Sticking to Your Photographic Goals


The first quarter of the year is nearly over. Have you been following through on achieving the goals that you set for yourself? Sometimes, it can be tough to do so.

We talked to a couple of successful photographers about how they followed through on their goals and got to where they are today.

Photo is The Set List by Josh Teal Photography via the B&H Photo Flickr Group

Peter Hurley

I began setting goals while training for the Olympic Games. I was on the US Sailing Team, and we were working with the team sports psychologist who had taught us some helpful techniques to use that revolved around goal setting. This was my first foray into setting goals for myself, although I realized that I had mentally been doing it all my life, just I wasn't aware of it. When I picked up a camera and began photographing, I took these same techniques and applied them to my photography. Here are some tips that might be useful to you:

1.  Set a major goal for yourself of where you'd like to see yourself in 3 – 5 years from now, and start working towards that goal. Write it down and give it a specific date when you'd like to have it completed. Think big! You can always adjust down the road. I found some old goals written down that I had set for myself years ago, and it really blew me away to see how I had actually attained them, so definitely write it down!

2. The major goal is great, but it may be too big of a jump from where you are now, so you'll want to set incremental goals along the way. These should be monthly or quarterly goals that appear achievable to you in the near term. They can't be piece-of-cake goals; they have to stretch you a bit. This will start to get you moving toward that major goal.  

It's like check points along the way that ensure you are headed the right direction. When you hit an incremental goal, give yourself a pat on the back to acknowledge the achievement—but keep moving. If you stall with the goals, you'll fall into a comfort zone, and jumping out of one can be challenging. I found myself knee deep in a comfort zone for years, and although it feels fine, you can get stuck and that major goal will be sitting there by the wayside. 

3. You need to set incremental goals that you believe you can achieve. No one is going to believe in them for you! If you don't have the belief, in my opinion, you'll never achieve it. The power of belief is immeasurable, and that belief turns into expectancy when you are approaching that goal. I believe that expectation is the key to achieving anything. You can't trick yourself into expectation either. You may talk a big game, but when it comes down to it, it's really what you expect of yourself and not what others expect of you. Competing at the highest level of a sport is a mental game, everyone there is there because they are amazing at what they do. Separating the men from the boys or women from the girls is the expectation that those individuals have inside themselves to excel at what they do. I found that out many times on a race course, and just as many behind a camera. 

4.  Lastly, you really don't have to know how you'll get to the major goal. If we knew how to get there, it would be easy. You'll figure it out as you go, by setting up those incremental goals. So chill out, do some goal setting, and get ready to hit your goals in stride. You'll knock off one by one, closing in on that lofty goal that may seem far away now, but could actually be closer than you think.  

Hope you got something out of this to apply to your photography career, I know it's done wonders for mine.

Take at Peter's headshot work at his website.

Zack Arias

I typically get out of photographic slump by giving myself a personal project to work on. I usually pick a genre of work related to what I do for client work, but make it different enough that it's interesting for me to work on. It has to be related, because hopefully it will turn into a portfolio piece, and it needs to make sense with the rest of my work or show some diversity in what I do. I once spent a lot of time doing fashion work for personal work. I enjoyed it, but as soon as I started showing that work, everyone (client side) told me to ditch it. It wasn't "really" fashion. They were right. Now I have all this personal work—that is mostly useless—in my portfolio. I still have it, and maybe one day it will make its way back on my site, but probably not. Now that my personal work is tied to who I am, it is—you know—more personal. Funny how that works out. 

I also make sure I stop looking at other photographers' work. Nothing motivates me less than digging into the mind of other people out there who are creating great work. If I get caught up comparing myself to others I start to get depressed, and then I sit around and beat myself up for not going out and making work like so-and-so.

