A Few Thoughts on Resolutions From Working Photography Professionals

A Few Thoughts on Resolutions From Working Photography Professionals

As the year comes to a close and another begins, it’s a natural time to take stock. I like to look back on the past year and decided what lessons I’ve learned, and what I can do better next year. Perhaps it’s time to think about new habits – which immediately brings to mind the specter of resolutions. Do you make any? Want to share with us?

I used to love, and still love, Septembers. The new school year always felt like a chance for new beginnings. Adult life doesn’t really have those same fresh starts. Maybe that’s why so many of us make resolutions. A chance to put into practice lessons learned and to create new habits.

I chatted with a few photographer friends and colleagues in a variety of different industries to find out what they think about resolutions and to share what resolutions they’ve made for 2024. Of course, as Ajani Charles will talk about below, don't put off changes that you need to make to be a healthier you. If you feel something slipping or spiraling, reach out to your support network and effect change as quickly as you can.

Wildlife and Expedition Photography: Tell People What You’re Passionate About

Jeff Garriock, a filmmaker and photographer, has worked on Children of Chernobyl (2020) and Galapagos: Secrets of the Ocean Giants (2021), and more recently, Incredible Animal Journeys, narrated by Jeremy Renner, that you can find on Nat Geo. One piece of advice that Garriock always gives new photographers is to tell everyone what you do for a living, not how you make money, not what your job is, but what your passion is and why you love it.

Image of Garriock filming while on a dive with Jonathan Green of The Galapagos Whale Shark Project. Photo by Jenny Waack.

Garriock grounds this advice in the idea that opportunities don't simply come from thin air. In order for people to know whether to offer you a new opportunity, they need to know what to ask you about. You never know whose sister, whose colleague, or whose third cousin you may be speaking to at any given time. By putting what you love out into a conversation, sometimes, somewhere down the road, someone might say "Oh, I know someone who actually needs an underwater video specialist." Jeff finds that this approach is often the best way to expand your network, and to find new opportunities. For Garrick, that meant resolving to be specific. Don't say, "I'm a photographer." Instead, say "I'm a conservation storyteller" or "I'm a polar wildlife documentarian" or whatever it is that speaks to you that you want to spend more time doing. Garriock is confident that this resolution is how he’s managed to grow his network and increase his opportunities to work in his chosen field.

As a side note, Garriock also thinks that this is a helpful exercise for deciding how you want to present yourself and what you want to see more of in your own future in terms of the work you want to be doing.

Commercial Music Photography: Focus on Self

Ajani Charles.

Ajani Charles, a Canon Canada Ambassador, is a music and commercial photographer who defines himself as a mental health advocate as much as he identifies as a photographer. Before going too far down this road, Charles doesn't believe in New Years' resolutions. Sure, Charles has business plans and strategies that he wants to implement each year, but as far as making critical behavioral changes that have an outsized impact on most or all aspects of his life, he does not put off making such decisions. If Charles feels that he needs to make a change, he makes the change immediately. Charles pointed out the truism that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. So, what about resolutions that don't necessarily revolve around New Year's Eve?

I do not put off making critical behavioral changes.

As noted, Charles is a mental health advocate, working with many different organizations to help foster resilience in the photography industry and our wider communities. 

As most of us are aware, photographers place a lot of emphasis on gear, which for Charles means that we all place too little on understanding how our minds work. For example, we're often more concerned with dynamic range of a new camera than we are with understanding and transcending our fears and insecurities. Charles would suggest that for those that don't already, January would be a good time to implement introspective practices like different forms of meditation, other mindfulness practices, and journaling into their daily lives.

Charles is confident that his mindfulness practice leads to less anxiety than he would have otherwise, in business or when creating art.

Excellent photography equipment is essential, especially for professionals; I am grateful for all my professional Canon gear. I am fortunate to be a Canon Canada ambassador, but cultivating one's mind and mental health is more important. 

Wildlife: Who Needs Comfort Zones?! 

