Goals for Inspiration, and Motivation
One of the biggest struggles I have, probably the single largest barrier to improving my photography, is just getting out there to shoot. Sounds simple. Just pick up the camera and go out the door, right? But shoot what? That is the problem. It’s like staring at a blank piece of paper, or a blank computer screen, and not knowing what to type. One way to get past this is to set yourself some goals.
Goals do a couple of things. First they motivate you. If you have goals, actually written down, it makes it harder to leave the camera at home and go do something else. It keeps you accountable for making an effort to create images. They also keep you from going out and looking for “that image” to jump in front of your camera. You know what I mean. Those times you go out to shoot, not knowing WHAT image you want, looking for a special image to present itself to you. I’m guilty, I’ve been there, more often than I would like to admit. But it’s not the way to get better, and it doesn’t help you to create compelling images.
Setting Your Goals
OK, so what kind of goals do you need? How do you figure out goals that you can achieve, and that will be helpful. Many self help courses, and personal management trainers talk about SMART goals. Smart is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. SMART can, and should be applied to ANY type of goals you create, but let’s talk about how they pertain to photography for a moment.
Specific. A specific goal is a goal that has some focus (pun intended). Just like a photo, a goal needs a clear subject. What do you want to improve on. Are you trying to improve your macro skills, or take better black and white images? One good, and specific goal to improve your black and white shots would be something like “I am going to take 1 Black and White image each day for a week.”
Measurable. Is the goal above, 1 black and white image each day for a week Measurable? Yes, 1 image, each day, for 7 days. “I should really start taking more black and white images” isn’t really a goal. It’s not at all measurable. A little better, but not quite there, is “I’m going to take some black and white images this month.” Possibly “I’m going to shoot ONLY black and white images this month.” That could work. It’s measurable, if you have more than ZERO color images in the month, you didn’t meet your goal.
Attainable. If I set a goal of shooting 1 image of a flag blowing in the wind on top of Mt Everest before Friday. This meets the first two criteria of our SMART goals. It’s Specific. It’s Measurable. But if I’m not going to be climbing Mt Everest this week, it is not Attainable. Getting to the top of that mountain takes some advanced planning. If I said Before I Die instead of This Week, the attainability of that goal may increase. But it’s pretty broad. That’s a long range goal, and to get moving on it, you need some smaller steps to get there.
Realistic. The Mt Everest goal may not be realistic for everyone. If I really wanted to, I probably could get there. But I have other things I would rather get to before I die, so I seriously doubt I will ever make it to the top of Mt Everest. It’s not my top priority. Something that exceeds your budget, or the time you can put into it, may not be realistic. I am all for stretching. Don’t be too quick to determine a goal to be unrealistic. You can do some amazing things if you set your mind to it. Just make sure you set a goal that you are WILLING to commit to, then GO FOR IT.
Timely. What does this mean? Well, the “Before I Die” goals are cool, and everyone should have a bucket list. But if you are trying to improve your photography, your SMART goals should be goals that you can achieve in the relatively NEAR FUTURE. Ideally, goals that you can meet today, this week, or this month. You should achieve them soon so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Mix in some bucket list goals if you want to, but if all your goals are way out in the future, you will get discouraged, and you will not make progress. They all feel far away in time, and you will always feel like “I’ll get to that eventually.”
Setting SMART Goals
What Goals Should You Set?
There is the criteria, your goals should be SMART. Great. Now what? I can’t set your goals for you, but I can tell you how I have determined some of my goals.
Photo Contests or Challenges. These give you some great goals. There is usually a deadline set for you. Either you meet the deadline or you don’t. They set a theme for the image you need to submit. And you may be able to get some sort of feedback on the image you create.
Personal Projects. Determine a personal project. Make it something you enjoy shooting. One of my favorite personal projects is Entropy and Rust. Whatever you like shooting, if there is something that you would like to create a substantial collection of work for, then maybe this would make a good personal project for you. Set a goal to take 10 new photos for your personal project by the end of the month.
Teach someone a skill. Find a way to teach the new skills you learn. The best way to reinforce what you learn, is to turn around and teach it to someone else. That reinforces what you have learned, and helps you to retain it. Maybe a goal is to teach some basic photography skills to a youth group. You could write an article on your blog. Or teach your mother how to use one of the features on her new camera.
Think about what you are trying to learn. Specifically, what do you want to improve. We all want to be better photographers. But to get there, think about which of your skills are lacking. And think about how you might improve them. Keep the 5 aspects of the SMART goals in mind when determining how you will get better. Make goals, and write them down. They just don’t have the same impact if you just let them float around in your head. Lastly, go out and shoot. I recently heard someone say “Create with Intent.” I don’t know what podcast I heard that on, so if you know let me know so I can give the person credit. Think about the image you want and then go make it rather than waiting to get lucky and have an image present itself to you. Setting goals will help you do that. Have fun, and go out and shoot.