51° north: a winter reflection

wpid3083-dmc_20130211__0008.jpg by Douglas McCarthy.
One Tree Hill

Winter in the northern hemisphere. Short, cold, wet days, punctuated by infrequent bursts of sunshine and blue skies. Opportunities for the outdoor photographer can be rare at this time of year.

How then to make best use of this enforced downtime? Here are a few things I’ve been working on:

  1. Reflect on last year’s activity and achievements
  2. Review current projects
  3. Note key dates
  4. Optimise photographic catalogue
  5. Website critique

Let’s explore each one in a little more detail.

  1. Reflect on last year’s activity and achievements

Human nature and life being what they are, people rarely achieve everything they set out to in a given year. Nonetheless, the act of setting goals is valuable because it generates a motivating sense of direction and purpose. This is especially true of solitary pursuits like photography.

In reviewing the last twelve months, I recalled a number of small but worthwhile photographic achievements: exhibiting a print in a group show, meeting new photographers, publishing another photo book and having my work featured on a popular blog. None of these things, taken individually, were earth-shattering but together they indicate a positive direction.

2.  Review current projects

Time is finite and there’s little point in pursuing ideas which are impracticable (or less convincing than one first imagined). I believe it’s important to review ongoing projects in terms of progress made. It can also be instructive to consider alternative approaches or outputs. There is no shame is shelving a project “for the time being” if that means concentrating on something more important. Personally, I can only manage one or two projects at the same time; any more and I get bogged down.

3.  Note key dates

Diarise important dates such as submission deadlines, private views, talks and workshops.

4.  Optimise photographic catalogue

What better way to spend gloomy winter afternoons than arranging one’s Lightroom catalogue? (Well, ok, I can think of a few.) Although I keep my digital images well-organised – it’s part of what I do for a living – I regularly tidy up my catalogue by checking folders and updating image tags and other metadata. It’s dull but oddly satisfying work and very worthwhile in the long run.

5.  Website critique

The web is a great platform for showing and sharing work with personal contacts and complete strangers alike. But the flip side of this accessibility is shallow engagement and swift judgement;  site visitors will form an impression – positive, negative or indifferent – in just a few clicks. The presentation and navigability of websites influences perceptions of their content so it’s crucial to get things right. If this seems gauche to your inner ‘artist’, I’m afraid it’s true – read the survey results in Photoshelter’s ‘What Buyers Want from Photographers: 2012 survey‘.

Matters of presentation aside, the key conundrum is choosing which work to showcase online. This is a minefield but questions here include: what is your best/most representative work? Who are your primary audiences? How effectively does your website represent your personality and intentions?

In recent weeks I’ve been reorganising my portfolio site to implement better navigation and more effective display of projects, galleries and images. I’m currently working on additional text to support the Work and Bio pages.

In considering these matters, it can be helpful to ask friends and acquaintances (including those who have never seen your website or your work before) for their opinions. This often elicits interesting and unexpected comments. As well as a creator might think he knows his work, viewers bring their own perspectives. Marcel Duchamp expressed this eloquently:

“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative art.’


Midwinter offers useful opportunities for self-reflection and future planning. In fact, one could argue that winter is the best time of the year to do this. When spring finally comes, it’ll be time to get out shooting.

2 thoughts on “51° north: a winter reflection”

  1. Thanks, Neil. One Tree Hill is one of my favourite places in Greenwich. I try and get up there regularly, whatever the weather is like.

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