Before thinking about what new photography projects and habits you can start in the next year, it can be useful to consider breaking a few habits that are holding you back instead. Perfecting your craft is just as much a process of elimination as addition. Just like you can only get fit by both going to the gym and not eating junk food, you can only improve your photography by both learning new habits and letting go of bad ones. In this way, you make space for more positive practices to take over. Which specific habits you should stop doing is of course specific to your own situation, but here’s a list of bad photography habits if you need inspiration.
1. Stop being rushed
When musicians learn a new technique or piece of music, they practice at a slower tempo than usual. Only after they’ve mastered the piece or technique at this slow speed, they work on speeding things up. Photographers would also benefit from taking their time when learning a new technique or taking a shot. By slowing down you can pay attention to what you’re doing and what’s around you. Rushing, on the other hand, is an excellent way to create a lot of sloppy photos. So consider the composition, lighting, and camera settings of a shot, before pushing the button. Sure you may miss a photo-op from time to time, but by not rushing you can increase the overall number of great shots.
2. Don’t overprocess
There are two ways in which overprocessing can be a bad habit. The first way is taking post-processing too far. We’ve all seen overprocessed photos that make our eyes bleed, yet we can get attached to our own monstrosities. What makes post-processing an art is knowing how to use it in moderation. Just because you know every tool in Photoshop, does not mean you should apply them to every photo. This year be critical of the amount of post-processing you do.
The second way overprocessing can be a bad habit is when you try to make a mediocre photo great through post-processing. A great rule of thumb when editing photos: garbage in, garbage out. If the image is not good enough by itself, then delete it. Use post-processing to tweak your best photos, and don’t waste your time on the rest. Instead, try to work on the quality of your photos when you’re actually shooting them.
3. Stop being a follower
If you find yourself taking a time-lapse of a sunset at a location with ten other photographers (yet again), maybe it’s time to blaze a new trail. There are certain locations and subjects that are photographed in the same way by thousands of people. There’s nothing wrong with studying the work of other photographers, but to become a great photographer yourself you will need to be original and push the boundaries. So don’t do what everybody else is doing, give up some of the cliché shots, and focus on finding your own voice.
4. Stop cluttering your photos
When you look at great photos, they typically have a simplicity to them. They focus on a limited number of elements and anything that’s not relevant to the photo is left out of the frame. As soon as there are other elements cluttering the photo, the image becomes less powerful. If you want to improve your photos, take on a minimalist approach and focus with each shot on what should not be in it.
5. Don’t let your camera be a bully
As a photographer, the camera is your most important tool, so don’t let it intimidate you. If you’re still shooting on auto, that’s probably a sign that your relationship with your camera has room for growth. If that’s the case, make a point of regularly learning something new about your camera and lenses. By the end of next year, you can be that person that has actually read the entire manual and knows their camera inside out.
6. Quit thinking that you’re special
Nothing can be more damaging to your photography skills than thinking you’re special. If you consider yourself a demigod of photography, you won’t be able to see your flaws and fix them. So don’t get distracted by the things that boost your ego. One of your photos received over a thousand likes. Who cares. You sold your first photo. Big deal. Success is nice, but it should be working on your next shot that actually matters.
7. Stop focusing on the gear
It certainly is fun to spend time reading about gear, talking about gear, and thinking about buying gear. But if we’re honest, all you need for a good photo is one camera and lens. Once you have a decent setup, it’s probably not your gear that is holding back the quality of your photos. So if you’re a photographer whose house is stuffed with accessories and you’re waiting on the next paycheck to splurge on more, maybe it’s time to take a break from your gear obsession. Try to go this year without buying anything new (unless something essential breaks). You’ll probably discover that you have plenty of gear already and will end up with some extra cash on hand. More importantly, you now have time to master the gear you own.
8. Quit talking, start shooting
Talking can hold back your progress as a photographer in two ways. First, there is self-praise. You can talk as much as you like about how great your photography is, but in the end it’s going to be your photos that matter. So don’t waste time telling other people how good you are. Let your work speak for itself.
Second, there is voluntary criticism. For most of us, criticism is a cheap way to feel good about ourselves without putting in any work. Even constructive criticism is not useful if someone is not looking for feedback. So try to go a year without criticizing other people’s work, unless they ask for it. Instead, spend your time looking critically at your own photography and getting better yourself.
9. Stop wasting your time reading blogs like this
Alright, maybe just reduce your blog reading time. It’s easy to feel productive online while not doing any work at all. Photography blogs are great sources of inspiration, but reading them should not come at the cost of your photography time. In fact, you get the most out of these blogs when you’re an active photographer and can use the ideas and techniques immediately.
Happy shooting in the new year! We’re looking forward to seeing your work.