5 Steps to Improve Your Photography in the New Year

At the end of the year, we look forward to a new start. We’d like to let go of unproductive habits and work at becoming a better photographer. The problem is that our New Year’s resolutions tend to be vague. For example, “Get better at landscape photography”, “Become a Photoshop expert”, or “Earn (more) money with a photography business.” On top of that, we don’t really put any effort in planning how to accomplish our goals.

One way to solve this problem is by starting a daily habit. Each day, for instance, you could take a landscape photo or learn something new about Photoshop. This is not a bad approach, but in this post we’ll look at how projects can help you achieve your goals. The advantages of working on projects is that they have a clear structure and deadline, they have an end result, and, ideally, you will learn a lot in the process.

The following five steps will help you think of areas you’d like to improve, create a specific project for each area, and plan to get started in the new year. Going through these steps will be useful whether you are a professional or an amateur, an experienced photographer or a beginner.

1. Think: Reflect on the past and the future

Before you set your goals, it’s good to first figure out where you are. You can do this by looking back on your past year in photography and by making a list of your highs and lows. Browse through the photos you’ve shot in the past year. These are some questions you could consider:

  • Which photos are you proud of?
  • Which photos need improvement and how?
  • Which photos were a disaster?
  • What are the commonalities between these groups?
  • Did you pick up any new photography techniques and skills?
  • Did you experiment with a different genre of photography (portrait, landscape, macro, etc.)?
  • How did these experiments go?

If you have a photography business, you can make a similar list of the services you offer. For example, which of your business activities or clients give you the most revenue and which ones the least?

Looking at the list of highs and lows from the past year, you should be able to tell which areas of photography you’re good at, which areas need improvement, and if there’s maybe something you should stop doing.

From there you can start thinking about the future. Add to the list any photography skill, technique or genre you’d like to learn, or any new service you’d like to offer in your business. Write down as many as you can. If you need inspiration for your list, you can look at the work of other photographers, or browse through these lists of photography and business ideas.

Digital Camera World — 52 photography projects: a photo idea to try every week of the year
Student Art Guide — 100+ Creative Photography Ideas
Photography Monthly — Photography Projects: 21 great ideas for creative photos
My Top Business Ideas — Top 20 Small Business Opportunities for Photographers
Improve Photography — 14 Ways to Make More Money as a Photographer

Caleb Roenigk — Writing? Yeah.
writing a list

2. Focus: Narrow your areas of interest

If you want to be effective in improving your photography, you’ll have to focus your attention. It would be nice to be able to work on all the things on your list at once, but chances are you won’t make any progress this way. Instead, you should try to pick three to five areas from the list you want to focus on in the new year.

At this point, it’s useful to know what motivates you. If you’re driven by money, pick areas that you think are profitable. If you get bored quickly, try to pick areas that are exciting and challenging to you. You will have a higher chance of success if you work on things you want to do, instead of things you think you should do.

If you have a hard time narrowing down your options, pick one area that builds on your existing skills, one area that you need to improve on, and one area that is out of your comfort zone.

Kate Ter Haar — Examining Clouds
Magnifying clouds with a magnifying glass

3. Plan: Decide on concrete projects

Now that you’ve picked the areas of photography you’d like to work on in the new year, it’s time to translate them into specific projects. A good project will have a specific end result and a clear plan of action to achieve that result. So at the beginning of your project, you should know what you’re going to do. And at the end of the project, you should know whether you succeeded or not.

Think of one project for each area you picked in step 2. How could you best master this technique, skill, or genre? How could you prove to yourself that you’ve learned something new? Envision an end result you can be proud of, something to add to your portfolio and show to your friends and family.

It’s okay to be ambitious.

Also, when choosing your project, make sure that if it fails, you’ll still end up better off. For example, if you decide to work with a new technology in your project, you can learn a new skill even if the end result isn’t as good as you wanted. If you work with new people on a business idea, you’ll have expanded your network, even if the idea fails.

Joe Hunt — The Lost Explorer
girl studying map

4. Schedule: Make a Schedule for the next 6 months

Scheduling is crucial to the success of your projects. If your projects don’t have a clear deadline, you may never finish them at all. A schedule is a good way to break up your project in specific subgoals and to keep yourself on track.

Make a weekly schedule for your projects. For the months January to June, write down which project activities you will accomplish each week.

This could be a simple schedule for a landscape photography project:

  • weeks 1 and 2: research landscape locations
  • week 3: study weather conditions and lighting for shoot
  • week 4: travel and shoot on location
  • week 5: select 20 photos to edit
  • week 6: post-process 10 photos
  • week 7: post-process 10 photos
  • week 8: publish photos on website and promote on social media

(A schedule is of course not set in stone and you may need to be flexible when faced with unforeseen events and setbacks. Be sure to update your schedule in these situations without abandoning the schedule or project entirely.)

Dafne Cholet — Calendar*

5. Create: Block out creative time during the week

At this point you should have an overall plan of action and schedule for your projects. All you need now are concrete times to work on your photography projects during the week. If you can, it’s better to work on the same days each week and spend 2-3 hour blocks of time working on your projects. Photography is a creative activity that gets better when you can concentrate on it for longer periods of time. As a maker, you need to manage your time in a way that supports your creativity.

All this planning might seem like a pain at first, but creating beautiful photos and learning as a photographer will be worth the extra effort. We’re looking forward to seeing your awesome projects. Happy New Year!

Kurtis Garbutt — Do Not Disturb
do not disturb sign