31 January 2012

Late Photography Resolutions

Okay, okay, I know I'm just about a month late on these resolutions. Give the sick guy a break. I've been spending the month focusing on getting a diagnosis and proper treatment for my Lyme disease (with Bartonella) plus riding out the symptoms and reactions to the antibiotics. I take my first full-strength dose of antibiotics tomorrow and I'm hoping within a couple of weeks I'll be back to some semblance of normal. So I'm getting to this post a lot later than I had planned, but it means I've put some thought into it. These are the resolutions I'm making to dramatically improve my photography this year. I bet they might help a lot of you too. Here goes...

1. Photograph with the story in mind.
I need to think more about photographing with telling a story in mind. While it is important to have a good stock collection, the days of breaking into this business solely on stock sales is long over. I need to pitch photo/article packages, and in order to do that I need to spend more time photographing with a story in mind. This will help me get all the photographs I need to tell the story. For example, while I'm out of work, I've been brainstorming some photo/article packages that I could work on and submit to magazines. But I'm often finding that while I have the close-up shots to illustrate the article, I'm missing the big picture, sense of place shots, that are necessary in telling the story. In many cases, I can't shoot those images now until it would be too late to submit these season-critical articles. If I had been photographing with telling a story in mind in the first place, I'd already have these "place" shots in the archives.

On this trip I pre-visualized and got off the beaten path. While I didn't get a ton of images, I made some of my favorite ones.

2. Have objectives for your photo trips and do more pre-visualization.
This is connected to resolution #1 above. With a full-time job and a family, my photography time is somewhat limited. A day when I get skunked can feel pretty painful. As a result, other than picking a location and having a very general idea of what I might be photographing, I spend many of my photo trips just zipping around from place to place, subject to subject, looking to make the most beautiful images that I can, in the hopes of maximizing my "keepers" for any given outing. I'm almost loathe to invest the time, effort, and pre-planning necessary in photographing wildlife that aren't a "sure thing". The temptation to cut my loses and move on is often stronger than my motivation to stick out the possibility of capturing a great image or great behavior. I should have a story in mind and do whatever it takes to get the shots I need to tell that story, regardless of whether that means I might invest a lot of time and effort in something that doesn't pan out on a particular day.

By sitting patiently by a popular feeding pool, I got extraordinarily close to this wintering Ruddy Duck.

3. Do more hiking, waiting, stalking, sitting, and hiding, instead of driving.
Again, this relates to the points above. When I'm just looking to make the highest number of keepers I can in the shortest amount of time, the tendency is to drive the refuge roads back and forth, or stay near the roads where I can move on if something isn't panning out. But, I know that the best wildlife shots come with patience, sitting, and using a blind or ghillie suit. And that the most unique landscapes come from getting off the beaten path and not photographing from the same old car accessible vantage points that everyone else photographs from. I pledge to do more hiking, canoeing, backpacking, sitting, and hiding in my photography this year (with objectives based on the stories I want to tell), and less driving around like a madman.

4. Market, market, market, market yourself.
Having a good website isn't enough. Endlessly posting on social media is not enough. Writing regular, incredible blog posts is not enough (not that I claim my posts to be either regular or incredible). In today's flooded market, the chances that my photography is going to be suddenly "discovered" by one editor, never mind enough editors to turn this into a full-time career that my wife could get behind, is completely nil. I have to put my work directly on their desk. Through submissions, through inquiries, through promotional campaigns. What am I afraid of (see #8)? Chance and luck do not make a good business plan.

If I had gotten enough DOF to make the dragonfly sharp too, this would have been one of my favorite wildlife images.

5. Pay better attention to depth of field in my wildlife images.
Okay, I had to have at least one technical resolution in this list. Some of my favorite wildlife images have been ruined by too shallow a depth of field. Often this has been because of a trade-off between getting the shutter speed to get a sharp image due to animal movement and the poor high ISO performance of my old camera. But sometimes it is just because in the heat of battle, I've been focused on composition, focus, and sharpness and I've forgotten to worry about DOF. With my new camera in hand, I pledge to pay more attention to DOF in my wildlife photographs.

More action and behavior images, less portraits (no matter how beautiful).

6. More action and behavior.
Many of my best animal images are portraits, but I really want to be a photographer of action and animal behavior. Some of what has held me back has been the limitations of my equipment, but some of it has also been from lack of practice. Some of it also has been from that pressure to shoot more keepers, keeping me from experimenting or going for situations that are more dynamic, but less sure. This year, there will be less portraits in my portfolio and more action and behavior.

7. Write more.
This circles back to my first resolution. I'd really like to make my name by selling photo/article packages. I've been practicing and honing my camera craft for the last several years. How much have I been practicing and honing my writing craft?

Rejection can't feel this bad? Right?

8. Fear is not an option.
What's been holding me back from doing more marketing? From submitting photos and/or articles? From putting myself out there? Am I afraid of rejection? Am I afraid of failing? Am I just a natural procrastinator (friends and family are banned from answering this particular rhetorical question in the comments section)? Well, this year, no more.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share your photography resolutions or a link to your photography resolutions in the comments.


  1. Great thoughts Elijah.

    I've recently decided to pursue some of these similar points in my wildlife filming. I have spent a lot of time shooting informal wildlife vignettes. I'm currently embarking on a much larger and more formal project that I anticipate taking at least a full year.

    I look forward to seeing both of us expand our horizons this year.

  2. Great post Elijah! Love the vision for where you want to go with your photography. Can't wait to start seeing your articles and photos in print!

  3. I think these are wonderful photography resolutions, Elijah! I enjoyed reading this post and I know reading your ideas will help me in achieving my photography goals. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  4. I love your photos Eli, you are an inspiration to us all, I hope you feel better soon, my thoughts are with you!!!!

  5. Firstly wish you a speedy recovery!! :)

    These are lovely images!!

  6. AMAZING images and
    Such GREAT ideas!! So sorry about the Lyme Disease!! Hope you are feeling better soon!

  7. Thanks all! @Dwight it is great to hear from you. My thoughts are with you and I hope you weather your latest medical issues well.