Setting realistic photography goals

Awards–These medals were awarded to folks who were prisoners of war at a special ceremony at the Mission Inn. I documented the unveiling of the Prisoner of War Memorial for the Riverside National Cemetery. The event was solemn yet bittersweet for those in attendance.

Eventually everyone gets there. That point where if you see a scene before you, you can confidently expect that you have the picture in hand, when you trip your shutter.

Even better than that, if you can visualize exactly how your “captured image” will look. By that I mean, you’ve got control over exactly what is in focus and sharp and what is blurred out.

For the more advanced folks wanting even more “control,” they add their own lights into the scene to control  the “mood” either through highlight and shadow, or saturation of colors. It just requires lots and lots of practice.

Once there, you might think about some goals for yourself.

Before you set unrealistically high standards and goals for yourself you have to realize:

There’s plenty of accolades out, no need for jealousy

There’s no need to be jealous of what other photographers have “achieved.” This is especially true if you have peers who are either folks who bought their digital SLR the same time as you or were in the same photography class.

Winning awards and contests is nice, but in the end you take pictures for your own enjoyment. The Photographer-of-the-year award is all relative to how many people and who entered the contest.

Contests and awards get you out there using your camera and there is no better way to improve than to be out there shooting.

If you’re trying to become established as a local artist, winning a contest can help get your name out there.

If you’re a photographer at a small newspaper, winning a contest can be your ticket to a bigger newspaper. But we won’t go there since newspaper photographers are becoming an endangered species.

You can’t possibly shoot every type of photography

Photography is expensive, even now, that it’s in the digital realm.

Everyone dreams about going on an African safari to photograph animals in the plains of the Serengeti. What? It’s true. I do.

If you won a free ticket to fly there and back, expect to take out a small loan to be able to take full advantage of the free ticket.

If you’re going to be heading all the way there, you have to know traveling with your gear requires a lot of planning. Expect also that you’ll need to rent some long, long lenses.

As a newspaper photographer I didn’t get much of an opportunity to shoot glamor or fashion even though I have an interest in it. Now that I’m on my own, I try to get out of my comfort zone to learn.

Interestingly, I found a post on a Reddit forum where my efforts were critiqued. I did concede when I wrote the post at Rising Black Star that I was stepping out of my comfort zone.

(Scroll down the page and look for a post by zhx where he writes and “this guy thinks he’s competent enough to teach technique to beginning photographers? Unbelievable.

When you have a blog, you open yourself to lots of criticism and you learn to take your “lumps.” The trick is not to let the negativism get to you.

You can’t excel at everything

It’s human to want to be the “ace” who can do all kinds of photography.

We all know Annie Leibovitz can photograph people especially celebrities well, but she knows her niche. That’s why there are folks who specialize in food and product photography.

Newspaper photographers are expected to be generalists.

I’m biased of course, but I think newspaper photographers don’t receive enough credit for their hard work. Their art is expected to carry the page and draw readers into reading a ho-hum story day-in and day-out.

Match the type of photography with your personality

If you’re the shy type, photography can bring you out of your shell.

I know of many photographers who behave very differently when they don’t have a camera in their hands.

Had your fill with people? Maybe landscapes are for you.

Keep an open mind.

The thing to remember is not to make broad statements. Statements like “landscapes are easy, you just have to show up” will not win you friends.

I’ve said it before. Even if Ansel Adams provided the exact GPS coordinates of every picture he took, time and place and all the EXIF information, I don’t expect anyone to be able to re-create his works of art.

It takes more than being there, unlike the mantra photojournalists subscribe to, “f8 and be there.”

Landscapes require tons and tons of patience. The photographer is seldom able to light the entire scene, so they have to keep going back when the light is right.

Set some realistic goals, but don’t let them limit you unless you are independently wealthy and have all the time in the world.

On behalf of those of us who have to make a living, let me wish you all a Happy New Year.

May all your captures be fruitful and do share them, if not here with me, with friends and family!

