What are the Ultimate Goals of Your Photography?

What are the Ultimate Goals of Your Photography?

It's a question I asked when I first started taking my photography seriously, but the answer can, will, and probably should change over time. What's your answer to this complex query?

Upon taking on a new mentee, I established they were very early on in their photographic journey; I like that when mentoring because the returns can be exorbitant and swiftly noticeable. However, it comes with its own challenges. Firstly, you and the photographer need to establish a direction. Broad strokes are not ideal for useful returns, so it's important to visualize where the end goal is. What never fails to surprise me about this question is just how rare the same answer is. Perhaps that's naive, but I originally thought that the desired outcome of photography was a blend of adulation, money, and pride. Those categories are loose, but it turns out shooting the cover of Vogue isn't on many to-do lists these days.

The mentee's answers were fascinating and useful, albeit disparate from my own, which makes them all the more interesting. There was a lot of overlap, but several motivations for me were absent for him; we were and are in different circumstances. While outlining the fluidity and evolving nature of the "ultimate goals" of one's photography, I paused for thought. I have my own answers to that question, but in a bottled and labeled kind of way. My life, work, and direction has changed so dramatically since I first started taking my photography seriously that it seemed immediately absurd to me that my goals could possibly have remained the same for so long. It meant those goals were almost like callings close to my heart, or more likely, I hadn't attacked them enough to test their worthiness.

My ultimate goals, that is I guess another way of saying "lifetime goals for my career", are split (rather accidentally I might add) in to three categories: Been, Done, and Legacy. I tend to think about these questions in the past tense, and I'm not certain why. It does seem to help if you imagine you're on your deathbed, casting one last long glance over your life and evaluating your achievements. It does for me at least.

I certainly want to have travelled to a lot of different places with my camera before my number's up. This was a shot taken at Christmas in Bruges, Belgium.


The questions "what do I want to have been?" and "what do I want to have done?" might seem like two ways of phrasing the same question but they aren't. You can have been a successful photographer in your chosen specialty but not have done anything substantial. So, the "Been" criterion is probably the broadest of the questions but it frames the other two. The one off discussion show between Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfield, Chris Rock, and Louis CK called Talking Funny did a good job of explaining a little about this question, coincidentally. When they asked each other why they became stand-up comedians, the general consensus was they saw other comedians hanging out and performing and they just "wanted to be one of those guys". What guy or girl do you want to have been? For example, perhaps you want to be a globe trotting photojournalist shooting remote tribes, locations, and vibrant cultures.


This is the more specific of the first two. This is more about isolated achievements that you would like to accomplish in your photography. For example, the aforementioned Vogue cover, or a coveted National Geographic assignment, or to create your own documentary. For me, this section is almost too diffuse. I want to have created various different and difficult projects, and it would be worth narrowing these down or ordering them by importance.


This is, in a sense, a blend of the two previous questions, but with a stronger focus on the prestige. When you're gone, what do you want your children and descendants to remember you by? This is a strong motivator for me. I want to be a successful writer and I want to take portraits that matter. There's an odd vulnerability writing it down for the world to read because these sort of answers are so personal and often quite revealing. In fact, sometimes that's true enough that we avoid making them explicit which I believe is a mistake and will do you no good in achieving what you truly want for yourself.

So let's hear your ultimate goals for your photography, be it a career or a hobby. What do you want to have been, have done, and what legacy do you want to leave behind?

Lead Image by Startup Stock Photos via Pexels

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JetCity Ninja's picture

to find moments of inner peace with the demons from my past.

Terry Waggoner's picture

.............and here I thought I was the only one...............

Robert K Baggs's picture

Well that was deeper than I expected!

Chris Silvis's picture

Well said. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Rob Mitchell's picture

To get to wherever it takes Me without ever having the feeling that I’ve had to work all my life.

Maybe not ambitious enough for many but we’re on this rock for an insignificant amount of time, might as well enjoy it.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I quite like the open-ended, free-flowing outlook. I couldn't agree more with your second comment either!

Chris Silvis's picture

I grew up in a family shrouded in secrecy due to my fathers career choice. So pictures of our family when I was growing up are scarce to say the least.

My long term goal is to document my kids and family so that these precious memories are carried into their adult life. But to do it with a polished look. Nothing would give me greater joy then to present my daughter a book on her wedding day that documented her life in a manner that would make any professional, or parent, proud. The same can be said for my son.

So, my short term goal is to become as good at the art of photography as Ive seen most of you are here.

David Pavlich's picture

It's fun and since I sell prints, I also look at it as a way to support my 'printaholic' habit. There's no deep, driving philosophical reason for me to shoot. I just enjoy the process of trying to make better shots since the challenge and having fun go hand in hand for me.

Tom Reichner's picture

The one Ultimate Goal of my photography may seem abstract to others, but it is clear to me:

To capture in my imagery the same level of beauty and perfection that I see in my mind's eye when I behold the beauty of nature and all the possibilities that it presents.

Admittedly, this is a goal that is to be pursued always, but is never to be fully attained.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

When I left law for photography, I had a strong desire to 'posit' something. It started with helping to create memories for our wedding couples. But, deep down, I always wanted to create art like Newton. To change the course or create something defining. Does that make sense?

Carl Irjala's picture

My "ultimate goals" for this year is listed on my blog: https://dismason.org/2019/03/04/greener-photos-2019/
I think this can be a good start. Do you?

Owain Shaw's picture

I've been doing for Photography for 15 years now, about half my life and my answers to these questions would have been quite different at various points in the past but I'll try and answer based on my current way of thinking which I think is more likely to remain relevant.

I'm now working on a few different personal projects in the Documentary sphere, these are projects that are of interest to me, and work that I want to produce. I think that is what I want to have done at the end of my life - work that is interesting to me, and in some way important to others in dealing with or reflecting upon issues in society. It's about the work I want to produce. I would like to produce books and to a lesser extent exhibitions, and I intend to do that this year. I say exhibitions to a lesser extent because I've done a few and I generally find the experience an unpleasant and uncomfortable one. I want the work I produce to remain accessible to people. I don't want my books to end up costing hundreds of dollars, euro or whatever, so that people can't afford to engage with that work. I'm not interested in making a great deal of money from Photography, I want to produce the work, and I do want for it to be seen.

Simon Anderson's picture

I wonder how many photographers would stop doing photography if there was no competitions and social media