How to Evaluate Yourself to Stay on Track

How to Evaluate Yourself to Stay on Track

One task all photographers should take from the professional office environment is quarterly reviews. How do you know where you've gone if you haven't looked back? How do you keep track of progress without setting goals for yourself? Self-evaluations are an important part of the growth process.

Every few months, I try to take a step back and see what I've done. When you're in the thick of it, it's very easy to get caught up in what you're doing. You don't want to start going in the wrong direction or fall into a hole of useless shooting that you will regret later. With self-evaluations, you can look at what you've done to see where you want to go. Below, you'll see my latest self-evaluation process and what I do for myself every few months.

Review Old Goals and Review What I've Done the Last Few Months

The first thing I do is step back and evaluate the last few months. Have the shoots I've done been beneficial to me? Have they helped me inch toward my goals? What changes did I make since my last review, and have they helped me be successful?

Both of these were shot with the same lighting modifiers close to the background, something I've found just adds a little more visual interest to my work with the shadows. It shows the models in an actual space and not cut out of a background — small, but makes a huge difference.

Left Model: Olga K - Right Model: Raelia L - MUA: Jessie Lynn

This quarter, I had two goals: work on my style and meet with more agencies. One of the things I noticed in my past work was my style was very commercial, but almost to a fault. So, I spent this quarter testing to push for something with a little more style to it: I found the right lighting equipment, and I found something that adds a visual element to my work. As for communication with more agencies, I'm working on it.

Past Versus Present

Here is where I actually look for a difference. Do I like who I am now compared to who I was before? Has my work gotten better or have I been mailing it in? Have I taken steps toward growth, stayed stagnant, or gotten worse? This is good for showing actual growth. You might not realize it right away, but you may have gotten 100 times better and not even have realized it. 

You can see a clear difference between last October and this November. The contrast of the face, the redness in the skin: there are just a lot of changes I've made in my last year that I can look at and be proud of.

Left: Model - Tina B. - MUA: Bianca P - Middle Model: Agnes A - Right Model: Olga K - Mid-Right MUA: Jessie Lynn

For this, I like to compare photos from a year ago, last quarter, and now. What's better, what's worse? I am looking particularly at the color grading, lighting, retouching, and overall concept. How have I grown?

This is great for highlighting progress, stepping back and looking subjectively at work I may not have paid attention to for months and seeing it again with a whole new light. It lets you look at possible mistakes that you'd like to go back and fix or just to appreciate what you've done in a year.

Present Versus Future

Now that we've looked back, the only way to go now is forward. After seeing the progress I've made, I look to see what I want my work to look like. We all have those dream companies that we want to work with; I like to compare my work to what they use in-store and online to see what I can do to better myself. This can be anything from color grading and retouching to even just the lighting used. I look to where there is a difference and then find a solution for myself.

For me, I like to look at beauty companies (mostly NYC-based) and see where my work stacks up. Places like Maybelline, Cover Girl, L'oreal, and Sephora are where I usually go. 

Set New Goals

So, now that you've been able to evaluate where you are, the last step is creating goals. I like to create goals for the quarter and amend goals for the year. With goals for the quarter, they're smaller and easier to reach. You can't just go from not running to a marathon. You need to reach a smaller goal like running a 5K and then a half-marathon before you can get that top goal.

As for longer goals, being able to amend your original plan is good, because things will always change, no matter what. You can't be assured that what you were thinking beginning of last year will still be relevant in 12 months. Things change in an instant; your finish line might change as well.

Extra Fun

New Edits

Sometimes, if I have the time, I'll go back and re-edit old photos that I liked the composition of, but hated the execution. It's a great way to see how far you've truly come along. Here's a recent re-edit I did this month.

These are the closest I have for a comparison, but you can easily notice less contrast, a better lighting transition, and a more natural skin tone.

Model: Eugena Washington - MUA: Jessie Lynn

Go to a Portfolio Review

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is get an honest critique from someone else. If you can get a review from a professional who is in your field, that is the best thing you can do for your work. You may have noticed I said to get a critique specifically from someone in your field. This is very important, if you shoot commercial beauty, a product photographer isn't going to be able to give you that nuanced advice another beauty photographer would have to offer. It's very important to understand where the criticism is coming from. 

In Conclusion

Evaluating yourself is important for the growth of your photography. Stepping back gives you the opportunity to see what you've been doing wrong and what you know you can do better. Self-evaluations have helped me so much; I hope you can find the same benefits from them!

David Justice's picture

David Justice is a commercial beauty photographer in New York City.

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