Setting Goals For 2020 With Jim Harmer

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Annual Top Ten

If you have been listening to this show, or my Photo Taco podcast, for more than a year you will know that I am a huge proponent of going through a “Top Ten” process annually.  I have been doing this for many years and I find it to be one of the most helpful things that costs only your time to help you grow as a photographer.

Top Ten Process

I don’t want to go into how it is I approach that process much here.  Check out the Photo Taco episode Why Photographers Should Choose Their Top Ten Photos Annually where I go over how I use Lightroom collections to simplify the technical part of the process.  It doesn’t make the choosing which of your babies is ugly any easier, but it can really help you at least get to the point of seeing your best photos a fairly painful technical process.

It is pretty easy to narrow the images you created through the year down to your best 50 or 30, but after that it starts to get really hard to decide which of the very good photos you have created don’t make the cut for that year. It forces you into being far more objective when evaluating your own work than you would be otherwise. You have to really consider the quality of the images and based on issues you find with them eliminate those that aren’t as strong from making it into your annual Top Ten.

Benefits of Annual Top Ten Process

Jim has seen a lot of benefits of doing a top ten process, though he tends to always be doing a continual top ten rather than only doing it once a year. He uses Lightroom star ratings to always keep track of his very best photos so that he is ready to respond to anyone who asks to see his best images. Images that get a 5 star rating are the best images he has ever created and that gets updated constantly as he works through his photos.

One of the benefits he has seen from doing a top ten process has been recognizing times when he was doing a better job with his photography in the past over what he is doing now. Getting stuck in a rut is very common with photographers and looking back over the images that you were most proud of can help you reflect on what made those images so great and why aren’t you doing that now. Maybe you weren’t as inventive or creative. Maybe you just aren’t shooting enough.

Jeff also loves being able to look back on the top ten images from previous years and recognizing the improvement that has been made. It is really obvious in his work the point in time where he added flash to his portrait work because the quality of the images increased dramatically. It can really help you to consider what it is you want to work on as a photographer over the next year.

One last benefit worth mentioning here that comes out of doing an annual top ten process is you have images ready to monetize. Putting them in calendars (you will have to pick two more of course) or setting up a sale on photos that clients may want to purchase as gifts if you are a landscape can boost your year end sales.

Setting Photography Goals For 2020

After doing that top ten process for the year, the next natural step is to set some goals for yourself to become a better photographer the next year and make that top ten better. Let’s start with some advice on how to make your goals for 2020 more meaningful and far more likely to be accomplished and then we have some suggestions on goals to consider.

Make Goals Real – Take That First Step In January!

You are probably not new to setting goals. It is a focus we all have in January at the start of a new and promising year. You are also likely to be very familiar with those goals not making you do anything different through the year or having much meaning. You know, that gym membership you bought last year that got used twice.

Here is our suggestion on a way to make that goal far more likely to be accomplished. Take a first step towards that goal in January. Whatever goals you set for yourself unless you take a step towards accomplishing that goal it is only a hope. Hope is great, but that won’t mean a lot come December of 2020 if you didn’t take action.

Photography Goal Suggestions
  • Take a meaningful portrait of your family. One where you put as much (or more) effort into the shoot as you do a shoot paid for by a client. Print it out and hang it on the wall. You could start on that in January by booking a date with your family.
  • Photograph five places outside of the city/state/location you live in. Figure out those five times you can go out shooting and buy the plane tickets in January.
  • Learn a new genre of photography. If you are a portrait photography, try some macro. If you are a landscape photographer, try some flash. If you need to make an investment in equipment to do that new genre, do that in January!
  • Add flash to your portraits. If you don’t currently use flash with your portrait photography, you REALLY need to do that. Sure, use natural light and meet your clients at locations that are both meaningful to them and beautiful backgrounds, but adding a single light will do wonders that you can’t understand until you make that effort. Buy flash equipment in January and learn that will get you learning how to use it!
  • Do some night photography. There is nearly nothing as challenging to a photographer and the equipment as a little night photography. Photographers record light and when there is an extreme lack of that light you have to really know your stuff to have that turn out well. You will learn things about the exposure triangle even when you think you really have it down. It isn’t Milky Way season in the northern hemisphere at this time of the year, but you can get out there in January and get a picture of the starry sky. I promise if you give it a try you will be hooked and want to do more!
  • Learn how to use every menu option on your camera. It sounds boring or maybe a little intimidating, but this is something that can really help you to get better as a photographer. Photographers are so quickly bitten by that upgrade bug, pushing the easy button to throw money at the problem. The camera you have is most likely more capable than you know. Resist that temptation to upgrade your camera body until you know what ever menu option is and how to use it.
  • Leave your favorite lens at home. If you have a few years of experience in photography you have probably moved on from the kit lenses and invested in some high quality glass. Maybe you have the trinity of lenses so many go after. When is the last time you did a shoot with that wide angle lens? We tend to get comfortable with one lens and just use it. Get a session setup where you will limit yourself to one of the lenses you have used for a while.
  • Do a composite. Not only will you learn how to shape lighting so that it will match the scene you are going to be dropping your model into, you have to learn how to cut that model out and place them on the background using Photoshop. Photoshop is intimidating to most photographers and having a goal or something you need to accomplish is a really good way to learn how to use the software.
  • Figure out what you are leaning on. Most photographers fall in two groups. They either lean on getting things done in camera because they just don’t know how to do editing on the computer or they don’t really understand how to use their camera and flashes and rely on post processing to create their images. If you lean towards the technology side of things, try doing some stock photography and you will find out in a hurry how you have to do a better job of getting things really clean in camera. If the technical aspects scare you to death, back to the composite idea.
  • Dive into the exposure triangle. Most photographers feel as though they are competent with the exposure triangle yet almost without fail as we have taught photography classes on the exposure triangle photographers admit to us that they really didn’t understand it like they thought. If you haven’t spent a lot of time making sure you fully understand the exposure triangle. If you are shooting at 15mm and people are 15 feet away with an aperture of 1.8, are the people going to be in focus? You don’t have to memorize charts that can tell you that, but do you have a general idea? Watch YouTube videos that cover it. Find paid training that goes over it. Go to a workshop (maybe consider the Create Photography Retreat).

How Do You Handle Failures To Accomplish Goals?

We have all been here many times. We set goals in January and before the month is over we have already failed with some or all of our goals. It can be discouraging and demoralizing. Especially if you did give a good effort to accomplish your goal and didn’t make it.

If you have set goals for your photography in the past and haven’t been successful, its time to get out of your comfort zone and do something you never would have. Whatever the reason you didn’t reach your goal in the past, make it different this next year by setting something that is well outside your comfort zone and go for it! Take that small step towards that goal well outside your comfort zone in January. It is amazing the growth that takes place when you get out of that comfort zone and what you can accomplish after you take that first simple step.

New Resource Coming 12/31/2019 – “Work Energy” Book

If the discussion about goals is something that you want more help with, a book called Work Energy is going to be published at the end of this year that will be a really good resource. Jim has spent many years writing the book, living the principles in there himself and able to help you be far more successful with your goals. As photographers you are small business owners and entrepreneurs and this book can really help you.


Jeff: Portable Charger Anker PowerCore 20100mAh ($45)

Jim:  Neewer Dimmable Constant Light ($55)


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