25 New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
January 1st, 2013
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The Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus, VA

Well, there I am. Lowepro Toploader on a chest harness, a backpack full of lenses and other gear, just about to head down the Virginia Creeper Trail to Damascus, Virginia. This is how I spend my year.

Every year people write lists of resolutions as part of the New Year celebration. Items on the list include weight loss, change in habits, emotions, social lives, and spending patterns. But I decided to write a list for photographers. What exactly would make a good list of resolutions for any photographer? Well, here is a list of 25 New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers. How many of these will you adopt and stick with?

1. Carry Less Gear

Just because you have a backpack with enough room to carry two camera bodies, four lenses, two strobes, batteries, memory cards, cables, a tripod, a monopod, and a bottle of water does not mean you actually have to carry all that equipment. Instead, think ahead about what you might need and plan for the trip. Leave a few pieces of equipment behind and your back will be thanking you all year long.

2. Stop Shooting in Continuous Fire Mode

Everybody with a mid- to pro-level DSLR gets a kick out of hearing the shutter clicking at 5-12 frames per second. Sure, it’s what photographers’ cameras sound like in movies. But how often is real life anything like the movies? Instead of coming back with 500 photos from an hour on the beach and spending the next six hours sorting through them all, how about you be more selective with your shooting to save you time later? Just because you have an 8GB memory card that can hold 400 photos in RAW format does not mean you have to fill it every single time.

3. Use a Handheld Light Meter or the Histogram on the Camera

Many people have become too reliant on RAW format and the slogan “I’ll fix it later.” Anyone who has actually sat down with a RAW file has learned even this format has limitations. Instead of ignoring white balance and proper exposure at the scene, take an extra moment to check your settings. Use a handheld light meter if you have one. At the very least, shoot a photo and then check the histogram on your camera. Make adjustments so you have no overexposed details. Not only will this save you time dealing with it later, it will also help you judge better lighting conditions in the field.

4. Do Some Research Before You Shoot

Everyone loves taking a simple photo walk across a beach, through a beautiful state park, or along historic downtown streets. But before you head out, do some research to see what is actually there. Search other photos on sites like Flickr and Photoshelter, see what has been done before, then come up with a plan to make your photos better. Which leads me to the next resolution…

5. Shoot Better Photos Than Last Year

Photography is very much like sports:  you need to be better than the year before to keep up with the competition. There is no problem visiting all the locations you shot last year and shooting them again. But if you do this and return home with 100 photos that look almost the same as last year, who will actually pay attention? Shoot at a different time of day, go at a different time of year, learn a new technique, whatever you do just make sure the photo is better than last year’s.

6. Keep Your Monitor Calibrated for Color

Have you ever gotten the comment that your photo looks too green or blue, only to respond that it looks great on your monitor? You try to make excuses like “Well, I have an LED so it must just be your 10 year old CRT,” or maybe, “It looked fine in Photoshop,” but the truth is it really is your monitor. If all you do is correct exposure then your photos are probably fine. But if you have ever used the Saturation or Selective Color tools to change specific color channels in a photo, there is a good chance you are ruining the photo if your monitor is not calibrated. But it’s not good enough to just borrow one from a friend and calibrate your monitors once; they need to be calibrated every 2-4 weeks to remain accurate.

7. Keep Your Batteries Charged

How many times have you gone out for a photo walk or an assignment to find six of your eight batteries are dead, and the last two aren’t looking all that great either? While it is bad practice to keep batteries constantly plugged into a charger once they have received a full charge, it’s also not a bad idea to keep those batteries near the charger so you can easily plug them in for a few minutes just to top off the charge. Come up with a system for separating charged batteries from dead batteries such as having two different bags to carry them. Start charging your batteries the moment you get home.

8. Take Down Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers

All photojournalists understand the importance of a proper photo caption that contains relevant information such as location of the photo, event name if applicable, and the names of any people prominently displayed. However, this good practice goes beyond just what you see in the newspapers. Travel magazines, ad agencies, product developers all want to know the names of people in the photos. Keep a note pad, data phone, or tablet device with you at all times. Jot down the name and contact information of all people just in case you need it in the future.

