Are you a portrait photographer in search of a 2019 New Year’s resolution? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really stressed over the prospect of another year of not reaching my photography goals.
In 2018, I was supposed to shoot a minimum of 3 days a week… and I was supposed to finally kill my Aperture library and be 100% on Capture One Pro… and I was supposed to sell my old unused gear.
I accomplished exactly none of it.
Can you relate? Have you ever set a New Year’s resolution and failed to reach your goal? If so, you’re not alone.
80% of New Year’s resolutions fail within 6 weeks, according to Joseph J. Luciniani. The failure rate for photographers is probably even worse! So maybe I shouldn’t feel like an idiot: most New Year’s resolutions are unrealistic by nature.
And I think I know why: we are so ambitious in setting big goals that it’s easy to get discouraged at the first sign of trouble. We quit early because the end result just seems so far away. That’s why I’m taking a radically different approach to my 2019 New Year’s Resolution: instead of shooting high, I’m shooting low.
I’m setting the bar so damn low I can’t fail. When you read my 2019 New Year’s resolution, I actually want you to think, “Really, Mike? That’s it?”
Because I’ve learned something in life: earning a small victory can give you the momentum you need to build up to big results.
When my junkyard-like bedroom needed a deep cleaning, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t get started. And then it dawned on me. Instead of tackling the job all at once, I could break it down into tiny steps, each of which was easy to accomplish.
I started by throwing out exactly one piece of garbage – a broken umbrella. And then I threw out a second, and a third, and a fourth. Then I did all my laundry. And I donated some books and clothes that I didn’t want any more.
After 5 days of one-little-baby-step-at-a-time cleaning, my room was spotless. All because I started with that one small victory that resulted in a positive chain reaction.
I’m challenging you to start 2019 with a small victory of your own. Find your own damn broken umbrella, and throw it out!
I’ll share my 2019 New Year’s resolution and then present you with 4 options that might work for you.
#1. My Resolution: Take a Retouching Class
I’m actually embarrassed at how bad my retouching skills are. I just plain suck at Photoshop. I’m proud of my lighting, composition, and subject-interaction abilities but I have a long way to go when it comes to post-processing.
Every time I pull up an image in Photoshop, I feel like I’m stumbling around blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. Most of the time, I feel like I’m randomly playing around with stuff like the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tool. And when I do get a decent image out of Photoshop, I feel like it was by accident!
So what’s my goal?
It’s to spend 3 hours taking a Photoshop retouching class. I’m not going to promise myself that I’ll go back and retouch 20 of my favorite portraits, or to create an image worthy of a Vanity Fair cover.
Because I suck at hitting big goals. I need a small goal with zero chance of failure. By giving myself that small victory, I’ll probably be inspired to apply what I learned.
So I’ll probably sit down and retouch one portrait… and then another… and another… And eventually, I’ll develop real retouching skills. Then maybe in 2020, I can learn to use a Wacom tablet like the cool kids.
That’s me. But what about you? I have 4 suggestions for you, and none of them involved spending a single penny.
#2. Shoot a Single Street Portrait
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, if you want to be a better portrait photographer, shoot street portraits.
Think about it: if you can make a solid portrait of a complete stranger in less than 30 seconds, then you can probably do the same for just about anybody.
With a street portrait, you have to figure out your composition and exposure in a matter of seconds, while getting a decent expression. Plus, you have to overcome a very common fear: talking to strangers!
So again, aim low! Don’t try to shoot 20 street portraits. Just shoot one!
Because here’s what will happen: once you knock out that first street portrait, you’ll be primed to engage a second person… and a third…
#3. Photograph a Family Member Whom You Have Never Photographed Before
It is very common for portrait photographers to never get around to making portraits of their own families!
My single biggest regret as a photographer is that I never created a real portrait of my mother before she died in 2010. That’s why I’ve made it a point to shoot regular portraits of my dad.
It may seem like you’ll always have time to shoot a portrait of your uncle, your grandmother, or even your daughter. But time can run out when you least expect it. So get it done now.
I’m not going to challenge you to create a giant portfolio with every single person in your family. Start small. Pick a single member of your family and spend 20 minutes with them making a single portrait. It could be the most rewarding thing you do as a portrait photographer.
#4. Make a Cold Call to Promote Your Photo Business
Maybe you’re business-minded and want to make more money in 2019. You want your bank account to take a leap forward. Take a single action to move forward. Something you’ve never done before.
That can be making a cold call to a small business or a photo editor. Because one call can lead to two… to three… and before you know it, you’re in motion.
Or maybe you’re a family portrait photographer. You could spend an hour handing out business cards to Moms in the park. Or, you could ask 5 past clients for referrals.
Again, the point isn’t to accomplish something big. It’s just to accomplish something, period. Just find one thing that could lead to a positive chain reaction in your business. And do it.
#5. Add 3 New Images to Your Portfolio
It’s almost a universal maxim that photographers have a hard time keeping their websites up to date. And for good reason – updating your online portfolio is a real pain in the ass. You have to figure out which of your new images are portfolio worthy, and which ones are ready for the trash bin. Then you have to sequence them all together in a way that makes sense.
So don’t get crazy.
Don’t try to remake your entire website in one go. Instead, replace 3 images in one of your portfolios with new work. Just 3.
I’m sure you can guess what happens next – you’ve got the ball rolling, and you’ll probably accomplish more.
What victory are you ready to achieve in 2019?
About the author: Michael Comeau is the Editor of OnPortraits.com, an all-new online community dedicated to simple, classic portrait photography. Click here for more information. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here.
Image credits: Header photo by JogiKenobi