There are the kind of New Years resolutions you make and you know the moment you make them that you won't be able to stick to them - like "Cut out cheese and alcohol" or "work out every single day" or "call your mother every other day" (obviously those might not be a problem for you but I was never able to stick to any of those). But if you set yourself goals, it's different. I think the difference between a goal and a resolution is that you have to actively plan a goal to make it happen. And in the long run, this is what will enable you to achieve these goals. And of course, you'll need a little bit of discipline as well.
For 2010 I had four main goals:
1. Live a healthy lifestyle - which means learn how to cook better, learn how to use seasonal ingredients, cook organic, work out more - especially get some upper body strengths (as a photographer one has to be able to move quickly and lift heavy equipment)
2. Learn to love myself
3. Make friends - make a conscious effort to stay in contact with new people you meet and you like (this for me is still the most difficult - I have met a lot of interesting people and I have had a much more active social life in the last 4 months than I had all of last year but I am having difficulties to get these new friendships to a deeper level)
4. Become a professional photographer
I have talked about 1. and 2. a lot already and I feel like I am doing ok in these departments.
Both "Make friends" and "Become a professional photographer" kind of go hand in hand I have found. But more about that later.
Three years ago I started to take professional photography classes (via correspondence) at the New York Institute of Photography. I'll be honest with you - the first two years I got hardly anything done. I was still working full time, I had a very active social life and I just couldn't be bothered. If you have a working life - even if it's not the working life you want - it's difficult to motivate yourself to change that.
Last year I made the decision to work as a nanny and to use the time that the kid I am watching is napping, solely as studying time. I was able to make great progress and I am now done with these classes. It took me about 6 months to get the last 5 Units in. I still have to send in my final project but it's all done - I just have to find an envelope pretty much.
Still, I didn't feel nearly confident enough to try and make it as a professional photographer even with this education. I frankly had no idea where to start. But luckily that changed when a friend introduced me to Angie, a professional photographer. Angie invited me to a meeting called "The Fast Track Photographer Chicago Group". It was only their second meet up. The group refers to a book by a guy called Dane Sanders who wrote the book called - you might have guessed - "Fast Track Photographer". This book is being re-written right now and I am on a waiting list for it on Amazon but unfortunately I haven't been able to get my hands on an old version thus I haven't read it. But anyway - one of the main principles of the book is that while the photography business is very competitive, we will still be more successful if we co-operate and network with each other as photographers then if we bad-mouth or ignore each other.
Thus this group formed. The first time I joined I was at their second-ever meet-up in Chicago. There were about 20 people (by the third meet-up the number of people in attendance had doubled), it was at somebodies house. Everybody was extremely welcoming and open and for the first time I just felt like, I can do this. Some of these people had studied photography but a lot of them just started doing it because they like it. They had less photographic education than I had and they had become incredible, professional photographer nonetheless.
I did also realize though that if I wanted to feel completely at ease and comfortable with what I am doing, I would have to take more classes. A correspondence class can give you a lot of knowledge but some things are just easier if somebody shows them to you. So I singed up for two evening classes at the Chicago Photography Center. One was Fundamentals of Lighting - it covered mostly studio work - a topic I knew hardly anything about, the other class was "Lightroom". I have taught myself some Photoshop but for an aspiring portrait and wedding photographer "Adobe Lightroom" is much better and easier to use.
On top of these classes, I took a few more workshops and seminars. I can tell you that the last two months have been super-busy for me. Especially considering that last year I pretty much did nothing at all except occasionally volunteering and my part-time nannying job. I finished my last class last Sunday and I had a seminar last night but this is going to be it for me until after my trip to Europe in a week. I am a little bit relieved to get a break from all this learning since I feel like I can't focus on anything but photography right now but at the same time it feels absolutely amazing to be a step closer to doing professionally what I have always been wanting to do professionally.
One thing you need to know if you want to become a photographer - you will always need to invest - in yourself and your equipment. I am shooting with a Canon 40D right now - an excellent camera and ok for portraits and most weddings but it has it's limitations and I will eventually have to upgrade to a better camera. I also just invested quite a bit of money into a professional lighting kit that I can easily take with me in the car for shoots. I can use it to build a studio pretty much anywhere (except underwater I guess). But keeping yourself educated is just as important. The seminar I was at yesterday was on how to be a good 2nd shooter at a wedding. A second shooter is a not-so-experienced shooter that basically is a mix of a photographers assistant (who does stuff like fetch the primary photographer a sandwich and park the car) and an associate photographer who takes pictures that the main wedding photographer might not be able to get. I was surprised to see a lot of established photographers there who shoot a lot of weddings as "primary photographers" - but as I said - you have to keep yourself educated.
So, I already decided to sign up for another class for when I come back from my trip and I also decided to volunteer as an assistant to the photo teachers at the Chicago Photography Center as this is an excellent learning possibility.
Having done all of this I haven't really had much professional work yet. A big part of getting business is networking and this is one thing I haven't been great at. The photographers I know network all the time. They go to events and parties constantly. They all know each other. For me to go out there and talk to people I have never met is really difficult. I have been forcing myself to do it more but believe me, it's not easy.
I wish it could just be like "Look, I do good work, if you like my style - hire me!" but unfortunately networking is a big part of this game. So I am working hard on that.
I also found that there are two groups of photographers - the "mainly wedding" people - who are all super-outgoing and hug-y and sweet and who smile a lot and the more artistic photographers who usually end up becoming photography teachers to fund their artistic photography. Both kinds seem happy though but I am at a point where I wonder in which group I belong and if I can ever be the hug-y, smiley person that people like to hire as their wedding photographers.
So, sorry for my long rambling here. But this is where I stand. For those of you who read this blog because you are interested in what is going on with me - now you know.
All in all, I have to say my life made a complete turn in 2010. It is so different from last year, it's incredible and I love it, even if it is a lot of work and I have to make myself do things that I am not always comfortable with. But that's what you have to do if you want to get further in life, isn't it? Being comfortable won't get you anywhere.