Quotas, epiphanies, and advice from Dad

I started out this year with a lengthy list of goals, one of which was to significantly increase the amount of photos that I have published.  I think that it was a good idea to put a goal out there for myself, because no one can buy a print or license a photo if it is just sitting in my Lightroom library collecting virtual dust.  And these photos don’t just make themselves available.  It requires me to do something, because when you shoot RAW, the captured files don’t exactly mirror reality.

However, I have to admit that I got sidetracked along the way and lost focus (photographic pun only slightly intended).

Let me explain.

Quotas can be helpful...

Having spent the better part of my corporate career in what is generally called “sales”, I am no stranger to having a quota.  I’ve carried one around at work for the better part of twenty-five years, and it’s just a part of work to me.  I don’t get stressed about it - I just do the things that need to be done, and try to do them well, and try to help my customers solve their problems.  I assume things will sort themselves out in the end, and they usually do.

So when this year started, and I was sitting at just under 2300 photos published (I use my Flickr account as the basis for my numbers), I realized that getting more of my work published would theoretically give me more opportunity to earn some sort of living from my photography.  It makes sense that the more things you have available, the more likely you are to find someone interested in at least one of them.

I still believe that to be true.

...but quotas can be dangerous to the creation process.

However, I found myself getting caught up in how many photos I had processed each week, and how many I still had to go to reach my goal, and so forth.  If one blog entry had 10 photos, then I figured I should have 12 photos for the next one.  If I had a blog entry with 17 photos, then I should follow that with 20 photos on the next post.  More is better, right?  That’s the American way, Jim - produce, produce, produce!  

Wrong.

I got caught up in the achievement of the goal itself (just focusing on the numbers), and lost sight of the reason for having the goal in the first place, which was to create more photographic art and make it available.  I got caught up in making my (self-imposed) quota.  It became a numbers game for me.  All that mattered were the numbers of photos I created.

And that’s a crying shame, because it became “work” instead of “art”.

I would actually be proud of how many photos I would take on a trip.  Instead of thinking "wow, I got a couple of real beauties", I would think, "man this is awesome, I took 2500 photos this week" or something like that.  It almost didn't matter how good the photos were, just that there were a lot of them.  Isn't that terrible?

Art should be enjoyable

This IS art, and as such it should be an enjoyable thing for all parties involved: enjoyment for the artist during the process of creation (from preparing to shoot, to pressing the shutter, to post-processing), and enjoyment by the viewer when they view it.  While I have no control over the viewer’s reaction, I certainly can do things to ensure that I enjoy the creative process.  And I should enjoy it, because it fills my soul.  I love this stuff!

And the first thing you can do to ensure you enjoy the process of creation?  Take your time, experiment, learn something new, and immerse yourself in it.  Guess what else I figured out?  When you are enjoying the creation process, you are more likely to create compelling images.  I was completely missing that point.  I got away from the enjoyment, and in many ways it became “my job” to crank out more photos.  It became work.  It was all about the quantity and not the quality.  I was in a hurry.  It was a chore.

Trying to force creativity doesn’t work

So I made a change, and have been operating under this change for a while now.  I am still working on getting more photos published, but I am not trying to get 10 or more photos on each blog entry.  Some may have 10, and some may have 3.  Heck some might even be a single photograph (or zero, like today's post).  It depends on what it is I am posting about and what I am feeling when I craft these images.

And I have changed things when I go out to shoot, too.  I'm not just trying to grab anything and everything.  I am slowing down and thinking more about my shots.  I came home from my recent Norway and Scotland trip with far fewer photos than on any previous trip to Europe, but I have some shots that I absolutely love.

And I think it is WAY more important to have a few images that you love than to have a million that are ok.

I’m focused less on a quota, and more on creating things that I love.  I’m afraid to admit that in some of the pics I have posted this year, I do not love my processing - instead I was posting them because “more is better”.  I was just trying to get more stuff published, instead of publishing things that I loved.

And a lot of this comes down to processing choices too.  I nearly stopped processing my photos in HDR because it takes longer to go through the HDR creation process than it does for me to make adjustments to a single exposure.  But I missed HDR in a big way, and am happy to be processing more of my recent work in HDR.  It's fun.

The wisdom of my late Father

So this means that I may be going back to the well, so to speak, and taking some of these photos you have seen here previously and reprocessing them, but with an emphasis on quality this time.  I will just have to make time for it, because there are some that would look really fabulous if I came back to them with the idea of crafting a quality image front and center, instead of just rushing through it to get more stuff out the door.

It reminds me of something my dad used to say to me, when I was looking for a shortcut to getting some chore done, presumably so I could get back to doing something I loved.  He would say “Son, if you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, when are you going to find the time to do it again?”.  Amen to that, Dad, and thanks.

The epiphany in Park City

Much of this thought process occurred this past summer while we were making our way home from our extended stay in Oregon.  We were in Park City, UT for a weekend, and walked into a photography gallery there that contained the most amazing work.  It was awe-inspiring, and it reminded me of how I felt when I first started seeing (and creating) HDR photos.  I was inspired again, and decided there and then that chasing numbers was not going to cut it anymore.  I wanted to create beautiful images to the best of my ability, not rush around just getting a large quantity of average stuff out there.  I was nearing burnout, anyways.

To be clear, I am not saying that HDR is the only way to do things, or that everything I do will be HDR - I simply want to take my time, enjoy the process, and create stuff I love.  It just so happens that HDR is something that I still love.

This thought process is also partly responsible for me moving back into a full frame camera system - having recently bought the Sony A7II and sold all my Olympus gear.  Obviously there is nothing wrong with Olympus, but I just felt the need to return to full frame.  There is just something about it, but again that’s a discussion for another time.

Looking ahead

I am still cranking out images - though at a slower pace these days.  Some of my recent posts have been multiple images and some have been just a few, but either way, they are images that I took my time on, and I feel better about it - and I am only sharing it here if I love it.

Oh, and about my goals for the year?  Yeah, I achieved them many months ago.  I am sitting at nearly 4400 images on Flickr, and just about to hit 3000 on my portfolio site at SmugMug.  I already upped them once about mid-year and then hit those targets too.  Like I said, I was pretty focused on the numbers.  

But I’m done with setting goals.  I made my goals for the year, and then over-achieved my stretch goals too.  I am getting back to the art of it all, the love of the creative process and the crafting of things that I am proud of.  Now I am going to take my time and share images that I love with you here.  I hope you enjoy them, and I am always open to feedback.

Thanks for listening.

p.s.  Kind of funny that I talked so much about creating a lot of  images, and I didn't include any here, huh?  Well, I'm off to process some new images - but just a couple.  No sense in rushing things.  :-)