If you’re a self-employed photographer you’ll soon get used to having very busy periods, followed by very quiet periods. If you don’t get used to this of course, you’ll go insane, and quit. Most people do. As soon as you get any quiet time – even 10 minutes worth – try and resist the urge to just lie back and watch the Simpsons. A few minutes of conscientious work now can reap huge benefits further down the line when you’re very busy. Here are 10 things that I often do when I’ve got a few spare minutes, in no order of preference:
Basic camera maintenance. I shoot between 130 and 150 shoots a year, most of which are on location, and as such my camera gear gets dirty, damaged and battered on a regular basis, plus I cane the crap out of batteries, and shoot so much that once or twice I’ve almost burnt through every memory card I own. When you get a spare minute, give all your lenses and bodies a good clean, put ALL your batteries on to charge (including the spares you keep in the bag for emergencies – they’ll have long since gone dead) and check that you’ve backed everything up – then format all your memory cards accordingly so you know you’re good to shoot at a moment’s notice. You should be doing this sort of maintenance anyway, but let’s be honest, the busier you get, the less it’s likely to happen.
Watch a photoshop tutorial. There are thousands of free tutorials out there, and in 10 minutes you can easily pick up a trick or skill that could influence your work for the next 6 months or so, or save you masses of effort on your next retouch. For free tutorials I highly recommend Phlearn, Glyn Dewis and Photoshop User TV, although the latter is very advert heavy, and the presenters know their stuff but seem to think they’re comedians. If you’re prepared to spend some money, then Phlearn again has some amazing in-depth tutorials, and I can highly recommend a Lynda subscription – I’ve learnt so much from this site in the past few years.
Clean up your “Work” hard drive. If you’re anything like me, you finish a job, back it all up, archive it, deliver it, and then pause slightly before deleting the files from your local hard drive on the computer. You know you need the space because of how busy you’re going to be, but there’s always a chance that the client might get in touch in a couple of weeks and want you to fine tune things, and it would be so much quicker just to open a PSD you’ve got sitting there, rather than having to dig something out of the archive. So you leave everything on there. Before you know if, the drive has turned red in your computer display, and you’ve got 20MB of space left, and you can’t even download your most recent shoot. Every now and then, have a bit of a clean up, and get rid of those jobs you shot 6 months ago – they’re basically gathering dust, and if the client has already published the images, you can be pretty confident they’re not about to get in touch and ask for major revisions!
Browse through a good photo book. This is something I do far too rarely, yet every time I do, I find myself thinking “Why don’t I do this more often?” Brew a decent pot of coffee (but don’t put milk in it, you filthy pervert) and lose yourself in a big fat hardback arty book of photos. Doing this always leaves me feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, full of ideas, and with a sense that I can rise above the mundane commercial jobs that I seem to spend much of my life doing. This lasts about 5 minutes, but it’s nice while it does!
Have a 10 minute brain dump of ideas. I’ve done a lot of reading in the past few years about creative techniques and methodology, and coupled with everything I’ve picked up over my professional life and 3 years of a degree at college, I’m getting much better at recognising methods that actually work. One very effective idea generation method is to give yourself 10 minutes (I insist you set a timer for this, otherwise it doesn’t really work) and dump everything in your head. To start with, you’ll be firing off randomly, but a few minutes in, patterns will start to emerge, and when you look back later on after the 10 minutes are up, there will be a few gems staring out at you from amongst the shite. I should stress 2 key things though – don’t limit what sort of thing you write, or self-censor, and keep to a strict 10 minute time limit. Creativity needs both freedom, and some sort of structure.
Work on your logbook. I’ve gone into logbooks in some depth before, and if you get a few spare minutes I highly recommend you dip in there. Ideally add stuff to it that you’ve been working on recently, but if all else feels, you’ll still benefit from just reading through it.
Post a new project to Behance, and update your website. You should be doing this anyway, and I’d highly recommend that you actually work out a schedule and a timetable. What you want to avoid is not adding anything to either of these for months on end, then suddenly dumping tonnes of stuff in one go. People who follow you are expecting a steady trickle of new stuff over time, and as such updating your online presence is ideally suited to one of these quick little breaks of 10 minutes or so.
Gather up loose receipts and paperwork. I just handed my accounts over to my accountant, having collated everything for the year over the past couple of days, and for the 17th year running I can’t stress how important it is to keep up with all your paperwork as you go along. Trying to find a receipt for something 9 months after the event is no fun at all, and it really is a case of 30 seconds spent at the time, saves 30 minutes further down the line. You don’t need to be chugging through paperwork every day, but an hour or so a week will make a massive difference at the end of the year.
Create a checklist. This is quite anally retentive, but something I’m starting to get addicted to. If there’s anything repetitive you’re doing – say filing your VAT, archiving your work, packing your kit for a certain type of shoot – then I’d highly recommend making a checklist for the procedure. In my case, every 3 months I have to fill in a VAT return, and have done for 12 years. You would think I’d have the whole thing down to a fine art by now, but no, I still sometimes forget exactly which report I need to generate from my accounts program, or whether to put anything in box 7 or not! Having made a checklist, I now don’t have to think about, I just follow it by rote. I can also recommend this for more creative things like Photoshop or video editing. As you learn new skills, to “lock them in” I’d suggest making a checklist so that it becomes habit sooner rather than later. Let’s say you’ve just been watching some Photoshop tutorials like I just told you to, and have worked out a really good way to prep all your future images for retouching. This is a perfect case for writing out a quick checklist for the stages you need to take (or better yet, making a photoshop action). Before too long you probably won’t need them, as your practice will become a habit, but they’re very easy to create, and can be very powerful.
Add images to your sourcebank. I’ve finally written the in depth post I mean to about Sourcebanking, so if you get any spare moments it’s very worthwhile firing up your screengrab software and going out collecting images, or cutting stuff out of magazines. Follow the advice in that post, and you’ll soon start to see the benefits.
If you’re self-employed you should never be bored, or find yourself at a loose end, and doing these things when you’ve got a spare moment will definitely reap dividends when you’re busy. If you’ve got 10 more minutes to spare, then by all means, kick back and watch the Simpsons. Only the first 8 seasons though, the later ones are pretty poor.
Any of that technical stuff leave you confused or bewildered? Try my Technical Foundations course out, it’ll make things much clearer!