by Leah Cook
As the New Year approaches many of us start to think about resolutions, goals and areas we’d like to make changes to in our personal lives. Let’s take that one step further and relate them to our photography! The key (or so I’m told) to keeping resolutions is to be as specific as possible and pin point the exact spots you’re looking to improve. This list is expansive and even a bit overwhelming. At some point we have to realize that we can’t do it all in a matter of months, but with small changes, hard work and a focus on our goals, we can keep resolutions that WILL make us better photographers and possibly people!
Below is a list of 10 popular New Year’s resolutions:
- Diet and Exercise Plan
- Budget and Reduce Debt
- Spend More Time with Family and Friends
- Be Happier and Healthier
- Travel More
- Break Bad Habits
- Pursue Higher Education
- Give to Others
- Get Organized
- Be More Spontaneous
How do these have anything to do with our love of photography? Funny you should ask…
Diet and Exercise
Diet. Not a word we love to hear!! Diet is all about selection. Just like in a healthy food plan, you make choices in your photography everyday. What lenses you shoot with, how many sessions you choose to take on or even using the basic gear you do have to make a certain shot ‘work’. Diet can also be looked at as in moderation. Are you obsessed? It’s okay, you can admit it! Maybe it’s time to take a step back and use your photography in moderation or for a more specific purpose. It’s not healthy for something to rule or consume your life (like food…or even picture-taking!) Balance is key. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about giving up! Which actually leads me to exercise. Getting regular physical exercise is a goal many of us strive to make time for in our everyday life. Giving your camera a workout is just as important. I don’t even want to know the shutter count on my cameras! You will only improve if you practice and USE it. Can you commit to daily shooting? How about the weekends? If you want to improve and be a stronger photographer, this simply has to happen. Personally I used to get frustrated with the work I was producing and it only discouraged me, not motivated me…so I stopped shooting all together. I would go periods of time with just giving my camera a dirty look. Or instead of actually taking pictures of my family and things that were personal to me, I only did if for everyone else. How sad!! My Camera was NOT the problem, but my lack of discipline to put in the hard work and practice what I was learning was. Just like jogging everyday takes will power and self-determination, so does shooting. Don’t let your camera collect dust!
- be selective in your gear
- use what you have
- limit sessions if you’re a professional
- commit to a 365 or project 52
- post weekly on your blog
- participate in a blog circle with fellow photographers
Money…we have a love-hate relationship. It makes the world go ‘round…and gives us major headaches at the same time! Lots of families vow to get out of debt and start spending smartly in the New Year. Most of us also have a budget when it comes to photography. We all know this is not a cheap hobby or profession! Do your best to separate your photography budget from your family finances. It can only lead to resentment if you’re trying to save for a new lens and pay for a trip to Disney World out of the same account. Create a plan of action and have a timeline, even if you’re not in business mark those specific dates on the calendar. Before you make any major gear upgrade decisions, rent lenses or the camera of your dreams to make sure it’s really what you expect. Or if you’re lucky enough to shoot with friends and swap equipment to practice with, I’d highly recommend it. This is how I broke down and acquired my 35mm 1.4L (thanks a lot, Sara Seeton!) If you are in business, make it a point to sit down and get your plan and taxes in order. You need to be getting paid what you’re worth! Remember your time is valuable – don’t give it away for free. What vendors will you be using this year, what are your cost of goods and also evaluate programs to keep up your finances? Will you re-brand with a new logo or blog design? Don’t forget to leave room for extras that you’ll just HAVE to have down the road…that cute Valentine’s Day card template, a gorgeous newborn headband or a fabulous breakout session in the CMstore!
- rent or borrow gear before purchasing
- buy refurbished products and look for special savings (ask around)
- mark buy dates on the calendar
- re-visit your session pricing for the new year
- work with what you have
- shop clearance sections, garage sales or flea markets for props
- leave room for unexpected extras – actions, software, etc.
- make sure taxes are in order
Family and Friends
This is what we live for right, who we want to be with, and time and time again, we push them aside – we are too busy with editing, with laundry, with whatever. Everyone struggles to find a balance in their lives, especially parents. We have so many chores and so often we over commit ourselves, leaving us with less time than ever to spend with our loved ones. Let’s all vow to make it better! We can still have a photography business or extensive hobby while keeping our focus on those that matter most. Use photography to be with your family! Like I mentioned earlier – it can either take over and consume you or you can use it to actually spend time with your kids. That’s one benefit of the 365 that I loved…it was time with my boys each and every day! They even started to look forward to when I would snap their picture. Also, look for the value of online friendships. Really, before I was a ‘photographer’ I didn’t get it. How can you be close to someone that you never see or is 4,000 miles away? Now I’m a believer – I have made life long friends, not just connections, through this photography community. We have a commonality and get each other – we’ve all been through the same things (or will go through them at some point.) It’s nice to chat with my girls online and not have to explain the late hours, stress and ‘too much magenta’ in the skin tones I’m working on. But that being said, in no way should you abandon those friends that got you where you are today. The ones that know you better than you know yourself – believe me, I have some friends in my life that will always be a part of me. However, friendships can be tricky when it comes to photography. Hopefully those that know and love you best will choose not to take advantage of your time and talents. Remember to set boundaries and make sure they honor session fees and schedules. It’s beyond hard to explain how long it takes to edit images or the hours we spend in front of the computer answering emails or perfecting our craft. But please, if someone has no regard for your time – speak up! It will only make things more difficult in the long run if you agree to take pictures and you’re already at your commitment level.
