If you take an honest look at your photography from last year, and you don’t feel like you really pushed yourself forward in your work, I have something that might really help you push and stretch yourself in 2020. It’s about going outside your comfort zone and doing things you maybe haven’t done before or perhaps even thought of doing. It’s about making the most of the year, so in 2021 you can look back and see real progress — something very real and tangible.
OK, ready to push yourself? Let’s do this:
Put One Of Your Prints Up For Sale
Just one. It’s a start. There are elaborate ways to sell your prints online, everything from SmugMug to Zenfolio, but of course, you can just do a simple Facebook post; show the image you’ve chosen to sell; list your price, and let buyers contact you in the comments. iI you don’t have your own printer, get MPIX or BayPhoto to do the printing and ship directly to your client for you. Remember — it’s not other photographers who will be buying your prints — it’s people who will be thinking, “That would look perfect in my dining room!” so stop judging your work as a photographer would see it. There are people out there who would love to have one of your prints hanging in their home.
PLAN B: If you don’t feel like you can sell one of your prints at this point, your backup plan is to make a large print (16×24″ or larger) and gift it to someone. When you experience their reaction, you’ll start to realize the value of a print.
Invest In Your Photography Instead of Investing In More Gear
Whatever camera gear you already own can take great photos. Your phone can take great photos, so surely your DSLR or Mirrorless can, so instead of buying more gear, invest in your photography. Instead of a new lens, buy an airline ticket to someplace you’ve always wanted to shoot. Maybe a landscape location somewhere out West, or a trip to Europe (I saw roundtrip flights from Florida to London in January for $364 on British Airways. Yes, it’s cold there in January, but you can make some amazing pictures in the English countryside; dress warm). If you want to take great fashion shots, fly up to New York and hire a real New York model (it costs less than you’d think), and a hair and make up artist (costs more than you’d think, but worth it). If you’re into food photography, hire a food stylist and make your food photography shot of the year.
Invest in yourself; invest in creating great images, instead of buying more stuff.
Enter one your images in a photography contest
Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to be one of the judges in photography competitions all over the world. I’m currently one of the judges for the Malta International Photo Awards (link), and I can tell you that in most cases, when you talk with the winner, they always say the same thing, “I never thought I would win.” If you’re thinking that same thing, you’re in good company.
Many contests are free to enter (including the Gallery Competition we hold for KelbyOne members), and some you might have to spend $20 or $30 to enter one of your images. This comes under that category of “Investing in yourself.” If you don’t win or don’t make one of the finalists, don’t worry — they don’t post a list of the people who didn’t win. They don’t call you out. The only person who will know you didn’t win is you, but on a personal level, it’s still a win because you did it. You entered. You put yourself out there. You went outside your comfort zone. And of course, there’s always the possibility that you will win. Hey, you never know.
Learn that Thing On Your Camera You’ve Always Wanted To Learn
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to shoot flash. I don’t mean just learning how to make it work wireless — I mean learning how to make beautiful portraits with flash. Or maybe you’ve wanted to learn to shoot in Manual mode. One I would recommend would be to learn how to set-up custom shooting modes on your camera, so you can stop messing with settings and start focusing on composition (it’s easier than you’d think; more powerful and fun than you’d imagine, and I’m doing a blog post to take you through exactly how to set it up, and unlock its power, shortly here on the blog). Maybe it’s how to use Exposure Compensation, or how to do Custom White Balance. Whatever that thing is that you’ve wanted to learn Camera-wise, don’t let another month go by not learning how to do it. This is probably the easiest one to do on this list, but it’s a substantial step forward.
Do Actual Real Honest-to-Goodness Practice
Not going out and shooting with a friend. Not just doing a photo walk. Not doing the same stuff you always do. None of those really push you forward. Shooting the things you’re already good at is fun, and photography is supposed to be fun, but it doesn’t make you better. It’s just fun. If you actually want to get better, you have to do what musicians do, and what golfers do, and what painter’s do. Real practice. Pick something that you want to get really good at, and do it again and again and again, until you’ve nailed it. I remember a quote from top pro photographer and educator Joel Grimes. At one of his workshops, a student in his class came up and showed Joel a composite he had created from what he learned in the workshop. Joel told him (I’m paraphrasing here), “I am impressed — that looks great. Nice job! Now go do that 300 more times.” Such great advice.
The thing about doing real, honest-to-goodness practice is that when you do go out shooting with a friend, and you’re out there just for fun, the experience is actually more fun because your results are so much better. Instead of getting 8 “keepers’ from your shoot, now you’re getting 30. Practice isn’t just for dancers or musicians or athletes. This, alone has the power to transform your work in the coming year.
The Rest is Up To You
The ball’s in your court. You can end 2020 where you ended 2019, or you can be in a totally different place with your photography; doing things you never thought you could do; making images you never thought you could create; selling your work, and growing in your love of the craft.
I wish you great success in 2020, and I hope these ideas gave you a few jumping-off points to help make this coming year your most successful one.