and that i could redownload a fresh copy of the OS to be upgraded. i had thought that my Mac was ruined and that it might have to be sent to the Apple Service Centre for repairs. my Mac was unusable for almost one full day

Wow how interesting. I'm actually reviewing the Datacolo ColorCheckr this week- have you ever tried it? Color is such a beautiful art. I admire you for being so specific about it!

hi Michelle, i actually started off with the 24 colour swatch X-Rite ColorChecker Photo but found that it oversaturated my photographs and in some instances i preferred not using it at all. at that time i was using primarily Canon and Nikon and a bit of Sony.

later on i was persuaded to purchase the 140 colour swatch X-Rite ColorChecker Digital SG which i found to give almost perfect colours and usually produced consistent results. i have profiled my Canon and Nikon cameras for various lighting conditions. my EOS R for instance currently has 46 profiles as i usually take photographs around the same locations, now 47.

when i tried the Fujifilm GFX 50R however, i wanted even more accurate colours so i purchased the 999 colour swatch Super Chroma HR-1 which is produced by Hugo Rodriguez of Spain. his colour chart produces more subtle results however the workflow with the LumaRiver software which i purchased is more inconvenient. there is also BasICColor which i have not tried. i was using Capture One for the Fujifilm instead of Adobe Lightroom which i usually use

please give his (Hugo Rodriguez's) colour chart a review as i have read his science and technical research and found it to be a better product from a theoretical point of view. his colour swatches are more evenly distributed across the colour gamut rather than being clustered as in the case of some of his competition. he does not have access to better manufacturing processes which is his only competitive disadvantage

As a hobbyist it is not about selling or answering the call of a client it is mainly about subject and the where and why and learning a new skill per say. All are answered to if employed or free willing retired ( the best side). No matter the side It comes down to is all locations in your area or travels 1. Have been to most all places checked off on your calendar. There are a few things hobbyist do not see or forget. There is an app and site called TPE that shows the suns and moons travel through the year, like now in the northern hemisphere and being the shortest of days with the sun rises in the south and in march and october directly east with a setting moon to the west the two times you can get your subject with two views and then again the short days, the reason I bring this up is wherever you are you can pick subject and plan a location for a setting sun behind or a rising moon for any day of the year. I make a calendar listing places and what to capture. Like many ancient civilization built monuments that aligned when the sun was at the right time to plant but today these monuments still stand and some go to the remote location to capture the sun as it rises in the monument window like in New York between building etc.
Another is the moon it wobbles as full it rises directly east as well as the setting in the west and the day before the full moon is the the time to capture the moon rise with the light from a setting sun lighting your subject. The same with Milky Ways you can capture it with a crescent moon below looking like a full moon if you go out 5 days before in Feb. Mar. and Apr so still plan around weather or clouds not being disappointed on the new moon day if stormy.
Another app that is handy for Milky Ways along the east and west coast shore lines with dark skies over the oceans is Planit Pro that will show as a sine wave in high and low tides in the hour scale on the bottom so no guessing with local tide scales.
The best of all apps is Photopills form getting the right spot to be in with subject matter for advanced planning of most anything.
I will tell of something odd that wedding photographers never do!!
I like doing Milky Ways at Jekyll Island Ga. where like 3 to 4 weddings are done mainly on weekends, no rooms available times. Not once have I seen a wedding shot of wedding groom and bride on the famous driftwood beach at night during a night of the Milky Way where no lighting is needed (really), due to St. Simons island is so bright even with a lighthouse shining from it. Yes every Saturday 3 to 4 beach shots are done on the same beach only during the day, wedding photographers are used to using lights even during daytime. Some genres forget that there are other captures to be had that are not PS'ed. Hobbyist see this all the time, just something different.
# 1 no lights used just a 30s capture
#2 People on beach while capturing sent copies as gifts
# 3 planned with TPE shot with T2i in '11 - know your tools and just capture it.
# you have hours of the tide going out and again coming in No PS needed just a tripod!

Fantastic feedback and interesting results with the longer exposures. I would love your thoughts on this: for hobbyists, do you feel the need to evaluate and improve or is the joy of the art full and sole purpose of the art making?

As a hobbyist, the only question I ask myself is: "Do I have fun taking photos?" As long as the answer stays "yes" all is well

And I think that is COMPLETELY wonderful! I miss that a little bit as a full time commercial photographer


What a great article and list of questions!

Honestly, I almost didn't click on this because I was afraid it would be about the business aspects of photography. But I took a chance and was delighted to find that all of the questions and the focus of the article is about creativity, not business and income. So I love it!

All 10 of your questions are important and I plan to think about each one and type out detailed answers to each question. But this will take quite some time, so I will just answer one of them here in this comment.

