Photography Goal Setting

Photography Goal Setting

Would you like to take your photography dreams further? Did your New Year’s resolutions involve taking more photos or getting out and about more often with your camera? Have you been thinking about setting up a photography business? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you’ll benefit a lot from creating a few goals.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Setting goals is important if you want to get ahead with your photography.

Setting photography goals can motivate you to be a bit more adventurous as you delve into the depths of your own creativity. You might even find goal setting to be very rewarding as you begin to regularly explore the different opportunities that are available to you; all while bringing your ideas and dreams into fruition.

Whether you’re keen to be a bit more creative with your hobby or if you’re seeking to turn photography into a career, it’s useful to take time out to identify clear objectives for the year.

So, even if you’ve already set some goals or you’re yet to get started, I’ll share what I know about goal setting in photography that will help your creativity flourish. You’ll learn how to set smart photography goals, what kind of goals to set, gain some ideas for goals that you can work towards, as well as understand ways that you can track your goals to measure your own success.

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The Art of Goal Setting

If you’re anything like me, then you may have found it difficult to brainstorm goals, let alone to stick with them throughout the year.

Goal setting is something that can be tedious if you’re a beginner to it, much like doing the laundry or trying to engage in mindfulness techniques. Not everyone was born into the world with endless supplies of determination; the truth is that some of us need a little encouragement to get going.

I haven’t always been the most organised person on the planet so I’d like to let you in on something that I’ve learned over the years. What I’ve found is that when I take the time to set goals that help me work towards achieving my objectives, things tend to run a lot more smoothly. That’s because like all other things on this planet, there is an art to goal setting. When you figure it out, it becomes a useful strategy that can help you to improve your photography as well as other aspects of your life.

This doesn’t mean that everything will start falling into place as soon as you start goal setting. However, you might find that you’ll gain some clarity on your journey as you learn to figure out what your priorities are and what you can really do without.

How to Set SMART Photography Goals

When it comes to the art of goal setting, you may have heard of the SMART framework. It’s been floating around since the 1960s, when a researcher by the name of Dr. Edwin Locke published a paper on the power of setting goals. Following this methodology to shape your goals can help you to achieve your objectives. If this is all new to you, then let me tell you a little bit more about it!

The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Basically, it means that a smart goal should be each of these five things.

Let’s take a closer look at each part of the SMART goal setting framework.

S = Specific

First and foremost, your goal should be specific. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Something like, “I want to go down in history as a famous film photographer,” is a little too broad.

The more that you can narrow down your goal, the easier it will be to break it apart into smaller steps that will help you to work towards it.

Here’s an example of a specific goal:  “I want to learn how to shoot with a film camera.”

M = Measurable

Next up, explore the ways in which you might be able to measure your progress. What kind of indicators will point towards the fact that you are on your way to achieving your goal? What exactly do you need to help you succeed?

If you want to learn how to shoot using a film camera, then you might set milestones such as figuring out how to take a light reading with a light meter and counting the number of photos that you are able to expose correctly without guessing the exposure.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
When things first started going pear-shaped all around the world at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself on my hands and knees in the forest, making friends with fungi. I wanted to introduce my little friends to the world, so I set a goal to learn how to do fungi photography.

To become adept at photographing star trails with a beautiful foreground, you might need to master a variety of techniques such as long exposure photography, image stacking and light painting.

To photograph fungi, you’ll need to learn macro photography techniques, invest in the right equipment and research the best conditions to find particular species growing in the wild.

Having clear milestones gives you the opportunity to measure how you’re doing and to evaluate what steps you might need to take to continue moving forwards towards your goal.

Here’s an example of a measurable goal:  “I will learn how to shoot with a film camera by using a handheld light meter to expose correctly for five frames of film across three different settings: 1) landscape, 2) portrait and 3) still life photography.

A = Attainable

The next step is to assess whether your goal is attainable. If it is, then you’ll be able to stay focused on achieving it. If not, then you should probably break it down a little further.

As we continue on with our hypothetical goal of learning how to shoot using a film camera, the milestone of learning to use a handheld light meter won’t be attainable unless you already own a light meter or have access to one that you can borrow on a regular basis.

