With a new year comes limitless—often unrealistic—optimism. “This is my year! I’ll go to the gym every day! I’ll learn a new language by March! I’ll…” And so it goes. Not that setting goals is a bad thing, but making sure aspirations are grounded in reality and goals are kept manageable, will reduce the risk of burnout and make more room for creativity.
At the end of December, Beth Young posted about a trip she had taken to Mexico. The photos, as always, were stunning. She specializes in uplifting, therapeutic images of nature, and the pictures she released were right in her wheelhouse: harmonious colors, soft lines and light, and beautiful tones throughout. The thing that stood out to me the most, however, was her caption. She announced that her goal for the new year was to allow herself to experiment, and release images that pushed the boundaries of her art rather than worry about always creating grandscapes.
In Beth’s words, “My day job is unpredictable, and I often find myself working 50-60 hours a week. Photography is an escape and a creative outlet. The last thing I want to do is stress myself out, when it’s meant to recharge my batteries.”
When Beth first embraced social media, she said there was a feeling of pressure to release content that played to algorithms and engagement. That is a sentiment I’ve heard time and again from a lot of photographers. Instant gratification changes the way our society consumes photographs, and many of us feel pressure to produce content quickly, to produce content that will catch people’s eye, and to garner likes. That goes hand in hand with the dark side of social media where, without even realizing it, people begin comparing themselves to others, or tying self-worth to likes. Thankfully, for Beth Young, that “algorithm pressure” phase has passed.
Now, she takes breaks from social media and shares her photos when the time is right for her. She is more interested in producing images that make people ask questions and slow down in a more mindful, thoughtful way. Developing connections with like-minded people is more satisfying than any algorithm. Beth said she’d be happy “if I find just one person out there who enjoys viewing my photo and taking the time to read my caption and about my experience making the image.” To that end, she doesn’t see other photographers as competition, since everyone has a unique way of seeing the world. She just enjoys being outdoors and part of a larger community.
By letting go of the desire to compete and the pressure to produce, Beth has freed herself to be creative. She can make art simply for the sake of art. So the question is, what does one do with that kind of freedom?
Beth knows she will be more successful by keeping her photography plans manageable and realistic. She is looking at her new year goals as a loose framework that can be scaled up and down as needed.
She is currently gravitating toward projects that can be done anywhere, like using abstracts or in-camera effects to create her signature soothing, nature images. Her photographic journey in 2022 is more about the experience than the results. The benefits to that are two-fold. First, it will allow her to explore “off the beaten path” locations and find areas that aren’t shot to death. Some days that might look like a weekend trip to a new spot, and other days, it might be a trip to the backyard between work hours.
That freeing mindset will also encourage her to experiment. For example, her trip in late December wasn’t a photography vacation. She and her husband had no expectations going into the trip, especially since they weren’t going to an iconic landscape photography location. As she so succinctly put it, “that made it a lot more fun to experiment and play to create images that conveyed a sense of place, but not in a literal way.”
Another goal Beth mentioned was forgoing her tripod. From day one, most landscape photographers are taught they *must* use a tripod in order to create good images. However, this often limits us, tying us to certain types of scenes. Beth has found that when she is not tethered in place, she is more likely to observe small scenes, and play with things like aperture or shutter speed to convey a mood. Even scenarios where we would typically use a tripod, among other gear, can work if one is willing to leverage their experience.
On Beth’s first day in Mexico, she and her husband went to the beach to watch the sunrise. Instead, they found a billowing thundercloud on the horizon. As she described it, “I had only brought a minimal kit of one lens and a Gorillapod, so I found a flat location on the rocks and set up my camera using this old pier as a foreground element, continuously taking long exposures in the hopes of capturing some lightning. I missed many dramatic lightning bolts between takes and when fumbling with my settings, but managed to get one small bolt as the electrical storm began to die down and as the rising sun cast subtle crepuscular rays in the sky.” By being flexible, and working with the constraints of the gear she carried, Beth still managed to walk away with a satisfying image.
Beth said, “my goals for photography are a direct result of being overworked in 2021, and wanting to ensure that my photography is still compatible with my life circumstances right now.” By being mindful of her own time constraints and limitations, she has created scalable and realistic goals that set her up for a successful year of photography. They can be accomplished whenever and wherever she finds herself. More importantly, her small goals encourage her to be creative and enjoy her art, rather than view it as an obligation. That’s a key component to keeping most resolutions—sticking with a goal is much easier when you love what you’re doing.
So…what are your photographic goals for this year?