A new year is upon us. Time to reflect on the past twelve months and plan all the ways we’ll fail to change in 2018. Yes, it’s time for New Year’s Resolutions; those foolishly optimistic, self-imposed disciplinary actions that inevitably prove our willpower to have all the resilience of a graham cracker. So this year, skip the usual pledge to exercise more and drink less, and instead focus on your photography.
Here are five suggestions for New Year’s resolutions that could help you become a better photographer, or at least help you wring a little more fun out of the hobby. All without giving up red meat!
Shoot (more) film
If you’re a digital shooter who’s never tried film, this is a no-brainer. Buy an inexpensive film camera, load up some film and get shooting. It’s easy, nowhere near as expensive as people say, and will instantly change the way you experience photography. Film slows down the process, makes us think, and requires basically no editing post-snap. Fuji Superia is a great film to start with (it’s inexpensive and predictable), and if you’re ready to try something with a bit more personality, give Kodak’s Ektar and Portra a shot. They’re amazing. And if you’re feeling ambitious (and why shouldn’t you be, it’s a new year) shoot some black-and-white film and dive into developing at home.
If you’re an experienced film photographer this resolution still offers incentive; resolve to shoot more and different film this year. Buy some film you’ve never used before, something a bit more exotic like Bergger Pancro or JCH400, and see what happens.
Get out of your photographic comfort zone
In photography (as in life) it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. Take a look back at all the photos you’ve taken in 2017. If you’re seeing nothing but photos of your cat, the same old city streets, or your morning coffee, you’re in a rut. Even if you’ve done well to take varied photographs, you may still be resting comfortably in your habits. 2018 is the year to break out.
Engage in photography that makes you uncomfortable or stretches your ability. If your skin crawls at the thought of street photography, of shooting total strangers, get out there and do it. If you hate waking up for golden hour, set your alarm clock and make it happen (at least once). Scared of bugs? Try macro shooting and conquer that fear. If you’ve never taken product photos or used an off-camera flash, read the basics and give it a shot.
Photography is a massive craft with incredible variety. One photographer’s hobby can be totally different from another’s. The only way to grow is to experience new things. So pick a new facet of photography and get going.
Shoot one lens for six months
Many photo geeks are like overstimulated Labradors, chasing lenses and cameras like they’re squirrels in the park. We spend all our energy ricocheting from tree to tree, and at the end of the day we’re left panting and exhausted and hungry. Stop chasing squirrels.
Pick a lens, stick it on your camera, and don’t swap it out for the next six months. If you want more specific advice, pick a prime lens with a focal length that you’re not totally familiar with (we’re trying to spice things up, after all). If you’ve mostly shot a standard 50mm, go with something wider. If you’ve only used a zoom lens, try a prime 45mm. Zoom with your feet, learn about manual aperture control and its effect on depth-of-field, and enjoy the freedom of unencumbered shooting.
Whatever lens you choose, stick with it. You’ll learn valuable lessons about photography and realize that your results aren’t so directly linked to the variety and capability of your gear. You’ll learn your gear’s limitations and how to overcome them through ingenuity and craft. At the end of six months, you’ll be a better photographer with any lens.
Try a different type of camera
The differences between camera types and their shooting methodology are vast. Swapping one type for another (especially if you’ve only ever used one style of camera) can be incredibly stimulating. The impact of this stimulation is often immediately apparent. By changing the tool with which we make images we often have to change the way we make images, which in turn changes the images we make.
If you’ve only ever used an SLR, try a rangefinder. If you’ve only ever used a rangefinder, try a point-and-shoot. Only shot 35mm? Go medium format. Or try a Polaroid, or a TLR, or a box camera; a camera from 1905 made to look like a pocket watch, a toy camera, a sub-miniature machine, a Holga… the options are quite literally limitless. Pick something fresh and interesting and experience a new kind of photography in the new year.
Get off social media
Instagram is neat, but it can be exhausting for amateur photographers. Spend enough time on IG and you’ll be convinced that everyone in the world is shooting half-dressed models with a Phase One on a yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s not true. Instagram is nothing but a marketing tool for “influencers” and brands, and the sooner you realize that as a hobbyist photographer the better off you’ll be.
It’s great to pop in on social media every now and then, get inspired, and move on. But if you find yourself spending more time online than you do shooting, maybe it’s time to disconnect for a bit. Try to spend less time scrolling through photography and gear feeds and more time shooting your own stuff. Ignore what everyone else is doing, embrace what you love about photography, and develop your own style.
So long, 2017, you’ve been pretty okay. And Happy New Year to all of you, from the CP crew.
Have some advice to share with your fellow photo friends? Let us hear your photographic New Year’s resolutions in the comments!
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Nice post James. I especially agree with the comment about social media. Before reading this I made a decision to back away and spend more time shooting and being creative. Also, I just purchase a Mamiya six V folding camera and am looking forward trying a different camera.