So here’s an example of an attainable goal:  “I will purchase a second-hand light meter so I can learn how to shoot with a film camera.”

R = Relevant

As you go about setting your goals, consider how relevant they are to you in the long-term and whether they contribute to your overall objectives.

I’m referring to your photography dreams. Maybe you aspire to be the in-house photographer for a magazine. How does setting a particular goal contribute to that?

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
To achieve my goal of creating a portfolio of fungi photography, I purchased a macro focusing rail to be able to focus correctly.

If your goal doesn’t help you to move closer towards the bigger picture of what you’d like to achieve, then perhaps it’s best to look at working on something different.

Here’s an example of a relevant goal:  “To achieve my goal of shooting a project entirely on film, I will purchase a second-hand light meter so I can learn how to expose correctly using my film camera.”

T = Time-Bound

Last but not least, how long will you give yourself to achieve your goal? Having a time-frame can help you to stay motivated and to prioritise the things in your life accordingly.

For example, your goal might be to shoot a project entirely on film in the next six months. What types of things will you need to set on the backburner so that you can make this project a reality?

If six months have passed and you still haven’t achieved your goal, what were the reasons that held you back?

Perhaps it took you a little longer to figure out how to use a light meter. On the other hand, it might not have been realistic for you to learn how to expose correctly for just five frames of film across three different settings. Or maybe there were completely unforeseen circumstances that made your goal unachievable, such as running into financial difficulties and not having the budget to purchase enough rolls of film with which to practice.

As such, having a defined a time-frame is an important step in goal setting for photography.

Here is an example of a time-bound goal:  “To achieve my goal of shooting a project entirely on film, I will purchase a second-hand light meter on Monday so I can learn how to expose correctly using my film camera by the end of the week.”

Other Examples of SMART Goals

Did all of that make sense? If you’re struggling a bit, here are some more examples of smart goal setting.

  • To achieve my goal of becoming a professional photographer, I will write a photography business plan this week so I can budget accordingly and start marketing within a fortnight.
  • To achieve my goal of photographing the full moon in alignment over Mt Fuji, I will download the PhotoPills app on the weekend and use it to plan a landscape photo shoot.
  • To achieve my goal of being more active with my photography, I will take a picture at the local park every day for 365 days this year, which I will post on a daily basis to my social media.
  • To achieve my goal of making money with my photography, I will take five photos every month, so I’ll have a number of different images to choose from to create a calendar in December this year.
  • To achieve my goal of becoming the preferred photographer at a wedding reception venue, I will update my CV so I can apply for one position every week for the next month.

What Kind of Goals to Set

Now that you’ve learned the SMART framework for goal setting, it’s time to figure out which goals you might like to work towards. It’s okay if you’re not quite sure where to begin! You’re not alone if you don’t know what you want to achieve; I’ve been in that boat many times.

What I’ve found useful as a first step in figuring out what kind of goals to set is to consider what is most important to me about photography.

There are many different reasons why people pick up a camera and learn how to shoot. Is photography just a hobby for you or do you want to turn it into a career? Perhaps you want to take great pictures of your children as they’re growing up? Maybe going on a hike with your camera is the only exercise you enjoy that will help you stay healthy and fit.

When I first took the plunge into music photography in my younger years, it was because doing it got me out of my comfort zone and socialising with others. While I enjoyed taking photos a lot, social anxiety held me back and so I set a goal to shoot live gigs at least once a week in order to work through it.

So take a few moments to identify the most important things to you about photography. It could be 10 minutes of your time right now or an hour in the evening sometime this week. How long you’ve got really doesn’t matter, as long as you’re able to remove distractions and focus on visualising what your priorities are.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Music photography got me out of my comfort zone.

Once you’ve got a few ideas, it’s time to dissect what you already know and areas in which you might benefit from some improvement.

Maybe you enjoy astrophotography and you already know how to photograph the Milky Way but you’d really like to learn how to make a time lapse video of it rising and setting. Or perhaps you’ve been a product photographer all of your life but you’d like to expand on your portrait photography skills so that you can add head shots to the list of services that you offer.

