As I scrolled through the day's photographs, I knew that something was missing.
I had just returned from a Meetup where I had a great time photographing Annapolis Harbor. We went there frequently because I really enjoyed shooting the quaint town.
But this time was different. I was underwhelmed with what I photographed that day. The pictures were okay, but I wasn't excited. I had been in a creative rut for a very long time.
As I would learn a couple years later, it was because I was making one big mistake. Once I found that mistake and corrected it, my energy levels and creativity increased dramatically.
What is it?
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What's the one big mistake you are probably making with your photography? Randomness.
Randomness: Without definite aim, purpose, method, or adherence to a prior arrangement; doing things in a haphazard way
Sure I was active. I shot photos when I could. I had a full time job where I traveled a lot, so I squeezed in photography in as many locations as I could. But it was still random, and random never creates real progress or achieves anything meaningful.
How do you combat randomness in your photography? Here are six questions to help you.
1. What's your why?
I'm a big fan of Simon Sinek's book, Start with Why. Simon realized that inspirational leaders identify a purpose and follow it. The actions they take and what they make is secondary to achieving their mission. See him discuss the philosophy in this video.
Let's personalize this to photographers. Many of us start of thinking about what we want to photograph. We say that we want to photograph nature, people, or architecture. We then focus on how we photograph it. Then we look for our own style.
Starting with why means identifying your driving force first. From there, you think about how you want to achieve it, and then what will you photograph to make that happen.
"Why means what's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why did you get out of bed this morning? And why should anyone care??"
2. What's your one big thing?
I'm challenging you, us, to create more than pictures. Lets make something enduring.
You should always be working on a big project. Work on something your are passionate about and committed to completing. This provides a reason to keep going when things get boring.
For example, you might think about creating a book with some of your best photos. Now when you go to shoot, you will always be thinking of how you might use that day's images in your project. You might consider a gallery showing, a business, or a class. Whatever you decide, make it big and worthy of all your efforts.
You want to look at it in pride and a little disbelief. "I can't believe I actually did that!"
Permit yourself to dream a little.
3. How will you serve?
If photography is your gift then give it. Think service. What cause or issue can benefit from your talents? Find a service project of some kind.
Sometimes the most rewarding time spent with your camera will be that time when you were selflessly serving others. You might also be surprised how delighted you will make your recipients with your offering.
4. How will you improve?
We all want to become better photographers, but how will we get there? Think development. Revisit our first podcast episode to really dig into the details of identifying the type of improvement you need and the planning the process to get you there.
Remember you will do these three steps:
- Identify the specific skills that need improving.
- Use deliberate practice work on them.
- Use SMART goals to track your progress.
5. Whom will you help?
We often think about networking as a process of getting support from others. 'I want to became a world famous photographer. How can I get a world famous photographer to help me get there?'
Here's a better approach. How can you use what you learn to help someone else?
Zig Ziglar used to say "You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want."
In networking, don't think about what you can get but what you can give.
6. What's your plan?
We've talked about doing some big things so far. If you allow yourself to really dream about what you can accomplish, you will feel a little bit intimidated. You might even feel scared. That's natural.
The good news is that you don't have to eat the whole elephant with one bite. Let's break these goals into smaller, measurable steps. David Allen, of the Getting Things Done system, says you just focus on your next action.
Capture everything you want to accomplish somewhere and then focus on what you will do next. Go back to episode 001 for a refresher on goal planning for photographers.
In the answers to these six questions you might find yourself.
I found my answers to these questions in teaching — In PhotoTour DC, my webinars, and this podcast. I learned that I could achieve the things that got me out of a state of randomness by teaching photography and inspiring other photographers to create.
Now I have a new sense of purpose around my photography, and it changed my life.
That's my story. What's yours? Are you ready to escape randomness and create something meaningful? Tell me about it in the comments.
Here are some of my favorite self improvement episodes
Since we started with our podcasts this year, we have been hovering around this topic — how to be better. Not how to get better, or how to become better, how to be better.