9. Clean Everything Weekly

There is nothing more frustrating than coming home from a portrait photo shoot to find every single photo has a dust spot in the middle of someone’s forehead. You can avoid this by getting a good at-home sensor cleaning system or joining a professional service from your camera manufacturer to get your sensor professionally cleaned. Be sure to clean the front and back elements of your lenses, keep the inside of lens covers clean, and also clean the memory cards from time to time using a good erasing program on your computer.

10. Don’t Give Photos Away For Free

We’ve all done it at some point in time. We’ve given a photo away to a non-profit group, a small local business, or the neighbors next door. We do it because we don’t think we are good enough to charge people money for our level of photography or maybe it’s because we are afraid a magazine will refuse to publish our photo if we try to charge them. The fact of the matter is that every time you give a photo away for free a photographer loses their job. Sure, you may only be shooting photography as a hobby so it doesn’t really affect you, but what if someone down the street started offering a free service in your line of work? How would that affect your income? The only people that benefit from free photography are people who don’t shoot photos at all.

11. Stop Making Excuses For Your Equipment

Just because you have a P&S camera, a bridge camera, or maybe a 10-year-old DSLR camera body does not mean you can’t take great photos. Sure, if you’re shooting with a simple bridge camera, you won’t be capturing stunning indoor photos of a basketball game at your local high school. So, just make sure you are shooting what your camera is capable of shooting. Instead of pushing your camera beyond its limitations and then making excuses for having underexposed, motion-blurred, high-noise photos, shoot in a daylight situation from sunrise to sunset and capture stunning photos.

12. Format Your Memory Cards Before Leaving Home

Have you ever gone out to a location to shoot photos, seen something truly beautiful, amazing, and rare, only to find your memory card is full? By the time you reformat the memory card the moment is long gone. Instead of waiting until that moment is gone, try formatting all your memory cards at home before you even head out the door.

13. Create Backups of Your Photography

I was talking with one of the computer gurus at Geek Squad in a Best Buy store one day when a frantic woman brought in a computer tower. The computer wouldn’t power on anymore and she had over 1,000 wedding photos she still needed to edit and deliver to a client. Sadly, her hard drive was toast. She broke down in tears as the computer guru told me this was in the top five issues he dealt with every day. Follow the simple, but proven, 3-2-1 method for backing up your photography: create three copies on at least two different mediums and keep one off-site in a safe deposit box.

14. Don’t Leave the Equipment Unattended

It’s a fact: people will steal a camera in a heartbeat if given a chance. Especially if you carry the equipment in a bag plastered with Nikon or Canon logos. If you are having lunch, don’t leave the bag in the car. If you need to use the restroom, the bag goes into the stall with you no matter how cramped it may become. Here is a simple tip: when you buy a good camera bag, remove the logo immediately. A simple black bag is far less appealing than one with the bright yellow NIKON logo in at least two locations.

15. Stop Using Auto Mode

Using Auto Mode is like training wheels for bicycles: they are meant to teach you how to do it on your own, but eventually it has to go away. Once you have learned how to properly use your shiny new Christmas gift, it is time to switch to a Manual Mode. You will get much better results, you will be happier with your photos, and you will be less angry at the $1,000 paper weight you threaten to throw at your husband because you feel it can’t do anything right.

16. Learn Photography

Take a class, attend a seminar, join a photography club, get together with fellow photographer friends, ask to be an intern. The options are limitless, but if you want to take great photos then you need to actually learn photography. You need to know what the Rule of Thirds is (and when to break it), proper composition, exposure, how to create off-camera flash, white balance, how to determine the necessary shutter speed for different subjects, and so much more. However you decide to learn, just dedicate at least a month this year to learning the craft. Then the next eleven months will be so much more fun.

