As yet another new year beckons (entirely too quickly for my liking; I still vividly remember 1986!) we may be reflecting on the photography we have made this year but also on what we aspire to in the coming year. I’m sure most of us want to improve our skills and produce better images. Perhaps some of us simply want a newer camera and more pixels. Maybe those of you who do it for a living want more clients and more success for your business. Perhaps the hobbyists among us are wondering if we need to specialise in a particular genre. Is our poison landscapes, architecture, wildlife or street? Or perhaps we want to leave the camera on the shelf and spend more quality time with our families.
Whatever your goals are, I think it’s important to be free and to be open. Many people are sensitive to the opinions of others, and of course we want people to see and like our images. The critique of our peers and mentors can be invaluable. But isn’t it important to please yourself first and foremost? If you’re not enjoying your work or hobby or feel intimidated by the words of others, then won’t that come across in your images? Becoming a slave to a chorus of unseen voices, especially the negative ones, will make you as bitter and as miserable as they are. I’m sure you don’t want to be remembered that way. Rather than take the bait from vitriolic internet strangers remember that you’re not shooting for them; you’re shooting for yourself, to feed and furnish your own soul. Of course strive to improve; that goes without saying. But be secure in your work and free from the aspersions cast by others. Then you can focus your energies on developing a style and vision that you’re happy to share with the rest of the world.
Take it from someone who gets mocked and verbally assailed all the time (not necessarily on PL). My style is adrift in an undefinable wilderness and my vision is wherever my mood takes it. I’m not trying to impress anyone and I’m not trying to make a living. Some people may like my work, lots of people won’t. To use the words of that indisputably elegant and seasoned statesman Donald Trump: I. Don’t. Care. Like them or loathe them I create images that make me happy and share them with the world because I think everyone is entitled to see what I have seen. I don’t have a monopoly on any subject I shoot. My processing decisions or compositional choices aren’t influenced by anyone’s opinions, only by what I learn or am inspired by (often from articles on PL). I consider myself free from those shackles. I wish that freedom for everyone else too.
We are often told or read that in order to be established in photography we need to specialise in a particular subject. That the most prominent photographers are the ones who are known as ‘the wildlife shooter’ or the ‘landscape shooter’ or the ‘portrait shooter.’ And within each genre one must have a unique style that rises above the mediocre masses and their deafening cacophony of clicking shutters.
That may be true. I mean I’m told all the time words to the effect of ‘Alpha Whiskey, you’re a poor jack of all and master of none. You should try to specialise in at least one thing. People might then take you more seriously.’ Sure, maybe they would. But I get bored easily. I might be in the mood for shooting seals on the coast one day and then architecture the next, and then perhaps my lunch the next. I’m interested in lots of things (portraiture, mm…not so much). There’s no rule committing us to just one subject or style. Photography for me is about creating a worthwhile image regardless of the subject. It’s merely a small window on the world I inhabit. And that world is truly awesome.
Now, obviously professional photographers often stick to one particular subject and excel at it, and they will happily shoot other things in their free time. They love their work and don’t feel confined by it. They shoot for their clients and need them to be impressed. More power to them. And most people have a preference for shooting one or more subjects over others.
But it’s also important not to be tethered to any one subject and have the willingness to explore others. Learning to see in one field will undoubtedly enhance your awareness in another. Leading lines in architecture may improve your composition in landscapes. Learning to track sports players might improve your hit rate with fast moving wildlife. Be open to possibilities and become familiar with the unfamiliar. Soon you will learn how to make the familiar seem deliberately unfamiliar and that leads to a stronger image.
A new year will mean new gear, which I’m sure will enable you to take pictures that you couldn’t with this year’s products, as surely as my tongue is pressed firmly in my cheek. I won’t repeat the cliche that gear doesn’t matter – oops, I just did – but if you’re goal is to be a better photographer, consider studying the art rather than the technology. As Verm suggested in his recent piece on books to read, worry less about EXIF data and more about emotion. Technology won’t give you a better eye. Only you can develop that by practising your craft.
Maybe in the coming year you can print more, gift more and help others with their photography. Rather than challenging or competing with strangers, strengthen your friendships and give more of your time to people you value. Maybe you’ll try the old ‘365 project’ to flex your creative muscles, or take more trips to explore new places away from the office. And if you’re still stuck at the office, Macgyver something out of paperclips and duck tape and photograph that.
As you enter a new year, which will undoubtedly fly past as quickly as this one, worry less about the things that don’t matter and more about the things that can improve the quality of your life and your photography. Your capacity for happiness is not something that can be filled or compensated for by material things. Life is too short for that. Don’t spend all your time sat at a computer passing comment and opinion; go out and shoot. Whatever the weather, whatever your mood, take your camera out for a click or two. Or twenty. Take the kids with you if necessary, but go out and shoot. I believe in you. So does Nasim and all the other contributors on PL. That’s why they’re here.
Whatever your aspirations, I hope you all had a holly jolly Christmas and I wish you a happy snappy New Year and the very best success in all your photographic endeavours.