This is NOT one of those motivational New Year’s resolution stories with a bunch of tips to make you more successful in the next year. This is a realistic look at the year end tasks for photographers that you should be working on to set yourself up for success in the next 12 months.
In my 52 years of taking pictures professionally and for fun, I have always made it to the end of the year and felt pressured by the oncoming new year full of opportunity and the potential for success. All of the motivational talk about resolutions and milestones adds to that pressure.
It has taken me many years to translate all of that into practical year-end habits that relieve the pressure and empower me to feel confident and excited for the next 365 days of opportunity.
To improve as a photographer or make more money as a professional photographer, you must #DoTheWork. That should go without saying. To be clear, I am not referring to watching hours of YouTube videos, buying better gear, and dreaming of the photographer that you might be. I am talking about actually picking up the camera and doing the work it takes to improve your photography.
This list contains things I do or have done that have helped me succeed throughout my career. Much of the list is organizational, some of it involves self-evaluation, and of course, there is the part where you get off your butt, stop making excuses and take pictures. I have also included things that should happen now if you work professionally as a photographer – part-time or full-time.
Let’s start with the stuff we all love – the gear. Promise me that you will read to the end even if you aren’t shooting professionally. Tip #16 is essential for ALL photographers!
1. Clean Your Cameras and Lenses
Include all your gear and everything touching it.
All of your lenses should be cleaned – front and back. If you have filters on your lenses, remove them and ensure no dust is on the lens surface or inside the filter.
This is an excellent time to evaluate where you store your gear when it isn’t in use. Is this a dry and humidity-free environment? My working camera bag stays in my office, which averages 38 to 40 percent humidity, and my studio camera and gear are stored in a Dry Cabinet.
I keep the cabinet set to 40% humidity year-round because my home studio is in a basement.
** If you have set up a personalized copyright notice in your camera and include the year – now is the time to update it.
2. Remember Your Lighting Gear
If you have studio strobes with fans – they collect dust. Blow them out with a can of compressed air or an air compressor.
I always wipe down my strobes (especially the ones that travel and get used on location) to remove any sticky substances they have accumulated, usually because I put a piece of gaffer tape on them at some point.
If you use bare bulb flashes – this is an excellent time to clean them properly. I clean my bare bulbs using the same liquid and tissues I use for cleaning lenses.
3. Bags and Cases Get Dirty Too
Empty all of your camera bags and equipment cases and clean them out. Use compressed air to eliminate all the little bits of dirt and food that have found their way to the bottom of the bad during the last year. That dirt will eventually find its way into your gear if you don’t.
If you have roller wheels on your cases, I encourage you to clean them, make sure there is no dirt stuck in the wheel assemblies and add a little WD-40 to keep them rolling smoothly.
I have Apple AirTags in all of my equipment bags and cases, and this is the time of year that I replace the batteries whether they need it or not. If you use trackers of any kind, this is the perfect habit for ensuring the batteries never die when you need them the most.
4. Check and Update Firmware
The cameras we use today, like computers and phones, often have firmware updates that fix bugs and add new features. Many lenses manufactured today also use firmware to connect with your camera’s autofocus and image stabilization features.
If you are like me, I get busy, and if the gear works to my satisfaction, I don’t always prioritize the updates. This is the perfect opportunity to enter the new year with your equipment working to the best of its ability.
WARNING: If this is your first time doing this – READ the directions more than once. There is no reason to be afraid to do this yourself, but you MUST take your time and follow the steps outlined by your camera or lens manufacturer.
Insurance should be a no-brainer, but I have been guilty of overlooking this detail. I have always carried insurance on my gear and for liability. Still, if you have made substantial gear purchases in the last year or your business model has changed, you should review your insurance needs and update coverage where needed.
I strongly encourage you to consider joining PPA (Professional Photographers of America) if you are not already a member. The $15,000 of equipment insurance that is included with membership more than covers the membership cost, making it another no-brainer.
If you have more than $15,000 worth of gear, you can purchase additional coverage at very reasonable rates, and PPA now offers liability coverage as well.
6. TECH: Computers, Hard Drives, and Memory Cards
Computers, like cameras, need updates and routine maintenance. If you are one of those folks who ignore software updates and security patches – shame on you! Now is the perfect time to ensure that your computer is up-to-date.
