Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I earn a small commission of product sales to keep this website going.
I’ve quietly altered my photographic pursuits over the past few years, from going out in search of that one-off beautiful landscape photo, to telling stories of the places I travel to and the people I meet. I didn’t really realize that it was happening – or had happened at all, really.
I had the honor of appearing on a popular photography podcast this year and speaking at a few public events. In all of these events, the people who invited me wanted to hear about my recent humanitarian photography projects in Africa and Central America.
No problem, I’d love to share those stories!
But wait – I always fancied myself a “landscape photographer.” How the hell am I speaking about humanitarian & travel photography?
This really made me evaluate how I got to this point. Because not even I knew.
But once I figured out how this transition happened, I felt compelled to share it at these events, and want to share it with you here. It’s an important point for creative people to consider, especially as we get into a new decade and many of us are making new resolutions, new goals, or whatever else you want to call them.
I’m going to give you two challenges for the upcoming year. Will they improve your life and photographic pursuits? I don’t know, they’re something you’ll have to try first!
Passion & Drive
I hear (and give) a lot of advice to photographers searching for subjects to photograph and projects to work on. The advice is often something along the lines of, what are you passionate about?
I was always passionate about being out in nature. Hence, landscape photography.
But there were two problems with this.
First, it’s true that I’m passionate about being out in nature. But I’m there because it’s my place to reset & renew. It’s a spiritual experience for me. A sanctuary, one that I was violating with business pursuits. In all honesty, it tainted both the outdoors and photography for me.
Second, while I loved taking photos of grand landscapes, the love ended there. I felt no additional fulfillment after creating the photograph. Isn’t photography supposed to make you feel something? For over a decade, I was in total denial that landscape photography wasn’t fulfilling a greater need.
The case for stepping out of your comfort zone
So I only wanted to take photos of landscapes. No photos with people in them, not even in the distance, let alone closeups.
My first accidental foray into documentary-style photography was in the Bahamas in 2013. I met some volunteer sea turtle taggers and spent a couple of days photographing their work for their fundraising efforts. Not only were these photos not landscapes, but they had people in them! *gasp* I was completely out of my comfort zone and venturing into a photographic genre I had never done before.
But you know what? I loved it. Completely fell in love with the idea of this kind of photography. There were numerous reasons why I came to love this kind of photography.
- The challenge – there are no second chances. I couldn’t mess up the timing, the composition, or the technical decisions and say, “nope, I’ve gotta redo that photo.” By that point, it’d be too late. I’d have missed the moment and the photo. I thrive on challenges like that.
- The story – I’ve always loved stories. Movies, books, folk songs, photodocumentaries. I don’t know why but I never brought this method into my photography. I was just making single landscape photos meant to stand on their own. But once I started using photography to tell larger stories of amazing people & places, it all started making sense.
- The reward – using photos for good. I’ve always felt I had a higher calling to serve others, hence my time in the military and my current roles in Search & Rescue. Being able to use my passion for photography to do good helped me feel whole again, and gave me another reason to pick up the camera.
Your first challenge: Photograph something that you’ve never thought about photographing before. I’m not saying you have to follow my footsteps or do photography to “feel good,” but poke your camera into a genre you’ve never considered before. See where it can take you.
I’ll be doing a lot more documentary projects in 2020, including going back to the Bahamas to followup with the turtle taggers, a return to Guatemala, and another project with Photographers Without Borders.
Decluttering daily tasks & workflow
I’ve purged a lot of things out of my life in 2019 and it has felt great. I have limited bandwidth, and getting rid of (or minimizing a few things) has opened up processing power in my brain for more important things.
Social media for different reasons
“Everyone” always says that photographers need social media to be successful. Build awareness on Facebook, find people to work with on Instagram, post news on Twitter, send out videos on YouTube…all that stuff.
Post at least once a day (if not twice), comment on at least ten photos per day, follow 20 new people every day…the list of “rules & best practices” goes on and on.
Not only is this nonsense, but it can misplace your priorities. If you enjoy it, more power to you. But it’s not for everyone.
Self-promotion was tiring me. It’s not my style, and not why I want to be a photographer. So, screw it. In the words of the great Bill Murray, it just doesn’t matter. I’ll post when I have something to post, even if it’s only twice a month.
The result? Less anxiety throughout the week. No more FOMO.
Is RAW processing just a waste of time?
I hate sounding like a commercial for Fujifilm, but seriously, the style customizations within the camera have spurred me to focus more on capturing the photo and less on processing it.
Why does this matter? It’s really forced me to consider the look & feel I want to convey before making the photo – to consider why I’m going to press the shutter. This forces me to pay more attention to the pre-capture technical decisions, like color and exposure, knowing that I won’t adjust them later.
My main goal is to get an emotional response from the viewer based on the content of the photo and the story it tells, not on how I processed it on the computer. If it’s a compelling photo made with technical proficiency, it should be good enough to go straight from the camera to publishing.
The result? SO. MUCH. MORE. FREE. TIME. If the JPGs meet my goal, I’m done. If not, I only have a little work to do on the RAW.
Does this approach work for everyone? Hell no. But have you asked yourself if it will work for you?
Your second challenge: Is there any part of your daily photographic tasks & workflow that you can cut out, or even just minimize? Can you cut out some of your social media efforts that aren’t contributing to your goals? Are you spending too much time processing photos just for the sake of “processing”?
By the end of 2020, I hope to get to the point where I’m comfortable enough not even considering the need to process any RAW files.
Which challenge will you accept? Let me know below! Or is there anything else you’re going to try?