10 thoughts on “Setting realistic photography goals”

  1. Hello JK,
    Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving your comment. My thinking about all this knowledge is that I can’t take it with me when I’m gone.

    Unlike my property and wealth which I acquire now, I can leave that behind for my family and loved ones. My knowhow? My kids might not even be interested in photography, so I might as well share it on my blog.

  2. It’s all about sharing – and I admire those who share their skills, knowledge and experience on their Blogs. Those who are jealous, obviously do not know the value of sharing.

  3. Jessica,
    You’ll need your flash off-camera inside a light modifying device like a softbox. To get the camera off-camera and still give you ease-of-control, buy one of these cords from flashzebra.

    I don’t recall what flash you have but here’s a link. Find the appropriate one for your flash.

    These cords will “fool” the camera into thinking as if the flash is still on the hotshoe and so you can just dial in the amount of light you want.

    A white shoot-through umbrella might work as well. If I can find someone who makes jewelry, I might give this a try and share the technique here. Thanks again for commenting Jessica.

  4. Furry works if your model is George Clooney. Not so much if you are trying to sell feminine necklaces.

    Flash off-camera. Okay — I’ll give it a go. Thanks!

  5. Jessica,
    If you’re having issues with depth-of-field and your jewelry, I think you might have better luck if you use a flash off-camera in some sort of a softbox.

    Funny you should say that about furry models. Better that you brought it up than me. Whenever I mention such blemishes, I sometimes get looks from women students who think I shouldn’t be pinpointing those kinds of faults. Heck I know how certain things photograph especially at macro levels.

  6. Nudes are accurate, I think! And there are tasteful, sensual nudes that aren’t offensive to a lot of women.

    I go hunting for scenes, but have the best success with places I know well. The right time of day is important.

    Ohhhh, photos of jewelry on people! That’s kind of harder for me, because you need a person who is not furry, freckled, or otherwise blemished so that the viewer isn’t thinking about fur instead of about shiny metal they must buy! I’m mostly having depth of field issues, and that’s really because I need to just sit and work it out. Haven’t been in the mind set, lately.

  7. Jessica,
    I don’t have the patience and more realistically, I seldom have the kind of time needed to dedicate to landscapes.

    So, when and if I ever do landscapes, I’m usually zooming by on the way somewhere, so having a camera with me at all times is my “style” or “mo”

    Small shiny objects are difficult too because you have to be right on top of them with the lens. That leaves very little room to manipulate lights.

    It’s not enough to just get a “mug” of the jewelry, you probably want to photograph them in context. If it’s earrings, they might look better on a person’s ear but also to give viewer’s a sense of scale—how big they really are instead of just a description of 2 inches by 1 inch etc. I’m sure you know all about this since you’ve been doing this work awhile.

    But if they’re bound for a catalog, then you need a “mug” of the piece.

    People who can cross the genre boundaries are really folks to be admired because they are not afraid to get out of their comfort zone and as a result grow… I’m trying my hand in various genres as well. You know the genre every red blooded guy likes? Nudes? I’m only kidding.

    The ongoing joke I have with my photographer friends is this: “Sure, I might be able to shoot and get away with it, but exactly where will I edit the pictures without incurring the wrath of my wife?” I’m only kidding honey! 🙂

  8. Jo,
    I appreciate the support. I debated whether to mention the remark from the Reddit forum, but in the end I felt it was too important not to include.

    Even if zhx didn’t cut me any slack when I said I haven’t done much glamor photography, I truly believe everyone should have an opinion when it comes to art/photography, so I”m actually okay with what he said.

    “Water on a duck’s back…”

    Now had he said the same thing about my body of work from my newspaper days, I might be a little offended. 😉

  9. Landscapes aren’t easy! It’s taken me forever to figure out how to get a few decent shots of mountains I’ve been in every year for my entire life. I really admire people who can cross the genre boundaries. As you know, small shiny objects are currently the bane of my photographic existence.

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