Doing a Successful Photo-a-Day Project.
Almost 2 years ago to the day (I’m writing this on 29/June/2012) I summarized my experiences up to the 6 month mark in my 2010 photo a day for a year project. Re-reading it today I note that I concluded that only good had come of it up to that point. I went on to successfully conclude that year’s effort. The photos (in reverse order) are here.
Why repeat the project another year? The simple answer is that it compels me to actually get out and take photos. With a fairly busy day job, a family and other interests and obligations photography can often take a back seat. And if you aren’t taking photos, you aren’t a photographer.
This time around I invited friends to join me. Some who did are now curious as to how I manage to avoid going mad with this fairly onerous commitment. I thought I’d run through a few things I look for to keep it going.
Firstly, you have to have some idea of what you want to achieve. Whether it is a personal goal or qualitative or quantitative goals, photographic specific skills you want to build; the bottom line is, if you are just aimlessly farting about, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to see it through.
In my case, aside from forcing me to get out and take photos, I would like to explore more deeply things I haven’t before. I also feel a bit freer of the constraints I place on myself in 2010. I don’t feel as compelled to please people, or to ensure that my subjects are varied. If I want to take 5 portraits in a row, I don’t feel guilty. If it is plants or flowers for a week, I go with it. But while I am casual about a few things, I do have a fairly good idea where I want to go.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to just take a photo of a lens cap sitting on a table if that is what it takes to trigger the shutter that day. Many people I know of doing this type of project has a day job, meaning that you won’t always get to where you want to go to get that photo you really wanted. And even if your day job is photography it doesn’t mean you won’t have a bad day or 50. Strive to take a good photo, you owe it to yourself and you owe it to anyone you’ve asked to help, whether as a viewer or a critic or simply for support. But everyone will understand if you can’t produce an Ansel Adams every day.
Thirdly (corollary to number two), take a photo every day. Each and every single day! The first day that you don’t and you realize the world didn’t end, the floor will begin to slope below you. The second failure will come soon, and in no time at all the slope gets some oil poured on it and you’ve told yourself that you will get past your issues soon and renew your commitment and try again. Nope, you won’t. I know you as well as I know myself and I know that if I didn’t at least click that shutter once a day I would quit before too long.
Fourthly, when it starts feeling like work, and not fun at all, it’s time to simplify. Forget all you’ve been doing for the days/weeks/months past and find a vase. See how many different photos you can take of that one vase. Take one with the morning light streaming through, take one close up with some coloured water, take one with a person out of focus sitting behind. Or, go to a nice spot and take the sunset/sunrise every day. Or take a photo with your feet in multicoloured socks in different positions every day.
Seize on whatever easiest cliche you can think of and see how many ways you can vary it. Essentially, look for the easiest photo you can take, the photo that won’t bring you any stress at all; and make it fun again. Personally, I take photos of my children. Easiest thing to do, very fulfilling no matter how badly done and makes me remember that photography isn’t the most important thing in my life. If you are looking for photo suggestions, the internet is your friend.
Fifthly, try to plan your photography time. I generally take up to 2 hours a day or so for photography. On average, an hour or less to get a photo and an hour or a bit more to do my processing, uploading and social sharing. If you aren’t a very organized person usually, it will be to your benefit to exercise a bit of discipline where the photo a day project is concerned. Set aside a time of day to take your photo and a time to take care of the peripheral issues.
I steal a bit of time every day to go take a photo. Whether it is a few minutes early in the morning (yesterday I got a photo I find very interesting and was my POTD and it took me only 5 minutes after spotting the potential scene as I was walking into my office in the morning), a half hour walk on the street with a friend, a walk on the beach on my way to pick up my daughter (the beach is on the route) or the varied patterns and shapes of leaves or plants in my parents’ garden when picking up my son. I know the routine, so its not a problem anymore.
Sixthly, imagine the payoff. While it is helpful to be completely OCD like I am, if you are able to stick it out without it becoming more work than fun, you will almost inevitable find yourself with a few images that are superlative. Everyone won’t like everything you do, but you will be able to assess for yourself what is good based on what you set as your qualitative goals (if you set some).
I had an exhibition at our National Gallery, hosted at Castellani House, mainly out of my 2010 photo a day project. The majority of the photos were taken from the 20,000+ photos I took in 2010. Prior to 2010 I had what I considered to be gallery worthy images, but they were very few. Now I have a significantly expanded portfolio.
Finally, very little art exists in a vacuum. If it is art that you are seeking to produce that you will not be wasting your time to browse photography in pictures or writing, wherever you can find it in as much quantity as you have the time and energy to consume. I have heard people saying that they do not want to pollute their own consciousness with other people’s works or writing. I suppose everyone is entitled to be wrong if they want to be. The most successful artists are almost inevitably heavily exposed to all aspects of their art (and others). Thinking that you can produce art in isolation is almost always a perfect demonstration of hubris.
I read about photography voraciously. Not merely technical and instructional, but also photographers thoughts and perspectives. I love reading what they think about life, what motivates them, how they approach life. Technical instructions are good if you want to duplicate a result; developing your art is all about figuring out how you want to express yourself. The thoughts of other artists are what will guide you to fulfillment.
There are few things that motivate me more than another excellent blog post of photos from Steve McCurry. His masterful photography never fails to give me chills. But I also see how he uses photographic technique to express his view of the world. With McCurry, as with all of my other favourite photographers I learn how to express myself and learn what photography can mean. Apart from everything I’ve said above, nothing motivates me to continue my photo a day like seeing what can potentially result if I work hard enough at photography.
If you have taken on a photo a day project, or plan to, keep it going. Persistence is the key to getting better at it, and if improving yourself isn’t what you wanted to achieve with your photo a day project, then you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place :).
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