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The Essential New Year’s Resolution for Photographers

How to approach getting better at photography in the year ahead

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions there are the personal—exercise more, work on patience, spend more time with loved ones—and the professional. In my case, those professional resolutions are all photography related. And the most important of those tend to offer tangible ways to become a better photographer, even if that’s just in little, incremental ways. If you’re a better photographer 12 months from now, your resolutions have been worth it. 

I am somewhat of a New Year’s resolution aficionado, but I don’t make a list of goals so much as I take in several ideas and mull them over before forming a general idea of what my New Year’s resolution will be. I think of it, actually, as a way to organize the coming year around a theme. My resolutions are less of a “to do” list and more of a mindset. Though the task- and goal-oriented versions are equally valuable approaches to getting better at photography. To that end, let’s consider several worthy candidates for New Year’s resolutions for photographers, and then I’ll circle back to my idea of a theme for this new year. It’s what I like to think of as the most essential New Year’s resolution for photographers. 

The Old Standbys

If you’re looking for simple, practical things you can do that will make for instant change in your photographic skillset, these are the resolutions for you. There’s the useful advice to “carry a camera wherever you go,” which is based on the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you when inspiration or an ideal moment strikes. But thanks to smartphones, most of us are already, in fact, carrying a camera wherever we go. So then there’s another great resolution to consider: take more pictures. It is certainly a good way to get better, but without more framework it doesn’t necessarily give you the tools to actually make more pictures. After all, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. Still, carrying your camera everywhere would actually be a good start if the goal is taking more pictures. 

What about the resolution to learn a new technique? That’s a great one, whether you’ve been wanting to learn how to light portraits in open shade or whether you’re hoping to learn a post-processing technique for dodging and burning in landscapes. Simply setting your mind to learning something new will definitely help you become a better photographer this year. And there’s no reason not to choose an attainable, tangible goal like this as a worthy objective. You could pick something you’re bad at or know little about, or you could choose a technique related to one of your strongest skills in an effort to make it even better. There’s no wrong way to choose new skills to learn.  

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Perhaps my favorite “old standby” of New Year’s resolutions is the one that says you should challenge yourself to photograph something new. This kind of thing helps get you out of a rut, push your boundaries, and actually grow your skills in the “no pain, no gain” methodology. In practice, perhaps you’ve been working up the courage to approach strangers for portraits, or maybe you’ve simply been wanting to find the time to head out for some street photography after work. Whatever it is that you’ve been thinking about trying, that’s the perfect thing to make your New Year’s resolution. If you conquer this one single challenge you’re guaranteed to feel a sense of accomplishment while becoming a little bit better as a photographer. Plus, you’re likely to enjoy yourself while you’re at it. And there’s nothing wrong with a single, straightforward photographic resolution. 

Purchasing a new camera may not be a glamorous New Year’s resolution, but starting the process of saving for that camera is a great goal, and progress toward any worthwhile goal is definitely a great accomplishment.

The Aspirational

There are some New Year’s resolutions that are a little too big to check off on a whim. Sometimes our most aspirational New Year’s resolutions require, if nothing else, an abundance of time or money to accomplish them. Neither resource is in abundant supply for many of us, so these are the resolutions that require planning and preparation—but they also offer greater reward in the end.

Such aspirational resolutions might be as simple as saving up to purchase the lens you’ve had your eye on for a while, or maybe it involves taking time off work to make a photo trip or attend a workshop. Even these daunting goals can be broken up into bite-sized pieces. (Remember, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. It’s true!) It’s one thing to say “this year I’m going to spend a week in Yosemite,” but quite another to start setting aside 10% of a paycheck to put toward that trip. It might take more than a year to get there, but I guarantee ending 2023 two-thirds of the way to your dream photo trip will feel a lot better than ending it right where you started, with a dream trip as far away as ever. 

The Philosophical

Some New Year’s resolutions for photographers can be simple in concept but more challenging to implement. For instance, perhaps you know you want to build up the courage to get closer to whatever or whomever you’re photographing. Or maybe you like the idea of introducing more energy into your portrait sessions. Or perhaps you look at your portfolio and think there aren’t enough photographs of people—or maybe there are too many! Whatever it is, the change you need to make is a philosophical one. You need to remember every time you shoot that your goal is to get closer, or to introduce motion, or to focus on faces as the case may be. This type of philosophical resolution is especially challenging so it needs to be anchored to a tangible action. I find that if I can outsmart myself—leaving notes on my tripod to remind me to get closer, for instance—I have a better chance of actually implementing the changes I’m trying to make. If you can get your resolution distilled down to a singular idea, then find a way to put that idea into practice even at a low level, you’re taking meaningful steps toward becoming a better photographer. 

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Which brings us to my personal favorite type of New Year’s resolution: the essential. 

The Essential New Year’s Resolution for Photographers

I once heard a piece of advice that rings truer to my ears with each passing year. I find that it is wise beyond its meager word count, and it holds a wealth of meaning beyond the advertising slogan that brought it to life. It is the hallmark of every world-class photographer who has ever published a book, landed a dream assignment, or held an exhibition of their work. It is the difference between dreaming and accomplishing. And it is made up of three simple words: just do it. 

Yes, I’m referring to the slogan developed by advertiser Dan Wieden for upstart shoemaker Nike 35 years ago. Just do it. 

That’s it. That’s the resolution. And here’s the thing: it’s true. 

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“Just do it” is the slogan of a shoe company, but it’s also the fulcrum that turns aspiration into accomplishment. There are so many things I look back on every year with the benefit of hindsight and think, dang it, if only I had made the most of that opportunity. Just doing it means making the most of those opportunities. It is the “carpe diem” of the modern world. Seize the day. 

“Just doing it” might mean taking the afternoon off work to head up into the mountains for a few hours of photography. Or it might mean making a U-turn when you drive past a surprise beautiful scene but your inclination is to keep going. Or perhaps just doing it means putting in the effort to land a new client, build a better studio setup, or learn the ins and outs of a daunting digital technique. Whatever the thing is you’re considering for your New Year’s resolution this year, the one thing I can say for sure will make you a better photographer is if you just do it. 

As someone inclined to the paralyzation of perfectionism, I find “just do it” to be a reminder of the importance of getting started. When I’m content to keep considering and putting off a challenge, I need to just do it. “Perfect is the enemy of good” (another of my favorite truisms) goes hand in hand with the concept. If you find yourself waiting to get started until everything is “just so” you’ll find it’s too easy to never start. So instead, just do it. 

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Whatever you’re considering—be it one of the small standby resolutions mentioned above or a daunting proposition like saving up for the trip of a lifetime—I can guarantee that if you don’t put one foot in front of the other and simply start doing it, you will eventually regret it. The best way to avoid regret is to—you guessed it—just do it.

I’m making light of using this advertising slogan as a creative philosophy, but I really do believe it. I think when we can find a way to overcome doubts, overcome busy schedules, overcome worries and fears… If we can just find a way to make small leaps of faith not only will we become better photographers but more importantly we will lead better lives. And it all starts with actually doing it.

So this year, make the one New Year’s resolution that matters more than all the others. Think of the thing you want to accomplish, determine the steps that will get you started on the path to success, and then piece by piece get going. Just do it. If you do, you’ll be better for it.

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