At this time of year, it’s common for us to reflect on the past year: what we accomplished, what we wished to accomplish, etc. It’s also the time we start thinking about what we want to accomplish in the new year.
I always like to create a list of goals at the beginning of each year, and check in on those goals throughout the year. But, I’ve never really set any photography-specific goals before. So, for next year, I’m trying something new: for each month, I’m thinking of a specific image I want to create that month.
For example, for January I want to create a black and white image of a creosote bush (a common plant in the California deserts): either an image showing one of them blurred by the strong wind of the desert or a close-up that shows the contrast in their branches. For May, I want to photograph the silhouette of an oak tree on a hill, and maybe with a crescent moon in the sky.
I think this exercise of planning out your year of photography helps in a variety of ways. My favorite part of doing this is that it helps you visualize your images. It helps you become more deliberate with your photography and see your images before you create them. I think that’s a very valuable skill to develop as a photographer. Although I’m certainly a fan of being an opportunistic photographer, I also think it’s a good idea to think about images before you’re presented with them.
Another thing I really like about this exercise is that it gets you thinking about the different seasons of the year. Since you have to think of one photo per month, you have to think about what the environment will be like that month (for example, want a photo with a snow-covered mountain in the background? then you’ll likely have to wait until the winter months).
If you have trouble coming up with photo ideas, then it helps to start thinking about subjects first and when they’re most visually appealing (or common) throughout the year.
If you want to take this exercise one step further, you can even draw simple sketches of each image you come up with. These don’t have to be detailed with accurate light and shadows or anything. Just simple sketches that show “the tree should be here, the moon here.” This will further develop your visualization skills and help you remember the image.
Another little thing I like about doing this is that it fits in nicely with Ansel Adams’ belief that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Nature photography is hard work, so focusing on creating just one image per month that you’re proud of really helps take the pressure off.
Good luck, and Happy New Year! 🙂
Get more nature photography tips in our free weekly newsletter
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.