Here are 10 things to stop doing in the New Year if you want to be a better, happier photographer and maybe make more money to boot.
Stop Doubting Yourself
Creatives tend to be hit hard with things like imposter syndrome and often suffer crippling self-doubt. We constantly ask if our work is good enough and worry that our big ideas will turn out to be a joke. Creating something from nothing is hard, and sharing our creations with the world can be incredibly intimidating. Our brains try to save us from the potential emotional trauma of having our work torn apart or our efforts laughed at by making us afraid. It's time to recognize the fear for what it is, a self-protection mechanism, and ignore it. Stop doubting. You got into photography for a reason, and every time you let fear and doubt stop you from moving forward, you become one step further away from realizing your potential. Whether you have to bull your way through it, or talk yourself down, find a way to push past that self-doubt and create the work you want to make this year. Fate put a camera in your hands for a reason; don't let self-doubt stop you.
Stop Comparing Your Work to Other Photographers
In a culture bombarded by imagery, it's hard not to compare. How can you look at the work of your idols and other incredible photographers dozens of times a day and not see your own work with a critical eye? So, maybe your work isn't as honest as Lindberg's, not as fun as Sirota's, not as colorful as Woodman's, or as romantic as Kotak's; you are not them, and your work should not look like theirs. The only person who can use your voice is you, but if you stay silent or censor yourself because some other photographer has better work, you'll never grow into the photographer you need to be to say what only you can say. Let other photographers remind you of what is possible, let them inspire you, but don't let false comparisons intimidate or deter you. Stop worrying about what they're creating, and start making the things only you can make.
Stop Marketing Yourself to Other Photographers
It's natural for photographers to want to gather and speak to other photographers. We feel less alone when we can talk shop. And other photographers know what goes into making great photographs, so praise from them feels extra good. This can become a problem, though, when you inadvertently start spending your time and effort trying to reach other photographers instead of potential clients; blogs that are directed to other photographers explaining technique, rather than written to potential clients explaining how you can solve their problems; spending all your time in photography groups on Facebook rather than hanging out where your potential clients are; spending time on tutorials and reviews rather than networking with your next client. Unless you plan on making a good amount of your income teaching other photographers, start paying close attention to where you're spending your time and who you're talking to. The photography community is an important part of staying sane and finding your tribe, but if you are a business person and you spend too much time focusing on other photographers and not enough time marketing yourself to clients, it's going to hurt your bottom line. Stop it.
Stop Blaming Your Clients
It's not a bride's responsibility to choose a beautiful venue for your portfolio. It's not a mother's responsibility to understand that five minutes late could mean the difference between magical sunset light for her family portraits and no light at all. Your clients aren't photographers; that's why they hired you. Yes, sometimes, clients can be frustrating and can make our jobs more difficult, but that's what we get paid for, that's why we are the professionals. If you spent 2018 complaining about clients, it's time to tighten your suspenders and take personal responsibility, because that's literally the only way we can ever make change happen. If you shift blame to your client, you' ll never take the time to think about what you could do to ensure you still get the shot, or have the time, or have enough light. You won't think outside the box about what lens to use, what aperture to chose, or what angles you can work to hide or make the most of that awful reception hall. I'm not saying the clients are never in the wrong, I'm saying you can't change them, so it's best to look at every situation as if it was your fault, because that's the only way you can make positive change and still be worthy of a paycheck.
Stop Sitting so Much
I wrote an article about this, and it's worth a read if you want to guard your health. The simple fact of the matter is that being sedentary is incredibly bad for you in many ways, and photographers spend a lot of time with their butts in chairs in front of computers. We're editing, we're answering emails, we're creating albums, making ads, ordering prints, keeping the books, and a million other tasks that require us to be still in front of a screen, and we're risking our health to do it. Whether you outsource, set a timer to remind you to move, or get yourself a standup desk (I did this and it almost completely ended the muscle spasms in my neck) you need to stop sitting so much and move your body. An hour a day at the gym won't do it, either. You need to break up your day with movement. Not only does this help protect you against a whole host of issues including diabetes, heart disease, and musculoskeletal problems, it keeps your circulation in better order and gives you those endorphins that just make you a happier person.
Stop Working Without Building Systems First
If you've never taken the time to build yourself systems for the tasks your commonly complete at work, then stop what you're doing and take that time now. Having systems in place means that you complete the same tasks the same way every time. It means that every client gets the same service in the same amount of time. It means that if you need to have someone take over for you because of injury or illness, you have a system they can follow to ensure your clients are taken care of at the same standard they would have been if you were there. It means you can outsource. It means you have to spend less time thinking, you won't get distracted and leave a task half-finished, and you'll have a measure to use when deciding if a system is effective or could be improved. This won't work the same way for every photographer, because some photographers run a business and some photographers are their business, but it's worth systematizing everything you possibly can. Check out this article for a bit more info on how to do it.
Stop Using Someone Else's Measure of Success
We aren't all photographers for the same reason: some of us want to photograph celebrities, some of us want to create conceptual works of art, some of us want to record landscapes before they're destroyed, and some of us want to capture memories. Just like our reasons for picking up a camera are different, our measures of success are different. If you started a part-time business to bring in a bit of extra income, your measure for success is different that someone who is aiming for $100,000 a year. The worst thing you can do for your own piece of mind is aim for someone else's goal. Figure out what success means to you, and ignore what other people are doing. You don't need to match their follower count on Instagram to be successful. You don't need to have your own fan group or earn as much as they earn. You are not them, your reasons for being a photographer aren't their reasons, and if you measure your success by whether or not you're living up to their standards, you're going to feel empty and disappointed when you achieve their standard and realize that it was never what you wanted in the first place.
Stop Imitating Other Photographers All the Time
Imitation is a great way to learn: it helps you try out techniques and figure out what you like and what you don't like. Imitating a highly recognizable style can even make you a lot of money. But, if you never grow beyond that, if you never take those techniques and shape them to fit your own vision, then you'll never be anything but a poor imitation of the original. Growing your own style is hard: it requires bravery and vulnerability and lots of failures, but having a style that represents who you are and how you see the world is worth it. If you're a photographer for nothing but the money and you're happy parroting someone else's style for your clients benefits, disregard this piece of advice. But if you became a photographer to make things, to speak through a lens, then stop trying to do it with someone else's voice.
Stop Listening to Your Ego and Learn Something
Yes, strobes are amazing. Yes, natural light is amazing. Yes, shooting on a backdrop is amazing. Yes, using a light meter is amazing. And yes, the photos you make with those setups are amazing. But, if you never step outside your comfort zone, if you never admit that there is still something out there for you to learn, then you'll only ever be capable of what you're making now. I don't know about you, but the last thing I want to do as an artist is stagnate. I want to learn all there is to learn, so I have every tool available at my command. You might be a wonderful natural light photographer, but just imagine how much you could learn by playing with a flash every now and then. You might be a master strobist, but just imagine how you would force yourself to grow and think creatively if all you have to work with is what mother nature gives you. Stop assuming that you've reached the pinnacle of image making, and start learning as much as you can.
Stop doing the same old thing
A comfort zone is a lovely place, but nothing ever grows there. I'm not saying you need to completely change your style, especially if it's something your clients have come to expect from you, but I am saying that there is value in stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new. If you're used to shooting models, try giving regular folks a try. If you've never shot boudoir, or played with a scrim, or shot outdoors, give it a try this year! You never know what you might learn, how you might grow, or what you might fall in love with. This life is too short not to try new things, and you've got a whole year to experiment.