Progressing and Sustaining Your Photography Practice – a Strategy for Personal Progress

Progressing and Sustaining Your Photography Practice – a Strategy for Personal Progress

I’m starting to panic! In another six months or so, I’ll be an OAP! A ’Senior Citizen!’ Now, I’m not in any way thinking that on my 65th birthday I’ll be locking the studio door and throwing away the key! That’s not going to happen – not in this day and age, – but I’m curious as to how I’m going to practice photography with the same drive and enthusiasm when it’s no longer my source of income! A recent read through a photography degree course curriculum confirmed my own thoughts. One of the modules was ‘Developing a Strategy for Personal Progress’ So what’s MY strategy – for when retirement finally kicks in?

If like me, you can’t be a photographic adventurer, or a world traveller or a high earning fashion photographer, how are you going to sustain your interest and enthusiasm for your photography going forward? How do you find ‘purpose on your doorstep’ to make your photography interesting, challenging and a compelling source of personal fulfilment for years to come?

Here’s some suggestions

  • Your photographic adventure starts at your front door. Learn that you don’t need to travel miles and endure hardship in the pursuit of great photographs. The world begins on your doorstep, so walk out into your street, your neighbourhood, and start to look for photographs. If you can see it you can photograph it. It can be the recording of one single moment in time, some local event, something totally mundane that people would walk past without noticing, but in a hundred years time, will be a moment in history, an important visual document that catalogues life as it was. Look for lines and colours in the streetscape, use your camera and your artistic talents to make dull things interesting. Capture the essence, the life of your local area, and the people who live there. Make yourself THE local photographer, – talk to the people on the streets, and find out about their lives and record them. Make a note of names and places and their related images. Build up a visual record of your world that will inform and inspire others.
  • What are you passionate about? What fires you up? This is usually a great place to start when you are looking for motivation. Is there a particular cause or issue that really arouses your passion? It could be political or religious, it could be sociological. Make that issue your motivation. Use your photography to illustrate your passion and perhaps to bring about change. Make a start by researching some of the great documentary photographers of the past and present. People like Dorothea Lang, – see how their images brought social change and betterment for people. You can do that too.
  • What genre catches your imagination? Photography is not all about pretty landscapes and cuddly pets and adorable babies. There are other genres too every bit as challenging and interesting. Could you get excited by any of these…
    1. Still Life. You can pursue this at home, just buying a small light tent from one of the suppliers and setting up a simple flash lighting arrangement. Use your images for greeting cards, web illustrations etc.

    • Street. Get out into the streets around your house or into your town centre. If you’ve a big town near you go there, for you’ll be less conspicuous in a street with lots of strangers than you’d bee in your home neighbourhood. There’ll be lots to photograph. Street vendors, street musicians, parades and festivals, – try to avoid photographing people’s faces unless you have their permission. Silhouettes are a great way of doing this. Look for interesting juxtapositions, architecture and people blending together for example. There’s so much to do and see on our streets.
    • Architecture. A genre all on its own, and people have made money from specialising in it. Historical buildings, modern buildings, construction sites, derelict buildings, places where time has stood still, urban exploration, a bit of adventure… its all there.
    • Garden. If you’re interested in plants, there’s a whole world of photography on your doorstep. Parks are lovingly tended throughout the year, and recording the seasons in imagery can be very rewarding. Try something different too. Use shallow depth of field for example. Get yourself a ‘Lensbaby Sweet Spot Lens’ and try turning ordinary garden scenes into impressionistic art.
    • Wildlife. This would have been my great ambition in younger days; an ambition sadly never fulfilled. Not to go on safari trips to photograph in the wilds of Africa or India, but to be able to buy a hide and wait with a long lens until an interesting bird or animal came into sight. Not hard to achieve, just a little patience needed, and a reasonable good lens.
  • Set a goal. Give yourself something to aim for. Perhaps…
    1. An exhibition of images. Why not! Plenty of libraries and public places display artworks on their walls and are happy to show off a local artist’s work.
    2. A distinction. Go for it. Sign up for a distinction from the RPS or one of the other photographic organisations.
    3. A competition. There’s lots and lots of photo competitions.
    4. Get published. Submit images to make a photobook etc. Use social media, like Instagram or Flickr to publish your images. Let other people see them and invite comment and constructive critique.
    5. Get listed on a ‘stock image website.’ Ok, there not so much money in this nowadays, but it can give a lot of satisfaction.
  • Self improvement. Keep learning new techniques and skills – nobody knows everything, and lifelong learning is a well established method of keeping the brain active and staying focussed.

So what do I do about it – I mean me, personally? There’s no point in giving advice to others if I’m not motivating myself as well. So I recognise my limitations, accept them and work to the fullest extent within them. In my case…
* I make the best possible possible use of my camera and studio facilities, both for profit and to help and encourage others  – but when I’m not at work I’ll photograph literally anything! But not just a snap – whatever I photograph, I want it to be a work of art, unique and different from all others in as many ways as possible.
* I take a camera with me everywhere I go. You just never know what you might encounter in an average day’s activities. Make sure a camera is at hand, and remember that the right camera for the job is the one you have with you at the time. I still regret that I had no camera in my hand on the day I witnessed two traffic wardens jiving together in a little street behind Belfast City Hall!
* I make the kind of photographs that please ME – not anyone else. I like history, so I seek to photograph historical things, I like to document small moments in history as it occurs so I’ll just sit around and watch. Who knows what might happen.

So think about YOUR strategy for personal progress – then go and make it happen.