Be SMART This Year

I’ve written about goals before, but it’s probably a good time for a refresh as you plan your photographic endeavors for 2023.

SMART is an acronym and stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Both for photographic pursuits in the field as well as purchasing of new gear (GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I’d strongly suggest that you use SMART to guide you in creating goals. Wait, what, you don’t have goals? Please read this.

Let’s start with photographic (image based) goals:

  • Specific — How many serious photographic sessions are you planning to make this year? How many really good photos would you be happy with? How much time do you want to allocate for post processing of images versus taking them? These and other related questions should all produce very specific numbers, not vague answers like “a lot.”
  • Measurable — For instance, if you said you wanted to spend 50 field days doing nothing but photography (Specific), you still have something you need to do: keep track of those days. Put the specific goal on a white board, and the current measurement underneath.
  • Attainable — Technically, this ought to go first, and the other items reordered, but then the acronym would be ARSTM, which you’ll forget ;~). As you come up with Specific goals, immediately assess whether they’re attainable. If not, you simply won’t meet your goal.
  • Relevant — Let’s say that you’re a wildlife photographer; coming up with a goal to use your 28mm f/1.4 lens 20% of the time probably isn’t what you want. Unless you have a specific goal to try to use focal lengths differently than other wildlife photographers, pursuing such a goal is probably pointless to your desired output (great images of animals). 
  • Time-based — If your goal is to become the greatest, most talked about street photographer on the planet, it makes a difference whether it is “before you die,” “within the next five years”, “by the end of the year”, or “this month.” The reason for a time base is to force you to re-evaluate when time expires. You’ll often find that you’re overestimating what’s attainable. 

With gear acquisition, SMART takes on a slightly different set of ways to think about it:

  • Specific — I see a lot of GAS that’s vague and just lust-oriented. If you have a specific need, great, but if it’s just a want, be careful. I’d say that you need to be able to answer the question “why do I specifically need/want this particular item?” 
  • Measurable — Like specific, measurable often gets vague when associated with GAS goals. “I need a better telephoto option” is more measurable than “I want newer gear,” at least in the useful sense. Note that “I need a better telephoto option under US$1000” is more measurable than the first way I put it, because it’s more specific. Measurable and specific go together. So the more you can get clear needs into your specifics, the easier it is to measure.
  • Attainable — Budget comes into play here. Did you set aside a photographic budget for 2023? Great. Does the specific thing you want to buy fit within that budget? Also great. Do all the things you want to buy fit in the budget? Oops. If you have the cash for all the specific things you want/need and have set that aside, great. If you need to use a credit card and pay things off over time, not so great. If you can’t afford more debt and you’re using a credit card, danger, Will Robinson. 
  • Relevant — This is where lust-to-need scale starts to be important. Need is relevant, for sure. Lust generally isn’t relevant, it’s just an emotional response that will only temporarily slake your thirst. 
  • Time-based — Finally, we get to where most people struggle. Nikon didn’t introduce a Z6 III, Z7 III, or Z8 in 2022. So if that was your specific need, you didn’t hit the goal of attaining that in 2022. Sometimes you don’t meet acquisition goals because other things get in your way (job, money, product introductions, etc.). That’s okay. Unfortunately, far too many folk get so upset about missing a GAS time-based goal that they jump ship (e.g. “I’m buying an A7R Mark V”). I’d say that’s not a useful response to your not meeting a gear acquisition goal. Why? Because it will trigger overbuying into the new system and getting rid of your current one (probably at less value than you expect), you’ll have a lot of learning and retraining to do with the new system, and your original desired item will appear soon enough to make you slap yourself on the side of the head.

So what are my goals for 2023? I won’t enumerate them specifically here, but my 2023 goals have to do with two primary things:

  1. Reduce the gear I own by half or more. Consolidate my use into a smaller set of cameras and lenses. This goal started in 2022 and I hope to finish it by the end of 2023. 
  2. Spend more time doing the things Galen taught me to do. That means more landscape work, and thus more trips to landscape-friendly locations. This is a new goal for 2023 that sits on top of my sports and wildlife goals I’ve been setting. 

Even in those simplified forms you can probably see the basis of SMART in both my overall goals. 

Try it. Be SMART this year. 

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | mirrorless: | Z System: | film SLR: all text and original images © 2023 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2022 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved