Right before Christmas, Scott Kelby and I did (what I thought at least) was one of our best episodes ever of The Grid (our weekly talk show). Seriously, if there was ever one show that I was a part of, that I really think helped people, it was this one. The topic? A Step-by-step Guide To Becoming A Better Photographer In 2013. I’ve embedded the show below (at the bottom of this post), so feel free to watch when you have an hour or so to sit at your computer. What I wanted to do here is talk a little about the first step – deciding what kind of photographer you want to be. For me personally, it was one of the most impactful moments in my photography career so far, and I think developing a plan can tremendously help your photography going forward.
2012 Was A Big Year For Me
See, 2012 was a BIG year in photography for me. Not because I took better photos or learned new techniques. I consider it a “BIG” year for me for another reason. 2012 was the first year I’ve really had clarity and purpose in my photography.
I tell the story in the episode of the Grid below, but I’ll give you the quick version. See, working at Kelby Media Group, I’m surrounded by many inspirational photographers throughout the year. You name it, from portrait, to landscape, macro, lighting, wedding, fashion, food, aviation, or even car photography. Because of my job in being the Director of Education there, I spend time with people that are at the absolute top in their field. In doing so, I think a very natural thing has happened to me over the years – I’ve tried to be everything. I’ve never really defined to myself what I want from photography. I’ve known that I’ve been better at some areas than others, but I’ve always felt that, with time and practice, I could get really good at any one of those areas if I decided to really put my mind to it. But up until this year, I hadn’t put my mind toward any one thing.
Well, at the beginning of 2012 I was giving this some thought. It wasn’t a new year’s resolution, and it wasn’t anything that I really sat down to think about. It just happened. I realized that I needed a mission statement. Sorry to go all 80-90’s marketing on you (ah… remember TQM? 🙂 ). I realize you don’t hear much about mission statements anymore. So call it what you want. Mission, goal, artist statement – who cares? If you’re stressing about that then you’re missing the point. For me though, I really felt I needed to focus more and, for lack of a better phrase, that’s what I’m calling it. I guess that, between work, travel, family, exercise and personal time, I thought that I would benefit from defining what it really is that I want from my photography, so I could focus my efforts.
My Mission Statement
As I thought about it (and I didn’t have to think long), my personal mission statement hit my like a ton of bricks and was actually very simple.
To take beautiful pictures of beautiful places.
Basically, it’s landscape and outdoor photography. Simple right? That’s it. I realized, for me, that’s what truly get’s me excited about photography. I’m the type that actually gets psyched when I’m going on a cool outdoors shoot. And I don’t care if those places have been photographed a million times before, or if I’m among very few people to ever step foot in a location. If it’s a cool-looking beautiful location, I want to take photos of it. And if you’re thinking the term “beautiful” is vague and probably in the eye of the beholder, you’re absolutely correct – it is. Remember, my mission/goal/whatever is for me, not you. In fact, you don’t even need to share it with anyone if you don’t want.
A Huge Weight Lifted
I have to tell you, this was the single best thing that happened to my photography since I picked up a camera. And it wasn’t just because of the benefits you get from focussing on one thing. It was because of the benefits I got from NOT focussing on other things. I’ve got a perfect example. I’m surrounded by lighting gurus and a studio full of lighting equipment. I’ve always felt guilty that I wasn’t taking advantage of it. I’d use it once in a while, but I never had that passion to get in the studio and set up lights. I probably have no less than 10 photography lighting and studio DVDs from every great photographer you can imagine. I have free access to online training from Kelby Training, to just about every type of photography topic you can think of. While part of my job is to help set up/review these classes, I’ve always felt guilty that I wasn’t watching them more thoroughly and putting them to use. But my new mission statement lifted that guilt I’ve had, and I just became happy with what I did like about photography and spent my time getting better at that.
What I Did With My New Mission Statement
As soon as I had this clarity and purpose in my photography, my shooting plans for the year became crystal clear. I began looking up every city I had to travel to, and figured out some way to try to take photos there. If I was going to San Francisco, I rented a car for the day and drove down to the Big Sur coast (3+ hours each way) to shoot.
(click to see it larger)
But it was having that clarity and purpose, that really let me focus on what I wanted from my photography and to figure out ways to get it.
A Few Closing Thoughts About Photography Mission Statements
Now, I know there’s some one reading this that’s saying that photography is art, and art doesn’t need to be defined, blah blah blah… That by defining my photography I’m missing out on growing, etc… (I write this because some one has already said this to me 😉 ). Hey, that’s totally fine. If that’s what works for you, then no need to listen to my advice. All I can do is tell you what worked for me.
Also, keep in mind that having a mission statement doesn’t mean it can’t change. Remember, you’re not creating a roadmap for a Fortune 500 business. You’re creating one for yourself. And the best part about it is that you can change yourself (and your mission) any day you want.
One more thing. Having a mission statement doesn’t mean that you can’t photograph anything that doesn’t fit into the mission. Trust me, if Moose Peterson invites me to another aviation photography workshop, I’m goin’! If some one offers me the chance to fly in a jet and take pictures of it, I’m there in a heartbeat (that’s always been a dream of mine). But if some one offers me, say, a chance to go shoot my favorite college football team – I’m probably going to politely turn it down and bring my family to the game to enjoy it instead.
What I’m saying is that the mission statement guides me, but it doesn’t control me.
I hope as this new year sets in, you consider doing something similar yourself. It’s not necessarily a resolution. So whether you do it today, next week or next month doesn’t matter. Just do it. Sit down one day, surf around 500px.com and look through some of their “Popular” photos and see what catches your eye. What kind of photographer do you want to be? Once you figure that out, then watch/re-watch our episode of The Grid for the 7-ish Steps to becoming a better photographer in 2013 (FYI…Step 1 is figuring out what you want to shoot).
Enjoy the video below and have a very happy, safe and photography-filled New Year!