Setting Goals in Photography

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I’m going to ask you all a brief, seemingly simple question, and I’d like you all to take a moment to really ponder your answer.

What are your goals, in relation to photography?

I myself paused for a moment, after typing that line. I don’t believe I’ve often thought about the specifics of having a photography goal. Other than the nebulous, “Learn everything I can,” I tend to just “wing it”. I pick up skills when and where I have a need or an interest. This method has certainly served me well enough in the past, but occasionally I find myself with a niggling feeling of possessing just a surface-level “expertise” in this field that I love. I have a broad and general understanding, well enough to take decent photographs that require a minimum of post-processing. I know how to get the kind of shot I’m looking for under most conditions and circumstances. I understand concepts and terminology. I’ve reached a point in my skill-set, now, that I am ready to branch out and expand; to become more specific and goal-oriented in my photography pursuits.

So, how does one go about setting a goal? The concept seems easier and more intuitive than it actually is. Here is how I, personally, go about it.

Set your sights on the short term first. Having a goal that is attainable within a short period of time will encourage you to continue in your efforts. It will also assist you in determining your next steps, and help clarify which aspects of photography you enjoy, which seem more of a chore, and which direction you’d like to go in. Allow this short-term goal to be about what you enjoy doing, not what you think you “should” be doing at this stage. My personal short-term ambition is to create a physical portfolio of what I consider to be my best work – something that can be held in my hands, rather than the on-line portfolio I currently possess. This goal stems from a recent evening of going over old family photographs (VERY old, some dating back to the 1800′s), and recalling how much I enjoy holding the photographs and albums. I’ve come to realize that almost all of the photos I’ve taken in the past six or seven years are all digital – the joy of a physical print is something I’ve forgotten, and wish to attain once again.

Next, understand your long-term ambition. It could be that ambition is to enter your photographs in contests, or to see them hanging in a gallery, or to host an intimate viewing among friends. Perhaps you just want to organize attractive albums or scrapbooks. Maybe you’d like a photography-centric website to which you could direct family and friends. Or it could be that your ambitions lean toward becoming a professional photographer in a specific field. Whatever your dream is, it belongs to YOU and is the heart and soul of your ambition. My personal long-term goal is to have one of my photographs published in a magazine or book – I plan to enter some photography contests such as the sort offered by Popular Photography Magazine, and see where that takes me. I imagine the thrill it would give me to open the glossy pages and see MY creation within. What a moment that would be!

Plan frequent photography projects. Similar to short-term goal setting, planning photography projects helps you to remain challenged and keeps you moving forward toward your goals. I am planning an upcoming article specifically about photography projects – essentially, the intent is to choose a subject or a skill that interests you and expands upon your photography skill-set. I myself plan to schedule some family portrait sessions – it’s time we had some updated family photos, and portraiture is one field that I have explored only a very little.

Find your specialty, or niche. What is it, exactly, that you love to take pictures of? Do you find yourself longing to be outdoors, or are you constantly tweaking your indoor studio? Do you see a face and just have to photograph it, or do you have a collection of a thousand sunsets? Do you lean toward the abstract, or do you see artistry in still life and carefully arranged subjects? Consider which photographs in your possession make you the happiest, then pursue perfecting that type of photography. For me, those photographs are landscapes and architecture. When I browse through my Flickr sets, those are the predominant types of photographs, and the ones that I am most frequently pleased with. I plan on improving upon my technique by doing some early morning and early evening photography sessions at nearby landmarks – it seems to me that I keep happening upon places when the sun is high in the sky, and I want to push myself to hit the “sweet spot” in natural lighting.

Try out some new gear. See the world through a different lens, or a different type of camera altogether. Breaking away from what is familiar will help you to discover the gaps in your education and understanding of photography. Personally, thought I am an avid Canon fan, I plan to try out some Nikon cameras and lenses just to get a better understanding of the differences between the two brands.

I hope these suggestions have helped you to understand your own photography goals. I would love to hear about your ambitions and tips – please tell us about them in the comments! For further excellent reading on setting goals, please check out this article by Thom Hogan.

Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “Please don’t blow!” by Amaynez on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Landscape” by Ricksmit on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • sachinkhona

    Excellent! Thanks for sharing!

  • Dkharris50

    Thanks for this helpful article. I've realized that to become better, I need to push myself. Following through on goals will help me do this.

  • Ned B

    I'm hanging out my shingle finally and opening my own studio and shooting for myself instead of working for someone else as I have done now for 4 different places over the past 33 years.

  • Anjar_dj

    like this,….