One year ago today, I made a New Year’s resolution for my photography – to take 50 photographs every week. At the time, I thought taking an average of 7 pictures a day would be easy to do! My objective when I came up with this plan was to force myself to go out and have fun taking pictures, preferably high quality pictures.
However, as the weeks passed by, I began to realize that my 50 pictures a week goal was becoming more work and less fun. Trying to find new locations and subjects every week was becoming a burdensome chore, and this was exactly the type of thing I did not want to happen.
So, in May, I modified my resolution. Instead of 50 pictures a week, I changed my goal to 250 pictures a month. This simple change removed the stress of trying to produce images each and every week. Now, if I was in a fantastic location or had found the perfect subject, I could take all the pictures I wanted without having to worry about where I was going or what I was going to shoot the next week. If I didn’t feel like going out to photograph one weekend, I didn’t put pressure on myself to go. The process became fun again.
So, did I achieve my objective? Yes, I did! In fact, I averaged over 300 pictures per month. I didn’t quite reach my goal in April, but I made up for it the next month. And December . . . well, let’s just say December turned out to be far busier than I had expected it to be, so I didn’t meet my objective for the last month of the year, either. But, overall, I met my goal and did what I set out to do. I took nearly 3,800 pictures in 2014, and, in the process, became more proficient with the technical side of photography.
However, while looking through the pictures I took over the last year, I realized that my focus ultimately was about quantity rather than quality. Yes, there was some improvement in the artistic side of my photography, and I definitely captured several images of which I am very proud, such as the image of the sunrise on Lake Maumelle. But, I would assess the overall quality of my photographs as good when what I am looking for are great images that make people say “Wow!” I realize that by giving myself a quota to meet, it is obvious that I sacrificed quality for quantity far more than I thought I had and certainly far more than I wanted.
With that recently discovered truth in mind, I came up with another photography New Year’s resolution for 2015 that I hoped would build on what I learned in 2014. Last year, my resolution was geared toward taking a lot of pictures, which often adversely affected the quality I was trying to achieve. So, this year, I decided my focus would be on image quality and improving the artistic aspect of my photography in order to shoot great images. I would have no quota or no set minimum number of pictures to take. I would continue to take as many pictures as I could. But, if I have to choose between taking a lot of average photographs that will never see the light of day or making just a few great images that I will gladly display, I will choose the latter every time.
My plan for accomplishing my 2014 goal was simple – just take more pictures. But the more I thought about my resolution for 2015, I began to wonder how I was going to accomplish it. After all, most of my best images really came about more from luck than skill. What, exactly, could I do to strengthen my “photographic vision?” What could I do to see beautiful images in things other people walked by without a second glance? I began researching how to improve photographic creativity and came across the website Lightstalking.com and a post titled “Learn to See Photographically With These 4 Tips” by Jason Row, a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. As I read Jason’s post, the very first tip was “Slow Down The Process.”
That’s when it hit me. In order to meet my 50 pictures per week and then my 250 pictures per month goals, I was often rushing the process. I would see something that might have some slight interest, quickly set up my camera, snap a few shots, and then move on to the next location. As I went back through the photographs I took in 2014, I found that my best shots were the ones where I “slowed down the process,” where I might remain at the same location for a half-hour, an hour, or even longer. The image above is a good example of this. It was one of the last shots out of about 15 pictures I took of that particular scene. But I was able to capture it because I stayed in that one area for about 30 minutes shooting from different angles with different lenses at different focal lengths.
I discovered that by taking my time, I was able to “see” the subject. Not just look at it, but actually see it and create a stunning image. I realized that my best photographs weren’t just a product of luck, as I had always told myself they were (although luck certainly plays a part when dealing with nature). Rather, they were the result of slowing down and seeing the possibilities that were right there in front of me.
So, now I have my New Year’s resolution (improve the artistic quality of my photographs), and I have the plan to accomplish it (“Slow Down The Process”). However, unlike counting the number of photographs I took to see if I met a numeric goal, artistic quality cannot be quantified and measured objectively. That’s ok, though. I am confident that, by the end of year, I will be able to see that the overall quality of my photographs has improved and I have captured more striking images than I have in the past. In the meantime, I am just going to slow down and enjoy the process.
Settings: Canon 5D Mk II, 24mm, 1/2 sec, f/22, ISO 100