Michelle Valberg.

Michelle Valberg, a Nikon ambassador, fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Explorer’s Club, has had her images used by the Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post. As a professional, Valberg’s resolution is to constantly push herself. I’ve talked with Valberg several times about photography and, despite her success, she is always hungry to find new ways to see and represent our world. Valberg insists that pushing herself outside of her comfort zone fosters growth and helps her to embrace transitions over her evolving career. Valberg explained that stepping into the unknown and facing challenges is where we’ll all find opportunities for improvement and development. For one, Valberg is committed to a path of continuous artistic exploration.

Wedding Photography: Focus on the Fundamentals to Develop Your Craft

John and Veronica.

John and Veronica Park operate a very successful wedding photography studio in Toronto, Canada. The Parks have won 26 Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Awards (WPPI) and were named by Nikon Canada as one of their top 30 professionals. John Park noted that when he first embarked on his photography journey, his primary objective was to master the foundation skills of taking pictures. He wanted to leverage technology only as a supplementary tool, ensuring that each capture reflected his original vision rather than relying on post-production adjustments. For Park, this meant that he resolved to be mindful and deliberate in his compositions, particularly when utilizing prime lenses. Park acknowledges that although there are always instances, like fast-paced events such as weddings, where capturing a broader frame and later cropping becomes necessary, it should not be the go-to approach. In Park’s opinion, adopting a crop later practice, risks fostering complacency and compromising the integrity his craft.

Boudoir Photography: Be Bold Enough to Be In Front of the Camera

Trever Sherwin is a successful boudoir photographer in Toronto, Canada. Sherwin has resolved to be out in front of the camera more. Working to develop the trust between client and photographer that is critical to long-term success in his industry, Sherwin wants to make more long and short form content for various platforms and start showing the behind-the-scenes side of his shoots to prospective clients. Being in front of the camera is something that Sherwin (and most photographers) find challenging. To help with potential anxiety his clients may have about being vulnerable, Sherwin wants to take on his own shyness to easy his clients’.

Wildlife and Expedition Photography: See Beyond Your Camera

Aris Apostolopoulos.

Aris Apostolopoulos is a photography guide I work with at G Adventures on Antarctic expeditions. Over the last few years, Apostolopoulus has won Nikon, Nat Geo and FIIFA recognition. As a self-taught photographer, Apostolopoulus first impression of his own photography was that his entry level camera was limiting his growth. He always felt that if he could just upgrade his camera that he would be a better photographer. After saving up to buy a new camera, Apostolopoulus realized that his photographs were no better, that from his perspective, they were failures in all the same ways.

At this point, Apostolopoulus resolved to study the best historical and contemporary photographers to understand where to improve his craft and to stimulate his creativity. Standing on the shoulders of giants is always a valuable exercise. 

Travel Photography: Take A Long Term Approach To Success

Esteban Toro is a world-renowned travel photographer, acting as a Sony and BenQ ambassador. Toro resolved to take a long-term approach to his success. Toro decided that he should look at the growth of his skills and success from the perspective of decades. For Toro, it's not about the new photographs or successes year over year, but about the body of work he’s produced throughout his life. Toro believes that this approach has helped him to manage the anxiety of having to be 'extremely' successful each and every year. Instead, actively recognizing that each year can’t be a new personal best and that successes should be savored over multiple years so as to give himself the chance to develop new projects without the pressure of immediate success.    

Esteban Toro at his exhibit at NXT Museum.

Wildlife Photography: Save Your Subject

Ricardo Peralta Ayala.

Ricardo Peralta Ayala is a successful wildlife photographer. We recently crossed paths in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada while photographing polar bears. Ayala told me that his resolution is to visit places where he can embrace wildlife that is under pressure, perhaps that is facing extinction. Ayala believes that the only way to really generate empathy for these animals at risk, is to share the real situation, through his contribution of photography.

What about you? Do you believe in annual resolutions? Anything you want to share?

All images provided by the credited photographers.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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