4 Areas of Improvement for 2021


"We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us."

~ Ralph Hattersley

Image Credit: Eduardo Acosta

What a fucking year...

It’s remarkable the sort of havoc a measly global pandemic can wreck on one’s plans for the year. No, I’m being glib. I’m fortunate to have remained healthy, busy, and employed throughout the year, and I’m referring to some of my best-laid plans for photographic growth for the calendar year.

I wrote this article in flight from JFK to LAX in January 2020, back when we used to travel and visit people. I never did publish it, and I’ve noticed that while I did touch on these areas a bit, I have shot quite less frequently this year than I did in 2019. So, to this end, I publish my “areas of improvement for 2020” list as an updated “areas of improvement for 2021” list. Convenient, that. This is the first of a 5-part series: an introduction and then 5 individual posts breaking out my progress and inspirations for each area. Without further ado, here’s a conversation that’s been living in my Evernote app, abandoned and unvisited for almost a year now. Enjoy.

At the top of every year I review my year’s catch and identify areas which could use improvement. I also review and list various creative ideas that I wish to explore in the new year.

I don’t call these New Year’s Resolutions. I think that whole thing is a bit dumb. Rather, I see the new year as a time to shed projects and endeavors that either didn’t pay off or didn’t spark joy (I’m way joking..not really) and move into new activities that have been kicking around in my head, distracting me from the other things that I had decided I was going to do.

This year I’ve identified 5 areas in my own work that could use improvement. It’s actually 4 specific areas of my in-public work where I want to grow, and a bonus fifth area that doesn’t have very much to do with the work I do out on the streets. So we’ll call it 4 with a bonus 5th. I’ll break each one of these areas into their own discussions in case anyone would like to feed back and share ideas.

1: Layered Composition

I’ve gotten pretty good at the 2D, en face tableau kind of composition. I have a fair amount of these images in my archive (like, a lot of them) and I’ve learned to recognize rather quickly when something is going to work to create this effect. One thing that I’m not very good at, and that I struggle a lot with is composing front-to-back, in layers.

2: The Observer Project

I was going through some of my work from the past 6 months or more and I’ve begun to notice a repeating theme showing up in some of my more interesting images that I hadn’t even realized I was capturing. I’ve been putting a subject into some of my wider street images and using them as a frame, turning the image outward from their point of view and presenting the scene in terms of their experience. This “Observer” isn’t the subject of the image, rather they help me clean up an image wherein the scene is the subject, and is interesting, but perhaps lacks an anchor or which I feel might benefit from having a visible witness. I think that there’s something here and I want to see where I might be able to take this..

3: B&W Photography

My current B&W photography skillset is dismal. I suck at B&W. One of the larger issues is that I don’t see in monochrome, no matter how hard I try to. My reality is in color. I see in color. I dream in color. I love color. I also don’t love consuming B&W photography of others unless it’s of a certain type.

I have some very strong feelings about monochrome photography and I think that they’re maybe better presented in their own discussion. There is some really bad B&W work out there on the socials, and I think that some folk feel that B&W somehow lends more authenticity or legitimacy to a street photographs. And why? Because the masters shot B&W? No, that’s rubbish.

Good B&W images require a good eye. A really good B&W image can hit me right in the gut, can have enormous impact, but converting an image to B&W doesn’t automatically achieve this affect. Not by a long shot.

4: Night Photography

This is something that I have to travel for, unfortunately. My sleepy little town generally goes to bed quite early, and during the winter months, nighttime means empty streets with nothing going on. I like night photography a lot, though it’s not something I’ve ever really spent much time on. I’ll be doing quite a bit more night shooting over the winter months in various locations throughout Los Angeles.

5: Bonus: Flash and low-key Portrait Photography

I want to get better with my studio work and don’t have as much opportunity to do so as I would like. This is an issue I want to work out in the coming months, as I have a handful of projects in my head that require a significant improvement of skills here.

The images shown here are obviously not studio shots but I do enjoy bringing a flash into my nighttime shooting.

Despite the pandemic, I’ve been traveling 2 hours south to Los Angeles every couple of weeks to work on these things. Given the drive time investment I generally make a full day of it when I go down there, and this means working in the afternoon through sunset, stopping for a meal, and then starting back up again after dark to work on my night photography, both with and without flash.

For those of you in the LA area, watch the EVENTS section for updates on Photowalks and Meetups I’ll be hosting in 2021. There are a few up now for November and December, but I think they might all be waitlisted already.

Alright, enough about me. What say you? Are there some areas you’ve identified for your own growth in 2021? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

Also, stay tuned for Joanne’s Year-End review series of virtual events starting on November 20th. I’ll send out an email about it when we have the details down and the Zoom calls in place for you to subscribe to.

Cheers, and happy shooting!


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  1. Here’s hoping that you accomplish many of the things your set on doing in 2021. We all could use some improvement and the best way is to get out and hit that shutter. Thanks for sharing Chris.

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