The dreaded 2016 has come to an end and from the ashes has risen a brand new year filled with creative opportunity. Everyone wants to be better this year than they were last year, no matter what year it is and 2017 will be no different. Improvement, however, doesn't just happen, it begins with a plan. If you don't have one, you need one. Antoine De Saint-Exupéry once wrote: "A goal without a plan is a wish." He was right, stop waiting for a road to being a better photographer to reveal itself and instead start paving one for yourself.
Stop Worrying About the Process and Focus On the Results
This topic was touched on late last year in another article by Lee Morris but I wanted to take a moment to drill this point home. Great photographers are not great because of limitation or hardship. Great photographers are great because they create great images. If you wish to become a great photographer you also need to create great images. It doesn't matter if the photo was an accidental masterpiece or a complex, extremely difficult product of a massive undertaking. All that matters is the end result. If it is great, nothing else matters. Stop fixating about whether you shoot Nikon or Canon, or whether you shoot digital or film, or whether you shoot raw or JPEG. It's all just white noise. Stop obsessing about the noise and cut through to what really matters.
Stop Worrying About Social Media and Focus on the Craft
I get it, being a photographer in this day and age seems to be as much about a social presence as actually creating great work. An amazing photographer who's work reaches no one seemingly is no different than someone that has never even picked up a camera while a mediocre photographer who has a gargantuan audience is a rock star. From a business point of view that is very true. But at the end of the day, if your goal is to be the best photographer that you possibly can be then quality begins and ends with craft. I'm not saying ditch social media cold turkey or anything radical like that, but let go of the need to be constantly connected from dawn until dusk. Instead shift much of that time wasted scrolling through feeds into time optimizing the quality of your skill-set.
Stop Worrying About Inspiration and Focus on Motivation
Too many photographers spend too many hours twiddling their thumbs waiting for inspiration to strike. Inspiration is fleeting and inconsistent. A great artist is someone who can great good work whether they are inspired or not. The mechanism that a great artist draws on to be able to do this is motivation. Someone who is motivated to create work will find a way. Invest in fostering that motivation. Love that you love photography. Take strides to insulate that love and make it flourish. Most importantly, however, share that love. There is no greater inferno to motivation than a shared passion. Don't chase photography alone in a void. Build upon your photography with the motivation of community and be amazed at how powerfully that community can help you better ignite your desire to create amazing work.
Stop Worrying About Working Hard and Focus on Working Smart
Photography isn't about working hard. Nothing creative is. You may need to put in many long hours, no doubt, but it isn't about who can put in the most hours. You could spend all day digging a hole with a shovel, that doesn't make you a better digger than someone with five minutes and a backhoe. It isn't about the time spent perfecting your craft, it's about the quality of the time. The photographer who best invests their time will almost always beat the photographer who blindly invests effort while watching the clock spin. Find a way to make the effort you invest translate into meaningful results or the effort is worthless.
Stop Worrying About The Expectation and Focus on The Idea
Most photographers approach shoots with the expectation that they will just figure out what to do when the shoot starts. I'm actually quite amazed by how often photographers can't even define the concept of their shoot beyond something trivial such as: "Take photos of a pretty mountain." It is the weight of the idea driving your concept that brings a photo to life. Our goal as photographers is to capture more than just the obvious. Dig deeper, construct a narrative, construct a feeling, construct a vision. Don't just snap yet another photo of a pretty girl. Come up with an idea that transforms rudimentary, common photo genre and harness it as a mechanism to show something that most viewers may have never seen before.
Ultimately, becoming a better photographer is all about you and how you take charge of your priorities. Everything else is just distraction. Don't let the world rob you of the agency to build the portfolio you have always dreamed of having. Instead, be the captain of your fate. Every photographer on earth has the capability to be amazing if they are truly willing to let go of stubborn misconceptions and focus on what really matters. There are no excuses that an amazing artist can't overcome in the pursuit of their vision. Be that artist. Climb the mountain and show what you've got to the world.