It is also a great time to look at the list of software on your machine and remove any programs you don’t use or need, especially if you download a lot of trial software throughout the year. Those programs take up space and often have processes running in the background even when you are not using the program.
On my Mac computers, I subscribe to a piece of software called CleanMyMac from MacPaw that helps me properly remove unused software and cleans out cache and junk system files that are not needed. Additionally, it will scan for viruses and help keep my computer running at optimum speed.
Computers like to be cleaned too! It has been shown that computer keyboards are some of the biggest biohazards we come in contact with every day, and if you use a desktop PC, the fan loves to collect dust and help it build up in the cabinet. Now is the time – clean those keyboards, open your CPU’s cabinet, and blow it out with compressed air.
If you are using external hard drives with fans – blow them out too. If you let that dust build-up, your drives will run warmer, reducing the drive’s longevity. This applies to network drives as well.
I also use this time to do a full format on all of my SD and CF Express cards.
7. File Management
When I get busy (busy is good), my computer desktop can look like a Where’s Waldo puzzle. It is a great feeling, especially for those of us with a little OCD, to have a clean computer desktop.
Finish the year by getting all of your work from this year properly organized, filed, and archived. If you don’t have a solid filing system, you REALLY need to take this class with me: Best Practices of Digital File Management for Photographers.
I ensure that my client work from the current year is wrapped up so that it can be archived and moved off my computer’s hard drive. That way, I start the new year with plenty of room for the new year’s work to be stored directly on my computer’s hard drive until it’s completed.
If you are a Lightroom user, this is the time to ensure your catalog is healthy. Check your library for missing photos and reconnect them to your Lightroom Catalog where possible. If you can’t locate them, consider removing them. This is prime time to back up your catalog(s) and allow Lightroom to test their integrity and optimize them.
** If you have set up a personalized copyright metadata preset in Adobe Lightroom or Bridge, update them to the current year.
8. Personal Development
The end of the year is the perfect time to look at the year we are leaving behind and do a bit of honest self-evaluation. This type of personal development will only work if you are honest with yourself and set achievable goals for the following year.
I encourage you to begin by looking backward. How have you grown as a photographer in the last 12 months? Whether your status is rank amateur or seasoned professional, looking at the growth or lack of development is the foundation for the goals you will set.
Review images you took at the beginning of the year compared to those you have shot recently. Has your work improved, and how has it improved? What is the most significant improvement in your photography? (Gear doesn’t count!)
It is essential to consider the failures. Remember that there is no success in photography without failure.
What did you hope to accomplish this year that you didn’t? Is it still a priority for you to achieve this? If it is a priority, what do you intend to do to make it happen this year?
What are your achievable goals for the year? Goals hold you accountable to yourself, so take their value seriously. Write them down. Print them out and put a copy in your camera bag. Pin a copy of them on the wall above your computer.
Be prepared because life will get in the way from time to time. Expect those interruptions and accept them. Your list will help you to focus and get back on track. No stress is needed here.
9. The Business of Business
Hopefully, when you started your photography business, you created a business plan. Unfortunately, since so many photographers begin their business as a side hustle, many dive in without a real plan and spin themselves in circles trying to build the business without one.
I mention this first because if you don’t have one, this is a perfect time to create one. Another great reason to join PPA is that they have excellent resources to help guide you through the process.
The business plan is the roadmap that turns your WHY into a money-making proposition Being a professional photographer is not like a field of dreams – “If you shoot it, they will pay” is not the real world.
Use this time to close out your books for the year and get everything together for tax season. Reduce the stress of the April tax scramble by organizing everything now so that you have a clean slate to begin your new year of business in January.
11. Look at the Numbers
Look at your numbers for the year and compare them to your business plan. Did you meet or exceed your goals? What made the difference? Hopefully, you didn’t fall short of your goals. If you did, now is the time to take stock and figure out why you came up short.
12. Establish New Business Goals
Based on last year’s numbers and your business plan, it is time to establish realistic growth and earnings goals for the new year.
These goals will guide your pricing and marketing decisions, so don’t take the process lightly. #DoTheWork.