If you can identify areas for improvement, then before you even know it, you’ll have a couple of rough goals to work towards. That’s when it’s worth applying the SMART framework to help you formulate exactly what you need to do to achieve your objectives.

15 Photography Goal Ideas for the Year

For those of you who might find it difficult to brainstorm without a bit of a jump start, here is a short list of 15 interesting photography goal ideas that you might like to try your hand at this year.

If you're a landscape photographer, why not try architecture photography?
  1. Join a community photo walk.
  2. Volunteer your photographic services with a charity or shelter.
  3. Learn how to use post production software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to realise your creative vision.
  4. Organise and back up your photos.
  5. Find a mentor or get involved in a mentorship program.
  6. Learn how to prepare your work for printing.
  7. Explore new subjects, genres or styles to what you would normally shoot.
  8. Make a collection of limited edition prints that you can sell or give away as gifts.
  9. Develop your own film at home.
  10. Visit a gallery or check out an exhibition every month.
  11. Start a new project or finish an old one.
  12. Master a new photography technique.
  13. Learn how to create emotion in your landscape photography.
  14. Get your photography into galleries, shows or festivals.
  15. Donate a print to an auction for a cause.

You can either build on these or come up with something even more challenging and inspiring. Try creating a number of short term and long term goals. What can you get done this week? What do you aspire to achieve by the end of the year?

Whatever your goal is, make sure that it’s worth striving for!

Tracking Your Goals

Part of the SMART framework involves setting time-frames, which can be extremely useful when it comes to tracking your progress.

I like to take it one step further by writing down all of the steps that I need to take to achieve each milestone. Plotting dates into a calendar or a to-do list can also keep you motivated and on the right track.

When you can see your goals planned out in front of you, then it’s suddenly easier to prioritise what is important. You’ll be far less stressed if you can work towards your goals in an appropriate time-frame that takes the rest of your life into consideration.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
One of my goals as a music photographer was to photograph Shirley Manson. I decided that I wouldn't retire until I did.

Now let’s address the big elephant in the room. If there’s one thing that can have you veering off-course, it’s forgetting that your goals even exist or getting stuck and abandoning a goal altogether. We’ve all experienced it, especially with our New Year’s resolutions. You might start off with good intentions at the beginning of the year but then life gets in the way and before you can even blink, it’s Christmas-time again and you’ll be postponing your goals to the next year.

To keep on track, make sure to look at your goals regularly and evaluate what else you can do to stay motivated. Ask yourself questions, such as “what can I achieve today?” Examine the resources that you already have and figure out what other things you might need to fulfil your objectives.

If you’re really stuck, then ask someone for help. There’s no harm in reaching out for a different perspective on the situation. You might find yourself refreshed and returned onto the right course.

As you work through your milestones to reach your goals, it’s also important that you acknowledge any small victories or achievements.

Reward yourself and celebrate your accomplishments!

TL;DR: Tips for Setting Goals in Your Photography

Goal setting is easier for some photographers than others. Here’s a summary of what I’ve mentioned in this post about how to set goals that will help you to move forward with your photography this year.

  • There is an art to goal setting. It’s a strategic formula known as the SMART framework.
  • Be specific and clear about what you want to achieve.
  • Measure your progress by setting milestones.
  • Assess whether your goal is attainable and if it’s not at this point in time, break it down even further or look at working towards something that you can actually achieve.
  • Make sure that your goals are relevant to you in the bigger scheme of things.
  • Set an appropriate time-frame.
  • Choose goals that are challenging and interesting.
  • Track your progress by writing down the steps you need to take and committing them to your calendar or to-do list.
  • Reward yourself for your accomplishments, no matter how big or small!
  • Look back over your goals on a regular basis to make sure that you’re still on track.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or a different perspective.

By taking the time to set a few short and long term photography goals that you can work towards, you’ll be able to improve your photography and hopefully balance it with other aspects of your life. Having clear objectives gives you the opportunity to prioritise what you need to learn and the steps you need to take that will put you on the path to being more successful with your photography this year.

Have you already set some photography goals for 2022? Are there any other strategies that you’d like to share with the rest of us that might be useful for goal setting? Leave a comment below!

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