The Importance of Setting Goals
At the end of last year I found myself disappointed with my progress as a photographer. Part of this was obviously to do with the pandemic, restricting my ability to get out and shoot. However, much of it was simply a feeling of stagnation. I was happy with the work I’d done but overall felt something missing.
I’ve discussed this before, but I think a key part was simply that I wasn’t really capturing photos for myself. The work I produced was simply that — work. There isn’t anything wrong with that, it helps pay the bills and I’m immensely proud of it, but it turns what has for a long time passion for me into a bit of routine.
So at the start of this year I decided to do something a bit different, and work towards a photographic project for myself. Initially, I didn’t really have an idea of what this project would be or any overall scope for it, but the desire was there.
Thankfully, the stars aligned as it were, and in January when asked to do some examples with certain lenses for a client, I decided to take a short trip to the CBD of Liverpool — the place of my birth and a very familiar location for me.
I work up early and took my camera and the lenses out and just started shooting. For the client, there weren’t any particular guidelines, I just needed examples to show off how the gear worked in the real world. However, what this did was give me a great deal of freedom and took a lot of the usual pressure of shooting away.
I had nothing planned for the rest of the day and no looming deadlines at the time, so I was able to truly get out and just move and shoot at my own pace. It also meant I didn’t have any real restrictions on what the contents of the photo could be, I was simply able to move around and take photos of whatever ‘felt’ right at the time.
The experience was deeply fulfilling and relaxing, it was just like starting my photographic journey from scratch. I’ve never been particularly fond of capturing street photos myself, yet I’d always admired the work of those who did. Personally, it was a style that I’d just never really found clicked right with me. The lack of distinct subjects or landscapes always gave me a bit of information overload — it’s as if there are simultaneously infinite things to shoot, yet at the same time there’s nothing specific ‘to shoot’ as there is with an event, portraiture or even landscape.
What I discovered however, was that once I was just out there and started shooting from ‘the gut’ as it were, all of those infinite possibilities suddenly turned into very specific subjects and compositions.
So after such a great experience, I decided that whatever this project I had in my mind would be, street photography would have to play a big role. From there, it wasn’t long before I’d turned this concept into a set of loose, but defined guidelines for the project and set about planning how I would accomplish it.
I’ll go into more detail about this project in the future, but for this piece I wanted to focus more on the importance of starting a project. Whatever it may be, it’s become clear to me that to really grow creatively, or just feel personally fulfilled, a well-defined project is a great tool for accomplishing this.
So as a quick summary, here’s the basics of the project I set for myself:
· Pick 12 Locations in the Greater Western Sydney area
· Travel to one location each month during 2021 and take urban/street photos of it
· Stick to ‘normal’ focal lengths (35mm-70mm)
· Shoot during the morning/midday
That’s it, there’s plenty of reasons behind those choices but ultimately that’s as complicated as I’ve made it for myself.
If you’re creative and have a passion for something, be it photography, painting, craft — whatever, often much of our time is spent waiting for that fabled ‘inspiration’ to strike. We read articles, watch films and browse our social media hoping for something to spark our interest and get our minds moving on something.
However, the balance between finding that spark and simply procrastinating is a tricky one to navigate, so a small level of discipline might just do the trick for you.
We often avoid setting too many rules for ourselves, and rightly so. Restrictions can be stifling and prevent us from existing in the moment — often referred to as the ‘flow’. There’s always that risk that we end up setting too many rules and simply create work which is conservative and doesn’t inspire us.
So to combat this, I think it helps to just keep the project as simple as possible, but still have some basic guidelines in place. For me, even with a busy schedule, one morning each month to go out and take photos is practical enough to be fulfilling, without overwhelming my schedule and becoming yet more ‘work’.
Most importantly, keeping it so basic means there is less barriers to entry, less excuses to not engage with the project. This is why I didn’t restrict myself to a particular camera, format or anything like that, as that way I can adapt to whatever gear I have available at one time. I can still shoot this project on a film camera or even my phone if need be. The purpose is to get me out there shooting, not to fill my portfolio or meet a particular brief.
The last important aspect of this whole idea is to give the project a finishing point. This can be as long or short as you want it to be, but there does need to be an ‘ending’ so to speak. I think it helps to have a goal to work towards, a light at the end of the tunnel that keeps you motivated. My project is going to take a whole year, but at the end I’ll have 12 sets of photos from 12 different places all based around a central theme.
That collection of photos doesn’t need to end up anywhere either, I’ve been posting the project on Instagram as I go, but it’s not one of my requirements. At the end I could potentially turn the best images into a short photo book, a curated gallery on my website, art exhibit — whatever. The point is I set myself a project to undertake and completed it — even if it never leaves the confines of my vast collection of hard drives.
It’ll be something I can look back on and say confidently that I’m proud of it — even if it just for the experience of doing it.
I think doing it for yourself should always be a key part of the project. Once you start trying to shape it to fit someone else’s requirements it can easily sap the inspiration out of the work for you. Do it because it makes you fell fulfilled in some way, no more, no less.
I don’t think this is limited to just creative pursuits either, I believe it can be equally valuable to help yourself grow as a person. Think about something that you’ve always wanted to do and set in motion the steps required to complete it. It doesn’t have to be some great epic piece of work, it can be anything, something beyond the regular day to day routine that gives you personal satisfaction.
So get out there, build that shelf, work on that car or simply sort your garage. It might take you all year, or it could be finished in a weekend. Whatever it might be, just set a goal, establish some simple guidelines and stick to it.
Start something, set some goals, and finish it.