As we near the end of another difficult year, we look forward to new beginnings. What will you be doing to ensure that you grow and improve as a photographer in 2022? Here are five ways you can guarantee you are moving in the right direction.
2020 and 2021 have been some of the most difficult years most of us have lived through. The number of trips and shoots I have had to cancel or had canceled for me is deep into double digits, and it's easy to feel disillusioned with it all. Try as I might, I can't help but focus on the missed opportunities and memories I should have been able to make.
As we approach 2022, what has struck me more than ever before is the impatience I'm feeling. At the end of 2020, I thought the end was near for the pandemic and its restrictions. As we now stand at the end of 2021, I'm not sure when that will come, insofar as normality will return. This isn't a political point or commentary on COVID, it's the realization that while some things will be put on hold for me, anything I have control over must be explored.
It's been all too easy to stagnate over the last few years, and so, this list contains five ways you can guarantee that you move your boat forward and in the right direction in the coming year.
One area I focus on when I'm fully motivated is education. That is, when I'm confident and can see the growth and room for expansion in my photography, I seek out more knowledge wherever possible. Conversely, when I am uninspired and feeling restrained by modern life, education seems somewhat pointless. This is a terrible mindset and one I am working on shifting and you should too if you feel the same. If anything, these restrictive times are the perfect opportunity to learn.
We at Fstoppers have a fantastic catalog of tutorials with new additions every year. These tutorials cater to most genres and skill levels and go into great depth. If you can't afford them, fear not, there are myriad free resources today on platforms like YouTube. You may have to do more legwork to get the knowledge you're after, but simply decide on a skill or area you wish to improve, then consume everything you can while writing notes and practicing.
Photo challenges have ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years, but their value to the photographer has largely remained the same. In fact, it's almost unimportant what the challenge is as long as it gets you shooting. There are many themed challenges that give you a weekly or monthly concept to shoot around, and these are brilliant for exercising your creative mind.
The pinnacle of photography challenges is also arguably the most famous: 365. The 365 photo challenge is where you shoot at least one image every single day for a year. If I were to guide this a little further, I would say that you must take each image with the camera you use for photography, rather than just lazily grabbing your mobile phone at the 11th hour just to tick the box! This is a deceptively difficult challenge, but its value comes from just that.
Community is something of an unsung hero in photography at times. While there is undoubtedly pervasive toxicity from loud minorities, if you can find yourself the right group — either large forums and clubs or just WhatsApp chats with a few photographer friends — the craft can be so much more fulfilling. Not only will you get useful feedback from people you trust, but discussing new camera releases, lenses, techniques, and so on will embed you deeper in the industry. Being a part of photography is an underrated way of improving as a photographer.
Leaving Comfort Zones
COVID-19 has meant that many of us have been locked in our comfort zones. While mandated restrictions do not help, staying in your comfort zone is a choice too. You don't need to travel to distant, obscure lands to push yourself, and like all other facets of photography during these difficult times, it's all too easy to slip into staying with what you know.
As far as I can tell, growth in anything is about pushing past what is comfortable, and photography is no different. If you are unable to travel, you can still work on trying new genres, working out new lighting setups, shooting film for the first time, shooting video for the first time, etc. The options are, for all intents and purposes, endless. Try something new. The more difficult and alien it is to you, the better.
Do Not Use Social Media to Validate
This section ought to be an article in itself — and maybe it will be in the near future — but it's an item I feel I have to include on the list. I admittedly have a strained relationship with social media. During its prime, I found it a valuable tool in many areas of my business and life, but I — like many — have become tired of being at the mercy of algorithms. As I have disconnected myself from the notion of "growing a following" (I haven't posted to Instagram once this year, after years of using the platform daily), I have become aware of the detrimental effects social media can have.
The worst offender and one I believe holds many people back is using interaction rates (likes and comments) as a metric of success — that is, validating your work as good when you receive a high number of interactions. Conversely — and the more damaging reaction — is considering your work as of poor quality because it didn't receive many likes. The algorithms can bury brilliant photography and raise average work to the top. This is usually countered by long-term consistency in posting, but whatever the case, do not use social media interactions to judge your work. It will not help you improve and might (likely will) give you mixed messages with feedback.
How Will You Improve in 2022?
With another year gone and 2022 on our doorstep, how are you going to ensure you move your boat forward and in the right direction? What methods for improvement have been the most effective for you in the past?