Digging in, and protecting your 20

Protecting Your 20

If you’re not a full time photographer, retired, or independently wealthy, you probably work for a living. How much time does this leave you to focus on photography? I try to cover the basics every week: eating, sleeping, working, and photography. I spend somewhere between 10-25 hours per week on photography. Carving out the time isn’t always easy, but photography is my top priority and I’m committed to making the time for my passion. I call it protecting your 20 — making sure your free time is spent wisely.

Over the last 15 years I’ve participated in a lot of activities: Aikido, yoga, mountain biking, playing music, and photography. Whichever activity was the top priority would usually get 10-12 hours a week. This wasn’t planned, I’ve only come to realize this subconscious prioritization later. For the last 5 years, photography has been the top priority.

Digging in

Consistently spending 10-12 hours per week on an activity for 4-5 years is about how long it takes to get reasonably good at something. To hit a plateau somewhere in the middle. A spiritual teacher once told me he referred to this level of learning as beginning to understand.

An analogy I’ve found very useful for deciding how to spend my time is digging a hole. You may dig a little bit in a lot of places to see if you’re going to find something just below the surface. Eventually you may make a decision on where to dig deeper. You might keep digging for a long time. Maybe your whole life. Or you may dig somewhere for a few years, and then decide to dig somewhere else. For me the most frustrating style is what I call the sampler: digging lots of small holes for relatively short periods of time, but not going deep. The sampler doesn’t work for me — I’m digging in the photography hole like a mad miner, and there doesn’t seem to be any turning back.

Finding the Time

If you are motivated, you can find the time for photography. After a few years of shooting digital, the post processing and digital asset management tasks started to add up. Scheduling a regular time to work on certain tasks is a good way to get caught up — I try to carve out a 2-3 hour time slot to work on these tasks every week.

Andy Frazer has a great post about setting your photography goals. If you get to the end of the year and you’re not satisfied with your photographic output, set some goals. Make sure your goals are measurable, and the list is reasonable. Setting goals takes some time, but is worth it. Revisiting your goals and readjusting throughout the year is a healthy part of this process.

Bring a camera with you everywhere. Simple advice, but not often followed. A few years ago I was at a dinner with 14 photographers, 12 of them full time professionals — someone said a group photo would be a fun idea. I was the only person with an easily accessible camera. Do you have a small point and shoot that goes with you everywhere?

Stop by your local library and have a look in the photography section. Reading about photography and looking at others photos is a great way to stay motivated.

I’m sure you can help me add to the list of how to find the time to fit photography into your life. Unfortunately I’m out of time this morning, and have to get to work.

6 thoughts on “Digging in, and protecting your 20”

  1. Yes, back comes the old ‘digging a hole” analogy. A JR classic.

    Photo related things that can be done that have nothing to do with pressing the shutter:

    1) working on portfolios

    2) journal-writing and developing ideas for shoots

    3) reading about photography

    4) promotion

    5) DAM

    6) working on your contact list-see # 4, similar to # 5 as it too never ends.

    7) gallery or museum visits

    8) Surfing, skating, bike riding, music-if you don’t think your others interests influence your photography then you need to consider digging some small holes on occasion.

    9) Not leaving comments on blogs-unless you would prefer to avoid processing RAW files such as I am right now.

    10) Test equipment. Stuff breaks so be prepared for the next shoot.

    11) Submit work to shows, call for entries, etc… repeat # 4. (Yes, again.)

    12) Avoid reading negative articles about the current state of photography-it is good to know what is going on but don’t let someone verbally take a camera out of your hand. Ever. Sometimes you have to avoid #3.

    13) Register images for copyright.

    14) Make photography apart of your lifestyle. By doing so, this all becomes an extension of yourself and feels less like a task.

    Rest your eyes so you can live to dig another day.

    - Jay Watson

  2. Joe,
    This is a great post.

    The take-anywhere camera was for me a really good method of dedicating more quality time to photography. I dedicated a project to getting in the habit of shooting at moments which were lost to photography without this camera, and set myself the goal of shooting at least one ‘worthy’ pic a day.

    I can recommend the panasonic lumix fx-3, it’s small and has an excellent build quality. Higher ISO’s have noise, but you can learn to deal with that.

    Joost Burger

  3. Funny, Joe, right around the time your were posting this yesterday I was calling your house to leave you a voice message to say let’s find some time to get out and shoot again—I’m itching big time. Spoke to your better half, told her I’d email you, or call you on your cell. Then I got busy at work—-figures. So, let’s get out soon….

  4. Sorry, to add some to your post: Yes, I have one of three or four cameras in my pocket at all times: Contax T2, Vivitar 35EM or Rollei 35T. Small and lightweight. Earlier, those times when I did not have one, I always seemed to see something I wish I could have shot.

    And I rarely pass a bookstore without going in and checking out the photography section—usually crap but the occasional gem makes it worthwhile. At most lunches or work-related meetings or functions I am the only one with a camera—that’s not a cell phone too, anyway.

    I’m trying to drop a few pounds as I get deeper into my 40′s and want to stay in better shape. I tell myself I’ll take at least a 20 minute walk every day. Bringing the camera along makes it a more fun endeavor for me and makes it more likely I’ll find to time to get out and walk—-two birds with one stone!

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