Photographers are no strangers to goals. In fact, I would argue that goals are of paramount importance to us. They are, I think, the things that guide us throughout the entirety of our careers. Not only are our goals standing as achievements to pursue but they serve as a sort of lighthouse, always guiding us. If you find yourself straying, use your goals to bring yourself back on track.
The problem with goals is that we often think of them in a one-time frame. We set ourselves long-term goals or short term. We don’t always examine the differences between them or make sets of goals for various stages of our careers. But, I think that we should all have a variety of goals to work towards, items that span the near term all the way out to the far future. Here are some thoughts that may help you develop and organize your photographic goals.
The Short Term
What are short-term goals? These are the immediate goals, the things you plan to do in the very near future. That photo trip that you are planning for this weekend, the photos that have been languishing in a folder on your computer’s desktop, still in need of processing. This could also be the planning for the trips that you’d like to go on, but you just haven’t quite gotten around to the planning stages. Other short-term goals include photo-a-day projects in which you take a photo each day.
All of this leads to the next question: Why are short-term goals important? This leads me to the problem with time, which is that it is always wasting. It is so, so easy to procrastinate, to put things off, to shelve projects, to just simply not get things done. And that’s why short-term goals are essential. These are the things that keep you motivated, keep you moving forward, progressing each and every day. They’re not the big, overarching things that become the theme of your career. Instead, they are the things that you want or need to accomplish in the now.
The Medium Term
Unlike the short-term goals, goals for the medium term are less about the day to day and more about the month to month or even the year to year. Some of the things that you can classify under the medium term heading include the new techniques that you’d like to learn or the expensive piece of equipment that you want to save up money to buy. Larger photographic projects that will take weeks, months or years to finish are medium-term goals. The goals of pitching yourself to galleries or magazines can also be placed in the medium category, especially since promoting yourself takes a lot of planning and preparation.
In short, these are the goals that bring your photographic career into focus. For instance, a short-term goal of yours might be to photograph birds at a favorite nature preserve over the coming weekend. This goal may also be part of a larger, medium-term goal, which is to document the entire story of the nature preserve over the coming weeks or years.
In this way, you can see how projects for the short term help you to get things done each day, but at the medium portion of the scale, these goals are the things that help you to advance your career or complete the larger projects that expand your knowledge base or your skillset.
The Long Term
Now, you may wonder, what fits into the long-term category? These are the guideposts. Goals of this sort are those that you look forward to completing many years from now. You may not have many long-term goals but most photographers have at least a couple. Perhaps you want to see your work hanging in galleries sometime in the next decade. This is a long-term goal made up of shorter goals: Photographing, presenting your work to gallery owners, improving your skills, working and working until at some point, that larger goal of selling your work has been achieved.
These goals can also encompass the things that you hope to accomplish over a lifetime as a photographer. For example, for some photographers, the lifetime goal is to document threatened wildlife or the ravages of industrialization on natural areas. For another photographer, the lifetime goal is to tell the stories of marginalized groups of people. Long-term goals are generally enormous, broad in scope and scale. They are the things that, as you approach your elder years, you will look back on as the themes that defined who and what you were as a photographer.
Organizing Your Goals
Now that we know how to organize goals, what can we do to help ourselves achieve them? The best way to go about this, to my mind, is to make your goals prominent. Look at New Year’s resolutions as an example: So many of us make resolutions but by February, we’ve forgotten what those resolutions even were. The same thing sometimes happens with goals. You may think that a month or two from now, you want to visit a particular place to take photographs. Then life moves on and in a few days, you forgot that you had that thought.
What this means is you need some way to document your goals. A planner or even a chart that you can hang on the wall of your studio. Some way to write them down, such as a whiteboard to help you keep track of the short-term goals. Think about creative ways to write down your goals but most importantly, think about ways to display them so that you will see them and be reminded of your goals often.
Goals differ from one photographer to the next and sometimes even from one week to the next. But we all have them. The challenge is in how we organize them and what we do to make sure that we accomplish them.