It’s the start of a new year and for a lot of photographers that means resolutions. Some will start 365 projects, some will endeavor to shoot more film, some will want to create a photo book this year or strive to print more. It makes sense to want to jump head first into 2017 and produce brilliant work, but before you take that plunge, allow me to be the voice of reason that you need to hear.
I’ve been working a lot on my photography over the past couple of weeks and virtually none of that work has consisted of pressing a shutter button. I haven’t been working on the website and I haven’t been printing new projects. Instead, I’ve taken what has become a sort of ritual hiatus from new photography at the end of the year and start of the new year and instead I’ve been devoting time to making sure my “photographic house” is in order.
As mundane as it sounds, here’s a few things that you should stop to think about before you rack up another 500 shots on that memory card or blaze through another dozen rolls of film…
Let’s start with the most obvious of all maintenance tasks. Whether you’re a digital shooter or a film shooter, the chances that you have an extensive Lightroom or photo catalog on your computer is pretty high. When’s the last time you backed up that catalog? Have you stored copies of that backup catalog on external drives or even off-site? When’s the last time you backed up your hard drive or Time Machine? If disaster were to strike as soon as you close this tab, would you be able to recover all of your files and data without much stress?
Along the same lines, have you gone through your computer and gotten rid of duplicate files or cleaned up that monster of a mess you call a Desktop? If you shoot RAW+JPEG, perhaps you should also consider uploading just your JPGEGs to a cloud service to provide you with another form of backup.
While you're at your computer, check to see if you're running the latest versions of your software. The old adage "Don't fix it if it ain't broken" is warranted and useful, but you can at least check to see if your CC applications are up to date or if there's a new scanner or printer driver available. Check to see if your camera body or lenses have had firmware updates as well. If there's a new feature or an improvement that you might get as a result of the download, consider upgrading or updating.
Cleaning up and maintaining a “healthy” photo catalog and computer system aren’t glamorous tasks, but they are necessities. If you’ve been living with redundant metadata, orphaned files, a cluttered Desktop or months old backups, now’s the time to put the camera down and clean up some of that clutter before you keep adding to it.
Clean up your real Desktop, as well
Short and sweet: once your OS Desktop is clean and your streamlined system is humming along beautifully, set your sites on your real work area and clean up that clutter as well. You know what I’m talking about. Organize your area as best as you can, and hey - why not take a vacuum and duster to the area as well? If you develop, print or scan at home you already know dust is the enemy.
I don’t claim to have the most beautiful workspace in the world, but even I know the benefits of having an accessible area to move around in to increase my productivity when I’m “in the zone”.
Show your equipment some love
No, not that kind of love. I’m talking about sitting down for 20 or so minutes to go over each of your bodies and lenses and give them a good look. For bodies, check the sensor (or shutter and light seals for film cameras) and use a blower to get rid of any dust that may be hiding out in there. Take a micro fiber cloth and wipe in between all of the external dials and buttons as well as the screen itself on digital cameras. Get rid of any gunk or dust that may be trying to build up on the base plate or in hard to reach corners. Blow dust out of the viewfinder. Make it look as good as new.
For your lenses, wipe down the outside with a microfiber cloth and get rid of any gunk or dust in those pesky rubber ridges on the focus and zoom rings. If you have filters, check them for any cracks or damage and give the lens and rear elements themselves a once over with the blower to free up any dust that may be on them. If you have zoom lenses, retract and extend them while keeping a close eye out for dust that may have been sucked in because of the zoom mechanism. It’s an easy fix in post, but those little black dots can be frustrating if not known about beforehand!
Run through a similar process with all of your gear. Clean your drones propellers and body. Check the straps on your bags. Clean out their pockets of any trash or miscellaneous accessories that may have been sitting there all year. If you have a printer and haven’t used it in awhile, run a test print or two to make sure your heads aren’t clogged. Run a cleaning cycle to free up nasty clogs if you have to.
By taking the time now to make sure all of your gear is in top working order, you’ll not only ensure that you’re ready to shoot the next time you go out, but you’re also maintaining its resale value should you decide to switch systems or upgrade later on down the road.
Take stock OF your stock
If you’re a digital shooter, make sure all of your memory cards are free of images and formatted. Import and catalog anything that may be left over so that you can start fresh. Make sure all of your batteries are accounted for and charged.
If you print, check on the level of ink that you currently have versus the stock of extra cartridges you have on hand. Order any ink that may be around 20% - even if you don’t think you’ll need it for awhile, trust me…you’ll need it when the time comes (and it’s usually the worst time to run out of ink).
If you shoot film, check on your film stocks and expiration dates. If you’re stockpiling anything that’s near expiration and you know you won’t shoot it, consider selling it to the #BELIEVEINFILM community on Twitter. If you’re running low on your favorite stock, make an order so it’ll be on hand for when you need it.
Also for you film shooters: do you have any negatives lying around? If so, cut those rolls up into strips and slap them into some Print File sleeves. Label them as best as you can, and if you have any scans you’ve been meaning to catch up on, now’s a good time (before you set out to shoot another dozen rolls to add on top of it!).
Last but not least
The last part of this whole process that I suggest doing is to take time to reflect. Before you go guns blazing on new snapshots or that continued project, take a moment to put the camera down and go over your last year of work. Review your prints (you have been printing, right?), seek out your style and what makes you feel good when you shoot and make a clear decision to continue pursuing that joy in your photography for the future.
They say you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. This applies as much to photography as it does to life.
Get your house in order, then make sure to take a moment to reflect on your successes and learning moments so you have a more solid understanding of what you should focus on for the future. After that, 2017 is all yours.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to keep the discussion going in the comments if you have anything to add to the list!