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.
very encouraging, thank you
I throughly enjoyed your musings about photography, and your own images (which I enjoyed a lot), and what you write is so very true: It really isn’t up to others to steer one’s path through life, it is you own, and your partner, if you have one. Sore apples on the net are of no importance, as they will always be there, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting victim.
Hone your art, and be happy with the improvements, and enjoy your shots. Raise the stakes, try new paths, and find new worlds!
I got back into photography, when I got my first digital camera, some ten years ago, and now I have passed through a lot of lenses and cameras, and know a lot more than I did then. I probably could handle a studio shoot now, but that’s not the point. It is that I have found a world I wasn’t aware of before, and it is constantly expanding into an unknown universe.
Like all art, it is a mix of technical details, and a dedication to work towards a goal, say the perfect portrait, the best raptor shot, or the best possible shot of your kid/cat/dog/car, whatever your interests are.
Hope you’ll have many years to hone your craft!
Thank you Tord!
Wishing you continued excitement in your photography and best wishes for the New Year! :)
Lately my camera has been collecting more dust then shutter clicks. I’ve been finding all sort of reasons for not going out there and start shouting again. After reading your article (and of course viewing your beautiful images), something struck with me personally in the last part of your article; “Life is too short, go out and shoot a click or two, but get out and shoot”.
Thank You Sharif for these words of wisdom and encouragement.
You’re welcome John! Hope you get to do some more photography in the coming year :)
Best wishes for the New Year :)
A long time ago, I reached the conclusion that I wasn’t capable of learning how to become a reasonably proficient photographer. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t improve. Every book and magazine contained images that were far better than anything I could achieve.
It always puzzled me when people asked me to be their photographer for a special occasion or for other types of important work. I’d explain that they need the services of a professional photographer because I’ll make loads of mistakes. They wouldn’t listen, they implored me to be their photographer because they wanted images that looked refreshingly different from the stereotypically posed shots that the professionals were all producing at that time. I’d ask them what they wanted me to produce; their answer was always the same: We don’t know, that’s why we’re asking you to be the photographer!
That was when I learnt an essential lesson: photography and art is not about having the skills to please most of the people most of the time; it is about properly understanding our intended audience, and keeping this firmly in mind before each and every press on the shutter button.
I would expect the vast majority of people in the world to dislike and to criticise my images, just as I would probably dislike (but not criticise) their tastes in music, art, food and drink, comedy, and home decor.
I’ve spent nearly all of my life constantly trying to improve at being a “people-pleaser”. Sharif has thoughtfully reminded some of us that, on our growing list of people to please, our own name has never been on that list.
Many thanks, Sharif, for sharing your thoughts and images. Very best wishes for 2016,
Thank you Pete for your customary words of wisdom. You echo my sentiments exactly.
Best wishes for the New Year :)
Sharif, thank you so much for your timely article. You touched on a particular point, that of what we photograph and how to classify ourselves, this has been bothering me for a while now. I have been looking to build a web site for myself but have always been put off because it seems you need to compartmentalise yourself to be say a wedding photographer or specialise in landscapes etc, but like you, my interests are wide and varied and I don’t seem to fit the mould. Your article has given me confidence and understanding that I am not the only one in this situation and that’s all right.
Do have a happy Hogmany and I’ll look forward to reading more from your pen in the New Year.
Yes, it certainly is all right not to fit any particular mould and I’m sure we’re not the only ones! We weren’t born fitting any photographic mould; some photographers merely choose to excel in a particular genre. But if you have varied interests like myself and enjoy them then more power and success to you! I wish you every success with the impending website. Don’t be put off or let your confidence be dampened. Your vision and style will be unique. :)
A Happy Hogmany to you too and best wishes for the New Year! :)
I really like your photos very much. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you :)
I really enjoyed your article. Congratulations. I believe that diverses experiences contribute greatly to personal development. Be yourself, no matter what they say … (Sting). Happy New Year.
Thank you Andre! I agree with you. Best wishes for the New Year :)
Terrific article, great photos & spot on. Blessings for the new year.
Thank you Anna! Same to you :)
Truly inspiring, thank you. 2016 for me will be the year that I show a little bit more love and respect to my camera and myself by taking it with me more often. I want to be more spontaneous. Your article really resonated with me, thank you.
Thank you Matt. I’m glad it had the desired effect. Best wishes for the New Year :)
This article is much more than an article about photography. This is an article about life. A wise philosophy for living to one’s potential.
What a great article!!!!
Thank you Lewsh! Best wishes for the New Year :)
Best Wishes in return for you and your family. Keep the articles coming please.