17. Wallet, Keys, Camera

It doesn’t matter if you are going to work, school, the grocery store, church, your parents’ house, or a court appearance, there are just two things you are required to have: a wallet or purse and your keys. With at least a wallet or purse you will have your driver’s license and debit card. With your keys you will be able to start the car and get back inside your house. But now you need to add a third item to that list: your camera. Stop having those “I wish I had my camera” moments and actually take the camera with you. Be sure to observe #14 above, but make sure you take it with you.

18. Pick a Concentration

Photography is the same as a college degree: you start out taking general courses, but then you begin to focus your studies into a certain concentration in order to become an expert in that field. It’s OK to start out shooting everything from portraits to sports, landscapes to architecture, weddings to travel photography. But without a focus, you will find your time, skills, and mind stretched too far. It is better to do one thing well than three things poorly, so pick a concentration. No later than June you should have a great idea of what excites you the most and then focus on that one area.

19. Get Some Feedback

We can never give ourselves feedback. Even if we step away from a photo for a month and then return, we are still biased in some way. Turn to friends and family (though still biased), an online forum or discussion group, Flickr Groups, or enlist the services of a professional critiquing site to get feedback on your photos. You can never fix a problem until you know what is wrong, so if you want your photography to improve you need to know what it is lacking.

20. Balance Your Time

If you spend all your free time shooting photos, how will you ever edit them? If you spend all your time editing photos, how will you look for more inspiration? A good balance for your time in photography goes like this: 1/3 shooting photos, 1/3 editing those photos, 1/3 reviewing other’s photos. The total amount of time you spend depends on your career, study habits, family life, and dedication. But whatever that total amount, try to divide it in even thirds. Spend one-third of your time at parks, portrait shoots, weddings, sporting events, or long walks shooting the photos. Then plan to spend at least that much time again at the computer editing those photos. Finally, review photos from other photographers to see how your photography measures up.

21. Stop the Car More Often

My grandmother despises road trips with me. If I see an interesting lighting situation, a majestic view, a quaint roadside diner, I stop to shoot photos. I can spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour shooting at something I spotted while driving down the road. These are sometimes my best photos. Don’t be afraid to stop the car or make a u-turn to go back for something you saw. You’ll never sell a photo that you didn’t take.

22. Take Less Bad Photos

If you are out at night and you don’t have a tripod, why even bother to take a photo you know will turn out either underexposed or blurry from camera shake? Shutters do have lifespans and although they number in the hundreds of thousands it is entirely possible you will reach that number in just a few years if you continue shooting bad photos. Take a look at your composition, the lighting, the situation, and ask yourself if it is possible to get a great photo before you even shoot. Nothing will depress a person more than spending an hour shooting 200 photos only to find you don’t have a single decent photo in the lot.

23. Include More People

Although a stunning sunrise under a fishing pier with calm waters is a great photo, a stunning sunrise under a fishing pier with calm waters and a man surf fishing in the distance is even better. Earth looks better with people, so your photos will, too. Learn the ways in which people can make your photos better, how they can make them worse, and how to use that to your advantage. Every once in awhile, don’t be afraid to jump in your own photo, too.

24. Let People Know You Exist

If you want to make a career of photography you must let people know you exist. Creating a website, Facebook Page, Google+ Account, and a Twitter feed is not good enough. Even if you have 800 fans on your Facebook Page and 300 followers on Twitter that is barely a drop in the bucket of humanity. You need to let people know you exist through email marketing, postcards, mailing out 8″x10″ photo prints, and social marketing. If you sit back and wait for clients to find you, you may be waiting a while.

25. Have Fun!

So many people get frustrated with photography. The list of complaints is endless: photos are crappy, equipment is old and sub-par, business is dying, can’t sell photos to save my life, never enough time, always behind schedule, spending more than I’m making. Photography is a tough hobby to keep and an even tougher career to make. But it does you no good to become so depressed and distraught that photography begins to look like a trip to the dentist’s office. Sure, it may be good for you, but a shutter click should never sound like a drill. Take a break, learn something new, enjoy a different hobby for awhile, take a vacation without the camera, do anything you must so you can bring the fun back into photography.

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