I need my studio to stay clean and organized. That usually doesn't happen, but when I have lost all focus I'm usually surrounded by a messy studio. Once it's clean and organized, I feel I can get back to the tasks on hand. Diet and sleep don't seem to have an effect on my motivation or focus, but I have taken up cycling recently, and riding my bike at night has been helpful. 

I have no idea when my goals are realistic. I give myself time. I don't expect immediate results. I'm currently promoting myself a lot in the editorial and advertising world, and I've given myself a year or more to see results. As I do start to land some jobs within that time period, I see it as gravy. I'm not expecting to send a promo, get a call, and book the job.

Will I reach my ultimate goal that I have in mind for these promotions? I don't know, but at least I have goals. At least I have tasks to work toward those goals. I've spent too much time sitting around thinking about making goals, instead of actually making them and working on them.

My wife, Meghan, is the first person I often talk to for help. I can't talk shop with her, but I can talk to her about ideas and promotions and big picture things. She lets me know exactly what she thinks, and I can always trust her. My studio manager, Dan, stays on my ass about finishing projects, and helps with the logistics of day-to-day work. When I want to talk shop and banter about "stuff," twitter and other social media outlets help a lot with that. 

Daily chores of email, invoicing, voice mail and social media are probably my worst enemies. Each year I take a month off from social media, and I seem to get a lot of stuff done. Then I slowly creep back into it, and then it sucks me in. Social media helps my business in a number of ways, from crowd sourcing, researching trends, finding clients, and getting the word out on things that I want the word out on, but it seems to add noise to my life at the same time. I love it and hate it. It's my water cooler, where I can hang out with like minded people. I get to help folks and point them to valuable resources. I get to see the latest funny cat video, etc. 

Email and paperwork also kill "the mood," so-to-speak, for me. 

Zack Arias's work can be seen on his website.

Ryan Brenizer

It can be hard to talk about getting "better" at art, because of how subjective it is. Luckily, much of wedding photography is as much craft as art, and there are always means to improve. If all that matters is that one amazing photo, you might take that as a neophyte photographer, and never top it again for the rest of your life. But in weddings, it really matters how good our 500th-best-photo of any given day is, and that's something that takes craft, effort and skill to improve. I have friendly competitions with my friends, but the only person I'm ruthlessly competitive with is myself. I want to take that "Ryan Brenizer from 2011" guy and surpass him in every way. It doesn't hurt to start the 2012 season with clients like Katherine and Zak.

The biggest challenge in professional photography, like anything else, is endurance. It's always exciting to shoot a wedding for the first time—maybe TOO exciting—but it takes something else to be at the 250-weddings mark (about where I am), and to be loving it more than ever. For that, I constantly change equipment, techniques, evolve my business model, whatever is going to keep things fresh and exciting for me while maintaining the consistency of quality that my clients expect and deserve. I am probably going to shoot a hybrid of Nikon and Canon this year, because both have some fantastic new technologies with different strengths. But there are some much more exotic things coming for me on the equipment front. My goals for the winter were to get my business in a better place than ever with customer service and paperwork, and we have absolutely achieved that, as well as a push into new markets. Now, as another busy season comes up, we get to shift our goals back to the fun stuff of making art in new ways. One of my big compositional goals this year is to think in terms of layers. If everyone else in the industry is shooting at f/1.2, I want to make some art at f/32. Which means that sensor cleaning should probably be another goal of mine.

Ryan Brenizer is a famous wedding photographer and guest blogger whose work can be seen on his website.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio

Discussion 1

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I am an amateur photographer. I have two projects for this year: 1) photograph the sunrise over Columbia, South Carolina from the Lake Murray Dam on the equinoxes and soltices; 2) photograph the full moons of 2012. I got the idea for the Moon Project after January, so I'll have to photograph the Full Wolf Moon in January 2013.

Using black and white film in 2012 is more a resolution than a goal. But so far, I have been sticking to the resolution. I use mostly Kodak BW400CN, but I have used Kodak Plus-X, Tri-X 400, and T-Max 3200.