- create office hours
- take pictures of your own kids (include yourself in some too!)
- have some session-free weekends to spend with loved ones
- consider occasionally hiring a babysitter or professional house cleaner
- discover CM and online photography friendships
- join local photography groups
- have special friend rates
- barter and trade with friends (but make it worth your time!)
- hire a photographer to take YOUR family pictures
Healthy and Happy
First of all, taking pictures can contribute to our physical health especially if you are chasing a toddler, sweating at a newborn session or lugging camera gear out to a gorgeous field in the heat of the summer. But it can also really affect your mental health. The more positive and realistic we are about our work, the more we can learn, grow and feel satisfied about where we are in our photographic journey or business. So how do we do that? It’s one thing to just say ‘oh I’m happy where I am’ and it’s another thing to really believe it. We are social people – we need interaction and approval. Once we begin to receive (and give) positive reinforcement, we really do start to feel better about our images. This doesn’t mean that everyone will like what you produce. Guess what – they don’t have to! But lots of people will appreciate where you’re coming from. Share your work with others – and I’m not just talking about your bestie or your mom because they will obviously love it! Show other photographers online, either for critique or just in general. Embrace the positive responses and learn from constructive criticism. Ask for help if you can’t figure it out and for your well-being, try so very hard not to compare yourself to others. I struggle with this all the time and happen to know some extremely talented photographers that do as well (you’d be surprised!). We are only human. Keep telling yourself that the photographer you most admired had to start somewhere exactly like you! Photography can be very fulfilling, especially when we find our groove and style, but it never really ends – it’s always evolving. Whether you’re in business or a hobbyist, being proud of your work really takes time…maybe this is your year!
- have a positive attitude about your work
- ACCEPT constructive criticism and positive reinforcement
- GIVE constructive criticism and positive reinforcement
- try not to compare yourself to others
- ask for help
- have patience in your journey
- print images for your home
- save for a workshop or new lens
- work to apply for CMpro
Well, I’m sure we would all LOVE to see the other side of the world and if you’re able to jet-set then more power to you, just don’t forget the camera! Locally speaking, plan day trips and excursions around the corner in your city or near by places (or states) you’d like to visit. Relating to business – get your name out there! Talk to small boutiques or doctors’ offices about working with you in the future…share cards and samples. Also, the more you travel, the more session spots you’ll pick up along the way – keep your eyes peeled for awesome and unique locations! Make a plan at the beginning of the year with other photography friends or your kids. Consider participating in Clickin Walk! You don’t have to take your entire bag, a lens or two will do but you’ll be surprised how inspirational a small getaway and change of scenery can be! Take pictures of your kiddos experiencing new things – the zoo, an ice cream cone or snap some headshots of your local photog buddy – just change out of your yoga pants and leave the house, by golly! And try not to be embarrassed when you show off that fabulous DSLR in public – let them drool (or tell you that your camera must take REALLY great pictures…)
- make a list of where you want to travel
- get your business name out there
- search for new session locations
- who will be joining you and plan accordingly
- put those spots and dates on the calendar
- think about time of year (i.e. Bluebonnets in Texas in the Spring)
- consider what lenses to take – versatile zoom? wide prime?
We all have personal habits that need to be broken, ahem, eating Cheetos at 2am, checking my iPhone every 2 seconds or enjoying a few glasses of wine (when I’m not preggers of course) but relating this to photography can cover a whole dang lot of us. Facebook anyone? Although WONDERFUL for networking, business building and sharing images it really can suck us in. Take some time to really evaluate how much facebook sees of you, when you might need that precious time to work (so you can spend it elsewhere like we talked about above). Blog stalking is another one. I don’t see anything wrong with paying a visit to your favorite blogs but it’s when we start to compare ourselves to photographers that have been at it way longer than we have or getting down on our work because we’re not as creative. Look at their gorgeous eye candy, pin your favorites, leave some love (everyone loves love!) and move on; try something new after you’ve seen a new pose or setup that inspired you but do your best not to obsess. And of course as photographers we always take on too many projects, say yes more than is humanly possible and exhaust ourselves to the point of burn out. BAD. We need to know and recognize our limits and ask for help (I might be talking directly to myself here…). This can also relate to our shooting habits. For example, getting in a rut with only choosing one lens when we have many more in the bag, always shooting at the same time of day, inside vs. outside or the worst offense – forgetting to snap shots of our family members and only doing it for others. Remember why you started in the first place! Then there’s a look at our bad technical habits. Try not to get lazy about white balance, proper exposure, or not stepping back and looking for distractions in the frame before you snap. Because really, all of those things just take up more time on the post processing end and we want to streamline!
