One question I’ve been wondering to myself is this: is it better to have plans and goals in our photography, or to have none?
Should we just harness our spontaneity in the streets when making images, or have some concrete plan? Should we plan for the future? Should we expect things to go to plan? Should we have goals in our photography and life?
I think in a very basic sense, it is good to have some sort of direction. Having a sense of direction gives us focus, encouragement, and serenity. Rather than feeling like a ship lost at sea, we feel like we have a compass directing us in life.
But the problem is, being overly-commuted to a goal, destination, or direction causes us to become blind to other options.
For example, let’s say you have a project idea to document this one local community. You have all these intricate plans on how you will take photos, interview your subjects, and publish a book. But once you get there, you realize it won’t work out — because it wasn’t quite as you imagined it.
In that situation, should you stick to your original plan, or be flexible, and change it up? Or decide to ditch it all together?
Flexibility and optionality
I feel as a photographer, we need to have creative freedom. WE shouldn’t become the slave of a plan. Most of us have no idea what direction we are going in our photography and life.
My practical tip: be flexible and keep your options open.
In the past, I have tried to make these grand 1, 2, and 5-year plans and projections.
But nothing ever goes according to plan.
In the past a child, I planned on becoming a scientist. Didn’t go according to plan.
In college, I planned on becoming a Sociology professor. Didn’t go according to plan.
At my old 9-5 job, I tried to plan my future “career.” Didn’t go according to plan — little did I know, a few months later, I would be made redundant and lose my job.
What I tried to do was to keep other options and doors open. Because I know the future is uncertain, and will always change.
What could we not predict?
Think about it — how quickly the world changes.
In the past, we hired web designers. Now they are mostly redundant, we can do that all easily through WordPress.
In the past, we hired taxis. Now taxi-drivers are becoming redundant, they’re becoming replaced by Uber drivers.
Currently, coders and computer scientists are being valued. By perhaps in the future of “machine learning” and artificial intelligence — they might also be made redundant.
So as a general life philosophy, don’t make any hard or rigid goals in your life or photography. Because the world changes. You need to be flexible and learn how to adapt.
Have a general idea what direction you want to head— have a vision or focus in your mind. But be willing to change the details. Because nothing will ever go according to plan.
In practical terms, don’t become married to any of your photographic projects. Be willing to ditch a certain photo project, or adapt it.
Also don’t get tied to one genre of photography. Don’t just stick to ‘street photography’, ‘documentary photography’, or ‘wedding photography’. By making yourself open to other options, you will be more creatively flexible, and adaptable in the future marketplace.
Be like bamboo. Strong, yet flexible.
About the Author
Eric Kim is a street photographer and photography teacher currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam. His life’s mission is to produce as much “Open Source Photography” to make photography education accessible to all. You can see more of his work on his website, and find him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This article was also published here and shared with permission.