The first few months of a new year are such a rush!

A new year is a new slate – a clean slate! – and, because of this, it’s easy to overwhelm ourselves with all the things we’re going to do this year to make our lives easier and skinnier and more fulfilling and more organized and more creative, too. We want a new year to be the most amazing year ever – who doesn’t?! – and, honestly, the pressure we put on ourselves can be pretty ridiculous.

But! At the same time, a clean slate is a clean slate and, when offered a clean slate at the start of the year, so many possibilities are opened before us. And as photographers? There are so many ways for all of us to improve our art. Photography is this magical puzzle box of learning – when one element of photography is learned, another element is uncovered (or rediscovered!) and, no matter how much you learn and no matter how strong of a photographer you are, there is always an incredible amount left to learn. It’s fascinating! I love this about photography!

woman laying in a bath of flowers by Lissa Chandler

So! Today! I thought it would be fun to list out five ways that each of us can be a better photographer this year (or even this month!). This list will work for everyone – whether you’re a master photographer who has thirty years of experience or a new photographer who purchased your first camera thirty minutes ago – we all have so much to learn about so many facets of photography and, this year, I 100% believe that all of us can make our photographs even more incredible than they are right now. Let’s get to it!

1. Pick a goal to focus on

Learning photography can be overwhelming and, because of this, I believe it’s important to focus on one aspect of photography at a time. I love light in photographs and, this year, my focus is to use light more creatively – and effectively! – in my photographs. And for me? This is an awesome focus that is, strangely, also somewhat relaxing. I love looking for light and, because of this, I look for light constantly – even when I don’t have a camera in hand. However, if I were focusing on three different things, I wouldn’t be able to do this. Instead, I’d feel overwhelmed and a little cranky because, while it’s fun and illuminating to look for light, I would burn out on my goal real quick if I were trying to give full attention to several different things at the same time. And the best part? When you feel like you’ve reached your goal, you can move onto the next goal. If you’re struggling with composition, study composition – and only composition – for a few months. The rewards will be outstanding and you will learn so much by keeping your eyes open for one specific thing.

Here are some ideas of goals, with links, to focus on!

  1. Mastering exposure
  2. Light
  3. Composition
  4. Editing in Lightroom or Photoshop (or both!)
  5. Finding your style
  6. Creating depth in your images
  7. Evoking emotion
  8. Telling a story with your photos

wedding ceremony under a large tree by Lissa Chandler

2. Ask for feedback on your photos

Asking for feedback on our work can be really hard! Photography is so personal and we all put so much effort, thought, and care into our images and, because of this, it can be pretty terrifying to ask someone to tell us their honest opinion. Our photographs are like our babies! But! Even though it’s hard, hearing feedback on your work is going to do two very important things: It’s going to tell you what you need to work on and it’s also going to tell you what you are doing well. And even better? You can pick and choose the advice that you follow. It’s important to listen to – and truly digest! – every bit of critique you are given and, once that critique has sunk in, looking at your work objectively will do amazing things for your photographs, even if you disagree with the feedback. Asking for feedback is so beneficial to every photographer and every stage. It is invaluable with photography work and I know that, in the past, I have made huge, positive changes to my work after receiving critique from a photographer I respected. Don’t be shy when asking for critique! It is hard to hear someone else discuss your work but it is so worth – so worth it.

portrait of woman wearing a gold sparkly dress by Lissa Chandler

3. Be open to new possibilities

When I first started my photography business, I swore up and down that I would never photograph weddings. I had a million excuses for this but, deep down, the main reason that I didn’t want to photograph weddings was because I was terrified of them. Yes! I knew that they were pretty and emotional and, in theory, totally up my alley but, whenever I thought of shooting a wedding, I felt a sheer amount of horror – a feeling that makes me laugh now. I was scared of ruining wedding images, of course, but I was also scared that I would fall headfirst in love with wedding photography (which wasn’t in my plans at all!). And when I first started photographing weddings? They were so hard that, afterwards, I’d come home and cry – they were so exhausting and it was so hard for me to be extremely outgoing for an entire day and, at the end of the day, I was really just happy to make it home in one piece. But! Despite this! Every time I photographed a wedding, I fell more and more in love with them and, by my third wedding, I knew that weddings were the perfect fit for me. Knowing this did not turn me into a spectacular, magical unicorn of a wedding photographer overnight (I wish!). Rather, I felt myself opening more and more to the possibility of pursuing a wedding photography career – something I had been terrified of! – and this changed not just my career but my entire life. If I hadn’t been open to a new possibility, though, my life would be totally different!

bride and groom wedding day portraits by Lissa Chandler

4. Embrace change

Photography is an art form and, because of this, change is inevitable both in outward trends and inwardly within yourself. Sometimes this change is slow and other times it hits you straight on out of nowhere but, regardless of how it comes to you, change is going to happen. Sometimes this shift is very gradual – maybe we no longer love a genre like we used to or maybe we get a little bold with the contrast slider while editing in Lightroom – but, rather than fight change, I believe in embracing change and seeing where it will take you. All of us go through different stages in our individual photography journeys and, because it’s a journey, there are endless possibilities! Every twist and turn will teach us so much about photography (and about ourselves!) so don’t be afraid of change if you notice that your approach to photography begins to change. Embrace the change instead!

street photography by Lissa Chandler

5. Stay true to your own unique vision

As photographers, each and every one of us have our own unique vision. If you like bold color, edit with bold color. If you like your photographs to be super airy, make them super airy! If you love chaos in your photographs, embrace that chaos! If you are a rule breaker, learn the rules and then break them as soon as you’ve absorbed them. If you are a rule follower, follow the rules! Photography is so fluid and, over the course of our photography careers – whether we are hobbyists or part time photographers or full time photographers – so much is going to change and ebb and flow. There’s so much diversity out there! When you stay true to your own unique vision, the heart of your work is always going to be the same because it’s just that – your heart. When you strive to become a stronger photographer and focus on your goals to become the best photographer you can possibly (currently!) be, the heart of your photographs will show with increasing intensity. Don’t be afraid to share yourself with the world through your photographs! The better of a photographer you are, the better you will become at conveying the heart of your images and, best of all, you are the only one out there with your own unique vision. I love this concept!

woman sitting on a bench surrounded by flowers by Lissa Chandler

6. Bringing it altogether

In 2016, I challenge all of y’all to focus on your goals, reach out for critique, be open to new possibilities, embrace change and, best of all, stay true to your own unique voice. If you do these five simple things, your photographs will skyrocket and, as a photographer, there’s not anything better that you could ask for. Now! Get on out there and be the best photographer that you can be!