- limit time on facebook and pinterest
- make your time online count for something
- remember to shoot for you and not just others
- pick a day each week that you visit your favorite blogs
- say NO and mean it
- push yourself to break bad (or comfortable) shooting habits
Wouldn’t it have been amazing to find this love when we were all in college?! Think of the experience we’d have, the books we’d have acquired, the masters we would have learned from and the 8:00am economics class we could have skipped. Yep, not so much. I have no idea what the actual percentage of professional photographers or serious hobbyists that actually have a photography degree is but I’d bet it’s pretty low. And guess what? That’s okay – we are still photographers and we still have the right to take gorgeous pictures! Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re self taught and haven’t had formal training. But here’s the deal, in order to get better at this complicated art you do need to constantly improve and grow. There are many ways to do that and at all price points! In person workshops are really invaluable. Expensive? Yes. But worth it and if you budget for one starting a year in advance, then why not? Hands on and small group experience is exceptional. Make sure you read reviews, contact the instructor and former participants before you really make a commitment. If that’s something that’s on a far away wish list then consider online courses. Right here at Clickin Moms CMU is packed full of informative workshops and breakout sessions for every skill level and interest, professional and hobbyist alike. Learn business, natural lighting techniques, flash (studio and speedlight), lifestyle, basic shooting, composition, WordPress, post processing and even finding your style! I’ve had the privilege to be a teaching assistant to several of them and am always impressed with the growth I see in students. Not only are the instructors top notch (and sweet as they can be!) but truly they put 100% into the material and experience, they are there for you…as well as your peers. I can’t recommend them enough. One on one or group mentorships are a wonderful option as are tutorials found on the CM board. Buy a photography book on a topic that interests you. You’d be surprised at how much you’re inspired by just opening your mind to new information. My biggest advice though – pace yourself. Photography comes at its own speed and sometimes you really get it and things click extra quickly and other concepts really take their time to sink in. Have patience that you’ll get there. Take something away from every session, whether it’s a paid client or a creative shoot for your kids. Learn from every picture you edit and you’ll get there…keep telling yourself, we ALL start somewhere.
- learn something new this year (how to work your speedlight?)
- sign up for a workshop – in person or online
- peer groups
- spend some time with a new photographer and share your knowledge
- continuing education for small business owners
Don’t we give enough?! I mean, SURE, I’ll take the pictures for your friend’s cousin’s brother’s birthday party…and no problem, I don’t have plans on [said] holiday, so let’s get a session in. Okay, I’m just being rude. But really it does feel like we give our time and talents away a lot, right? It’s true – remember as parents we do that as well. But I’m talking about giving with no strings attached, no bitterness and out of the goodness of our hearts. It’s really harder than it sounds. As humans we want credit for our good deeds! But try it sometime. Find a charity you’re interested in and work something out to donate pictures. Work with friends to find a family in need of pictures that can’t afford them and gift them a session just because. My personal goal is to work with the animal shelter up the road – I had big plans to do that last year and it was totally my fault that it fell through. If time is not an option (remember we are trying to be with our family and friends more) then create a tutorial and share with others, it doesn’t have to be major and a new photographer might really take something valuable away from your teaching. Pay it forward with gear you don’t use anymore or a phone call to help someone just starting out (there’s a whole sub-forum to do that on CM!) The key to giving is what I mentioned earlier – you’ve got to give and then let it go, especially if it’s donating a session to a charity auction, etc. but don’t expect to get something in return (except for feeling really happy in that huge heart of yours!). And also, to not over commit. We all do so much in general (volunteering at school or church, taking dinners to friends) and it doesn’t have to be a monumental achievement. Small acts of kindness with your camera can go a long way!