13. Update Pricing
You should review your prices this time each year based on your business plan and earnings goals for the new year.
If you have been a photographer who looks at other photographers’ prices and sets yours accordingly, now is the time to stop. You will not build a financially successful business that way.
In my experience, photographers that set prices by looking at other photographers’ prices fall into one of two categories – lazy or afraid. Neither is good.
PPA has excellent resources for creating pricing models for your business.
14. Update Your Website
Websites are not like printed brochures, where you print them, and they are done. Websites need to be updated regularly, and I don’t mean once a year.
The MOST overlooked update to photographers’ websites is the Copyright Notice. Update it to include the new year. Also, be sure you are presenting the copyright in the proper format. The copyright notice at the bottom of every page of my website reads “© Copyright 2000 – 2023, Joe Edelman. All Rights Reserved.”
The copyright notice should include the year your website went live and the current year.
I also use the end of the year to review my website, make design tweaks, and improve the navigation and organization of the information I share.
At the end of the year, I do a portfolio review, remove older, dated images, and add new exciting photos that show off my current style and ability. Notice I said that I remove images before I add new ones.
No client is impressed that you have taken hundreds or thousands of pictures of almost everything imaginable. Less is better. Quality over quantity is always the right choice for photographers.
If you are one of those photographers who is crazy enough to write a blog, create your content schedule for the year to help you plan so that you don’t find yourself with a blog that hasn’t been updated in a few months.
If your blog hasn’t been updated in a few months or longer, I would remove it from your website altogether.
15. Social Media Plan
If you have been posting and stressing and shooting and stressing and posting on multiple social media platforms just trying to keep up with the competition. Take a breath!
First of all, remember that competition is a choice. There is only one YOU, so you have no competition unless you choose it.
Now is the time to review your social media efforts for the last year to better understand what worked and what didn’t. I don’t mean what got you the most views; I am referring to what got you the most clients and made you the most money.
In the new year, you need to have a strategy for your social media posting, and it is essential to understand that you don’t need to be on every platform, and you don’t need to post every day to be successful.
Make this the year you up your social media game by doing less and serving more. Understand that your photographs are essential to your social media, but so is the person behind them.
Potential clients want to learn a little about you. Not what you had for lunch, but how you approached a shoot, how much fun you had, and how special it was getting to know the subjects of the photos. Those stories create connections. Connections create customers.
Whenever possible, automate your posts. This requires setting aside a day every month or a few hours every week and planning out your posts. Utilities like Publer, Buffer, Hubspot, and Social Pilot are just a few of the excellent tools available for this purpose, and they can save you hours and help you keep your social presence consistent.
Whatever you do, please don’t keep doing the same thing on social media and expect more attention for your work or business. You will be disappointed if you do.
16. Personal Development Goals
I like to think of this as “What am I going to do for fun?“
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that you have 365 days of new opportunities ahead of you. I talked about business goals for those of you who are working professionally. Still, ALL photographers should look at this as 365 new days to grow as creative beings.
The last and most important year-end task that I do is to review my images from the previous year. I look at my work in terms of wins, losses, and opportunities.
I appreciate the great images, and I evaluate what made them great. I look at the bad photos and consider what made them bad and what I would do to improve them if I could have a do-over.
The benefit of this task is that there is no pressure – just an opportunity to learn. I am not dealing with clients, subjects standing before me, the elements, or deadlines. It is just me and a cold Coca-Cola sitting in my office examining my work.
You will be amazed at what you learn by doing this and, even better yet, the number of creative ideas that this generates.
I walk away from this exercise with my creative goals for the year. These goals may manifest in my professional work and are often a part of projects I take on for personal growth.
A good photographer is constantly learning and growing.
If you are still reading, there is a good chance I have caused you some stress. I am sorry for that, but hopefully, this article has given you some good ideas to add to your year-end routine.
If much of this information is new to your thought process, don’t panic. Get started now. It may take a few weeks to complete, but it will make your life easier in the next year, and completing these tasks every year will move you a step closer to your goals with less friction along the way.
You just have to #DoTheWork.
Have questions? Would you like to continue the conversation? Join my TOGKnowledge Photographic Community, where you will find photographers from over 30 countries passionate about learning and sharing their photography as they develop their craft.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman