Setting Goals: Is It Important for Photographers?

Yeah, we heard it all through our early schooling; “Set you goal to achieve…” And there are countless gurus out there teaching seminars and workshops and holding ‘retreats’ on the “Art of Decisive Goal Planning and the Strategic Paradigm of Unilateral Ubiquity…” or some such rot.

[NOTE: Project 52 is found here.]

And I am not going to even go down the road of ‘writing out your goals’… I think it is powerful and would serve you well to do so, but if you are not doing it now, this is not the post to cajole you into it.

There are many kinds of goals that one sets, and strives to complete. Some are simple and nearly take no thought at all; “I will pass that truck on the left side and not lose control of my car…” “I will be ready for the meeting this afternoon.” “I will eat this jelly donut without spilling it on my new shirt.” (Yeah, like that’ll happen.)

Small, tiny, single focused goals are met every single day we are alive.

We set goals for other things as well. Sometimes we refer to them as ‘plans’. Vacation plans, hunting trip plans, shopping plans, gardening plans… the list is endless.

Imagine your best friend calls you up and says “Pack your stuff, I just won an all expense vacation for two – and YOU are the lucky one I am taking!!! WooHoo!”

After the initial whooping and hollering and downing of many celebratory Coronas, there would be some inevitable questions.

Where are we going? When is the trip? How long is the trip? What should we bring? How will we get there? How will we get back…?

Oh, and a few hundred more.

Imagine your friend says… “ah, don’t spoil it by worrying about that stuff… just focus on the great time we are gonna have when we go somewhere… sometime… for a while…”

Yeah. Sounds great. (Now make a list of what you would pack, buy and do to get ready for this wonderful opportunity… go ahead, we’ll wait. … … Didn’t take long to realize you have no idea what to do to get ready for the two weeks.)

We expect a great deal of planning when making vacation plans.

Do we expect the same from our photography? Should we?

We see the lost questions on forums and websites all the time; “What kind of camera should I buy?” “What kind of lens is good for portraits?” “How do I sell my photographs of my kitty?” “How could I have made this picture better?”

Questions without answers. No good ones anyway. Just questions that are the result of a very similar approach to photography that our friend had to winning the two week vacation. “Hey, wont it be fun to take photographs of the stuff we photograph when we photograph that stuff…?”

Yeah. Sounds like a blast.

How about we think through some goal setting to make sure we have the end game in mind. Sort of like ‘visualizing’ the place we want to be so we know how to get there. And we will be able to recognize it when we arrive.

My approach to goals is a bit more organic and ‘vision’ oriented. Personally not that much into bullet lists and sheets of paper with dates carved in stone. There is a place for that kind of planning, but the arts don’t really lend themselves to that deep structure/measurement type of goal setting. Photography as a GANT chart doesn’t work for me.

Instead, I would ask you to think of what you want to do with your photography. What do you see yourself doing, photographically, next year at this time? How will your work have improved? What will your portfolio look like? Who are the types of clients you will be working with.

Make it a narrative if you want. Make a picture board, a collage, or a PowerPoint that only you can see. Put images on it that are the kinds of images YOU want to do. Put a list of clients on it that YOU want to work for. Make it real. Make it personal. Write it out and put it in a prominent place where you can see it every day.

Make it yours. Own it.

What does your one year goal say about where you are now? If my one year goal is to quit my second job working weekends and make photography my second job on the weekend, my current situation is one of entry point. If my one year goal is to have shot 4 annual reports – up from two this year – my current situation is one of a somewhat established pro.

Making it yours means making it real… and not something that cannot be achieved. For me to write a personal goal is clarify an outcome. A “point” in the future that I can see clearly, with the measurement and accountability that I have imposed on it. In other words, a destination that is of my own making. One that is vividly alive.

I hope you are not confusing a vision oriented goal with something material. A ‘goal’ of having a 300MM f2 lens may be a goal in the monetary,saings, hit-the-lottery sort of way. ‘Shooting for a major travel magazine, in far away exotic locations, within 18 months.’ There ya go.

Both take commitment and diligence. Whether forgoing those morning latte’s or working to increase your talent, there are steps that must be taken. Defined steps with small and incremental points to measure the progress.

More after the jump:

“We haven’t got a plan so nothing can go wrong!”Spike Milligan

There are countless followers of this illustrious philosophy. They are usually not doing what their heart and talent should have them doing. They were waylaid along the way by roads to nowhere, a lack of a map, and no clear cut, definable plan for getting from where they are to where they want to be.

And yeah, nothing could ‘go wrong’ so to speak. But in a place where nothing can go wrong, maybe nothing goes right either.

Do you have a set of goals that you are working on for your photography? Share them in the comments. I would love to see what you are working toward.

This post was brought to mind after a visit to the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, AZ.

While talking with some of the people there, the enormity of what had been created back in the late 80′s really hit me.

They had a goal in mind: to create a totally self-sufficient enclosure that could be replicated on the Moon… or Mars. It would have to have its own water supply and air that could be replenished.

There were many small wins that had to be made along the way, along with the final win of having people live totally enclosed for two years. Growing their own food, making their own air, with a sustainable water supply, the Biospherians would be totally sealed from the outside environment.

An amazing, incredible engineering feat coupled with tightly defined goals.

I highly recommend you take a visit down there one day. To see what was accomplished and to be entertained by the engineering virtuosity and brilliance of humans.

Here are a few shots I took while visiting the facility.


The main enclosure for the Rainforest, Ocean and Desert.


This facility handles the expanding and contracting air within the facility. A huge membrane that floats and keeps even pressure all through the day and night.


Measuring tools within the Rainforest Enclosure.


The high humidity in the Ocean enclosure makes for some very wet condensation.


Water treatment tanks deep below the enclosures surface.


The Rainforest Enclosure from the dry, Sonoran Desert.


The glass work is phenomenal. The entire structure built on the single triangle design for simplicity.

Thanks for coming along, and be sure to share your goals with us in the comments. Project 52 begins our 8th week, and you can follow along on Twitter. As always, follow me on Twitter and check out the Lighting Workshops for Photographers at Learn to Light.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

6 Comments

  1. Our goal (my wife and I) is to go full-time at the end of February, and to not only survive the rest of the year, but to prosper. The definition of prosperity for us is, to be happy in our daily walk with work and life and to bring something to the tables we sit at.

    We also want our work become more technically proficient and more artistically inviting.

    Knowing that “a journey of one thousand miles, begins with the first step”, we are stepping out.

    Reply
  2. Thanks Don. You don’t pull any punches do you? My goal? To get at least 1 paying photography gig a month. (No, I am not quitting my day job). And I know the response.. “what have you put in place to get 1 paying gig a month?

    Reply
  3. Great post!

    Reply
  4. Neat post. I’m so jealous of you visiting the bio-dome, I remember having blueprints of it in various science textbooks from 3rd to 6th grade and thought it was the coolest thing.

    Photographically speaking I want to try to shoot to the quality of a fine art calender or book and/or try to simulate a big shoot out of my safety zone ( get permits , rent lights , etc ).

    Reply
    • That is a worthy goal.

      You will learn so much from the experience of renting lights and working a shot with all the stuff that really goes into it.

      Great luck on that.

      BTW, are you currently involved in the Project 52 project? If not, you should jump on board.

      – don

      Reply
  5. My #1 goal for the next 6 months it to sell myself.
    This is something I have never been good at and it always takes more time than expected.

    Reply

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