- volunteer to take pictures of an after school activity
- donate your time to a new photographer
- give blankets or props you no longer use to those just starting out
- volunteer with an organization working with families that face terminal illness
- find families in need of family sessions
- don’t over commit or expect gifts in return
- apply to be an op love photographer
Oh I’m not sure if I’m qualified to write this little blurb. Procrastinating and organizing are two concepts I’ve struggled with my ENTIRE life. The whole right brain fighting with the left brain thing. I’ve tried and tried and tried. And honestly, I have a few ‘systems’ that work out well but I’m going to take notes of my own notes here! The options are ENDLESS when it comes to photography and organization. This could be an entire article on it’s own! With regards to your photography workflow, get it in order! Especially with sessions – organize those first but what do you start with? For me, it’s the classic portrait and then I move on from there. Have a game plan and that will serve you well. Post Processing – again, organize your workflow. It took me a while to figure out how I liked to edit. Now I have simple steps that I do to almost every image, both for clients and personal shots – whatever programs you choose to use, learn them (workshop!?) and feel comfortable with what you can accomplish. Back it up! Make sure you have external hard drives or online programs that back up your images to avoid data loss and have a plan put in place for actually using those safety nets! After every session, I immediately load files on my computer (to make sure there wasn’t an issue with the cards) and then I back those RAW files up to CD or an external hard drive (EHD) for peace of mind. PRINT YOUR PICTURES!! As photographers we need to organize our printing procedure. For one, we actually go through and look at the pictures we’ve taken. Pick a day each month that you sort, edit and order your personal favorites – they don’t have to be on canvas or in custom designed albums (although that needs to go on the to do list) but just prints for now will do. Start somewhere. Obviously if you have a photography or any small business, organization is beyond important. Have a plan for the new year – marketing efforts, take-home profit goal, updating your blog, client materials such as contracts and welcome packets, budget…see, endless! Organize your desk workspace and the system you have for completing proofing and client orders. Email. It might as well be a four letter word!! How does it pile up so quickly!? I’ve resorted to an automated response which buys me a day or two before I reply with a personal follow up. Pick a day of the month and purge your email. Create specific folders for clients and craft basic replies that you can personalize to make better use of your time. Online calendar! This is something that I started doing not too long ago and it’s been wonderful – I use the one from Google and it connects directly to my iPhone as well. Color code everything and share the calendar with those closest to you. Put all these ‘supposed’ dates that we’ve discussed on your calendar too – and opt for reminders!
- workflow – session and post processing and client proofs
- business plan
- printing pictures – when and how
- back up data
- client materials
- calendars – have a system that works for you and share it so everyone is on the same page
Woo-hoo something that’s fun! Well, unless you are a very scheduled, rule-following person! It doesn’t have to be painful – really this is a time to unwind and actually *break* some rules. Take your camera with you and if you can’t, get an olloclip for your iPhone or a cheap point and shoot (and don’t forget to print those either!). Start to document your everyday in an artistic way and play around with composition, color, and light. Remember what it was like when you were just starting out and couldn’t get enough of taking pictures…throw limb chops and white balance to the wind (shh don’t tell anyone I said that)! This goal is about taking risks and chances or using a lens that you have in your bag and never take out. Splurge on a lensbaby, fisheye, tilt-shift (yes please!) or macro. Just because you shoot mostly people doesn’t mean you can’t see them in a different, more creative way. Or if you’re used to using your macro on newborn baby toes, try it on that flower bush or spider web in your front yard. What about using film or setting up a fun themed session! Just push yourself, every once and awhile. You can even slow down and try shooting in the dark! Break out the tripod and set it up to capture the stars (or yourself)! Really there are so many ways to step outside the box with photography – reignite your passion!
- take the camera and USE it
- iPhone and olloclip
- participate in CMglimpse on Instagram
- be creative and focus on creating artful compositions
- splurge on new gear
- step outside your box and shoot new subject matter
- read up on a new technique
- shoot a themed session
- try out film
- self portraits
So, wow…that seems like a lot of stuff we need to do!? My goodness, I better get started ASAP. Remember, if you can only pick a few resolutions and go with them, do it. So many of these goals overlap so make sure to choose what is most important to you! We are all on our own personal path but I for one feel connected to so many photographers out there. It’s an amazing art form that ties many of us together, in both our personal and professional lives. Happy New Year to all of you!!
What are your resolutions for the New Year? We’d love to hear what you’ll be working on, whether it’s photography related or not!
Leah Cook, Texas
website | facebook | pinterest
Leah has always had an interest in photography and art but that interest increased when her dad, who has a great eye for photography, gave her her first digital camera. That interest skyrocketed after she quit teaching when her first son was born. When asked about her style Leah says, “my style definitely has a mix of lifestyle + classic elements…I hope to keep things modern but still timeless and I love adding a sense of humor! It took me a while to figure out what I loved and I think that’s part of my style…being all over the place and loving lots of different ‘types’ of photography.” Her style has continued to evolve, especially after the birth of her second son and photographing and posing him daily gave her a great amount of experience and knowledge. Leah currently uses a Canon 5d mark ii and a variety of lenses. She shares a home in Dallas with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. Spending time playing in the yard, taking a long walk, watching a good game, or eating a yummy meal with her family is the recipe for a good day in Leah’s world. She also loves her iMac, iPhone, the DVR, goldfish crackers, wine, dark chocolate, and ranch dressing.