Five Ways to Improve Your Photography in the New Year

Along with the new year comes an opportunity for a fresh start, the time of year when seemingly everyone looks at their life and what they can change. While it is certainly cliché to come up with goals for the new year, it is a great time to refocus your energy. By focusing on certain aspects of your photography, I believe that you can not only become a better photographer, but find better, bigger clients, grow your business, and follow your dreams. Check out the following simple facets of photography and how you can look at them differently, gain inspiration, and get after it in the new year.

Shoot More Than You Ever Have

I know you have heard it time and time again, but there is no hiding from the truth. You can take all the classes, seminars, or lessons you want; however, the only way to actually become a better photographer is to spend more time behind the lens. In today’s world of photography, the competition is fierce. If you want to get bigger clients or capture the most epic moments, you need to be completely dedicated to your craft. If you are a landscape photographer, you need to get up earlier, stay out later, and be completely ready when the conditions are right for a beautiful moment. If you are a portrait photographer, you need to continuously be looking for people to shoot with and plan time each week to experiment with new techniques, new lighting, and any other new equipment you can get your hands on. Nowadays, I always hear people talking about how valuable their time is. While I agree with not undervaluing or undercharging for your time, I think that photographers go way overboard with this idea. If you love photography and truly want to get better, I think it is important to shoot for the love of your craft. If you aren’t shooting with someone for the sole reason of them not being able to afford you or not being willing to pay, get over it. Shoot with them anyway, experiment with a new technique, trade time for prints, do whatever it takes to become a better photographer. While a few hundred dollars may seem like a big deal, in the long term, I can guarantee you that learning something new and becoming a better photographer will be much more valuable.

Edit/Retouch Again and Again

Technology is developing faster than you or I can stay up to date with. Editing programs are constantly being updated and new, better, and more efficient methods are constantly being created and discovered. I strongly urge you to spend time learning about what programs and methods can help you edit/retouch better and more efficiently. If you like the methods that you are currently using, take time to analyze your process and see if there are any changes you can make to make them more efficient. When you are working for yourself, time is money, and productivity is key. You do not want to sacrifice time for quality, but it is essential to make sure you are completing your work in as timely of a manner as possible. The less time you spend on editing, the more time you get to spend shooting, working with new people, and putting out new content. If you’re interested in finding new retouching techniques, Dani Diamond’s Complete Guide to Retouching for Free is a great place to start.

If you have found a new technique or method you that you like, don’t just start with your latest shoots. Go back to some of your favorite photos and re-edit them with your newfound technique. When I first learned frequency separation, I went back and edited photos from several of my favorite shoots with this new method. Not only did I love the results, but repeating the technique multiple times helped me become comfortable and memorize the process for future shoots.

Work With New People

Working with new people can come in many forms. The first thing that comes to mind is shooting with new models, and while I definitely think this is a good idea, don’t get stuck in it. If you can’t find new models to work with off the bat, don’t worry about it; focus on coming up with creative lighting, themes, or ideas for shoots. Make sure you don’t stop shooting because you can’t find someone new, but do continue your search. Other forms of working with new people come in the way of working with other photographers. I have said it before, but one of the best ways to learn and become a better photographer is to work as an assistant. Working with a photographer you have never worked with before can teach you new ways of looking at lighting, equipment, editing, and so on. Everyone sees things differently; just because you learn a technique from a photographer, it doesn’t mean you are stealing their style.

Another way to work with someone new is to find a coach, mentor, or business advisor. You could find an agent to work with, or maybe just another photographer to go out and shoot with. Like I said, if you want to get better, you need to get up earlier and stay out later. However, this doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. Some of my favorite, most unique shots have come from going out and shooting with other photographers. Find someone who will challenge and help push you, someone who will help you see things differently. Just because you are shooting together, it doesn’t mean you will have the exact same shots; honestly, I think in a lot of cases, it will actually push you to shoot differently.

Travel to New Locations

Why did you get into photography? While there are many reasons why we pursue careers as photographers, one of the main reasons we follow this dream is to travel. So, what’s stopping you? Get out there and do it! It really is that simple; while we often look at the reasons why we can’t get up and leave in a practical manner, there are so many photographers that make it happen. Yes, it can take sacrifices, it can take hard work and thinking out of the box, but if traveling is one of the reasons you got into photography, stop making excuses, throw out that negative attitude and make it happen!

I understand that there are things that hold us back from traveling: 9-5, family, or maybe money. However, if it is something that you truly want to do, don’t wait for the perfect time; it will never come. You need to get up and make it happen. If your job is holding you back, then take some time and think about if that job is really what you want in your life. If it is because of the money, research ways you can make money on the road. Maybe you can find a website or blog to contribute to, spend more time developing a way to sell or license your images, or find clients to work with on the road. Family can be tough, but if they truly support you and your dreams, you will find a way to make it work. I don’t have kids, and I can see how that could hold you back; I’m not saying to abandon your family, but I can guarantee you that there are photographers out there with kids who are traveling and making it work. Where there is a will, there is a way. If you try it out and it isn’t working, take a break, head home, and come up with a new plan. Take time to save money, plan out how you are going to survive, and think practically. If you truly want it, make it happen.

Refine Your Business

Not every photographer uses their craft to support themselves; some of you may only be part-time shooters. However, if you do support yourself with your photography business or are looking at taking the leap, I believe that it is essential to constantly spend time refining your pbusiness. There are thousands of books, classes, and seminars you can attend. You can hire a business coach, listen to podcasts, or find a mentor. You can write a business plan or revise your current plan. You can build a new website or restructure your old one. No one said owning your own business was going to be easy; if you thought you could give up your 9-5 and spend the time on your business, that’s great. You can do that; you can also spend about four more hours each day on it, and start working on the weekends.

Owning your own business takes time, dedication, and constant development. Nothing is ever finished; it is a constant work in progress. I highly recommend you spend time listening to podcasts. I recently wrote an article about some great podcasts for your photography business. If you’re just getting into business, The Art of The Start by Guy Kawasaki is a great place to start. I think photographers underestimate how important the business side of photography is. If you are looking to make a living off of photography, you have to have a plan that works; otherwise, you will be looking for a job before you get the chance to really start. There is information on the business of photography all over the internet; Sprouting Photographer is a great resource to begin with.

When I was in college, I worked at a gym; it was funny to see how many people purchased memberships, worked out for two weeks or a month, and gave up. Just like working out, if you want to be successful as a photographer, it takes hard work — not for two weeks, not for a month — all the time, every day, all year long. When you are planning goals, don’t plan things that are out of your reach. Think realistically and come up with ideas that are obtainable. Make lists, get a dry-erase board, hang it on your wall, and check off your accomplishments as you finish them. I know having new year goals is cliché and in all honesty, the most successful people have goals they work for and accomplish not just in January, but year-round. However, it is a new year and a great time to refocus your energy. Hopefully, this inspires you to get out there, shoot more, edit more, grow your business, refine your craft, and follow your dreams. With a little hard work and determination, I know you can do it!