QUESTION 2: What is one big lesson you learned as an artist this year?

I learned, through much trial and failure, that the gear I started the year with was not capable of producing the images I was trying to make. I had a very clear picture in my mind's eye of the type of images I wanted to make of tiny critters such as little Ghost Crabs, salamanders, and toads that are only as big as the tip of my thumb.

I wanted to make environmental portraits that would show a large slice of the critter's surrounding habitat, but I also wanted the tiny critter to be large in the frame. My macro lenses failed me because they have far too narrow of a field of view. My wide angle lenses failed me because they didn't allow me to focus close enough to the subjects to fill the frame with them.

So, what I needed was a wide angle lens that was also a macro lens. Fortunately, there is such a thing - the Laowa 15mm 1:1 Macro Shift lens.

So I got this lens and ..... still failed. Why? Because it has no autofocus. These critters move and crawl incessantly and I am wanting more "action portraits", not boring shots where they just sit there staring at me. I tried all manner of methods and continually failed to get critically sharp focus on the critter's eyes, because depth of field is extremely shallow, even at 15mm and f16. Why? Because I am at macro-like distances. Like the critters are literally one to two inches from my front element (and moving around).

I realized that I would never get an acceptable keeper rate if I continued to do this with a DSLR. The only way I could capture the images I wanted to capture would be to get a mirrorless camera and employ the Focus Peaking feature and use the flippy screen instead of trying to look through a viewfinder.

So, I bought a mirrorless camera, a Sony A6400. But, I had never used a Sony before, and the menu was extremely confusing. I have almost ZERO ability to focus and concentrate on anything, so many attempts to learn how to use my new Sony were just failures because one needs to discipline their brain to stay on task and concentrate while watching tutorials, reading instructions, etc. And I just don't have that capability to focus and concentrate. Never have had it, for anything.

So now I have this new mirrorless camera and a couple of lenses and I haven't used it at all becauseI can't even figure out how to set it up to focus and expose properly.

I guess I only learned half of this lesson, that my gear wasn't good enough. But the other half - learning how to use the new gear, I have not learned yet, and fear that I might never learn it.

And of course this failure of mine is the topic of my answers to a few of those other questions that you ask in the article. Particularly question number 9.

Is there a mirrorless camera from your DSLR brand that you like? Did you decide on the Sony just to try something new and different?

I have been shooting Canon DSLRs for many years. There are a couple reasons I decided to switch to Sony when I went for my first mirrorless body.

Firstly is because of Canon's stance on 3rd party lenses - forbidding them from having autofocus for their R mount bodies. Most of the lenses I use are 3rd party lenses, which the 1st party manufacturers have nothing similar - such as the 60-600mm Sigma. So I want/need to have mirrorless bodies made by a company that permits the 3rd party lensmakers to make fully functional lenses.

The other reason I chose to switch to Sony is because after looking into all of the different mirrorless bodies by Canon, Nikon, and Sony, I found that I can get more camera for the dollar with Sony, both in APS-C bodies and in full frame bodies. I'm talking strictly about the used market here. When I compare similarly bodies, the Sony cameras are just cheaper (used) than either the Canon or Nikon bodies that have comparable specifications. And having an annual income that is actually below the official poverty level, I absolutely need to go with the make and model that gives me the most per dollar spent.

What a fascinating (and frustrating) journey. I'm so glad you shared it. I always enjoy your responses. I've shot with Sony before (when I have to man the camera of the men on my team at sports shoots when they go on lunch break) and I agree that the switch over from Canon to Sony is not intuitive.

Re- the "wanting the critter to be large in the frame" while having a wide shot. What about the idea of putting an extension tube on something like the 15-35. That might be interesting. The warping might give a neat "hero" effect too! Just a thought.

Keep us posted on your search for the perfect set up. And don't worry, you can always click on my articles and not be disappointed! I really work hard to create meaningful pieces and steer clear of click bait.

Yes, Michelle, I have much enjoyed your articles throughout the last year or three or however long you have been contributing here. The things that you and Ivor write interest me the most out of all the authors!

I have tried extension tubes, but they have not provided what I am looking for in the combination of field of view and maximum reproduction ratio. But I will admit I have not tried them on a 15-35mm lens ..... largely because I do not have a 15-35mm. I just know that ext tubes were an "epic fail" on my 24-105mm, at least for my rather oddball niche needs. If I'm shooting with a buddy who has a 15-35mm with him, I'll borrow it for an hour and try my tubes on it to see how well it works for me. Thanks for the idea!

Ah, what a nice compliement. Thank you! Keep us posted! I'm sure you can nail it!