It was mid-morning on Wednesday 18th March that I received the not-unexpected call from my consultant – please stay home for your own safety. It was an instruction dressed up as a suggestion/recommendation. She conceded that I could use my back yard for fresh air but insisted that this should be my boundary until further notice. Like so many others with medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 I was in Lockdown before the phrase had been uttered by HM government. When Lockdown officially started and with it the concession of an hours exercise a day I got in touch with my consultant; again, I was not in the least surprised to be given a firm “No”, so I was resigned to stay at home until 14th June at least– ironically Amanda’s birthday and the day after our 39th wedding anniversary.
From the start I was determined to keep my 366 Project going. This might be Lockdown but I was determined it would not be a shutdown photographically. As of today, 9th May 2020, I am 923 days into my long-term picture-a-day challenge, and I was not going to let this “inconvenience” stop me from going past the 1,000-day mark; my eyes are still firmly fixed on the end of July! I had recently been producing a lot of urban black and white images, many from around the small town where I live, and these had become a trademark of sorts, but I would need to reconsider this strategy. Looking back there was definitely a strong bias away from colour. We only have a small back yard and a tiny front yard (three metres from the front door to the public footpath – I measured it) so it was going to be challenging.
So how am I doing? Well, fifty-plus days into isolation (shielding, or whatever today’s name is) and I’ve not only kept the challenge going without having to resort to pictures of my dinner, I have also posted an additional 120+ Random Images from Isolationand it is these that I have drawn on for this post.
I have continued to use a range of cameras for the 366, including my film cameras, and the iPhone has only featured a couple of times in my daily posts so that aspect of the challenge is unchanged from pre-Lockdown. My cameras live under the coffee table next to my armchair at the moment however which I never got away with prior to isolation. The only major change from my workflow is that most images have been post-processed using the Snapseed App on my iPad rather than Photoshop as I’ve used my Mac only occasionally during this period for some reason I’ve yet to fathom.
I made a conscious decision today to shoot my 366 image with my iPhone during the school run (which would include a detour to get the wife’s newspaper). I took half a dozen images, two of which I liked a lot but this was the final choice for the 366 once I’d “lived” with both images for the day.
October 2017, an email from Max innocently suggests I join the 365 group he’s involved with, starting with the next iteration of the challenge on 1st January 2018. Great idea! Why not?
Twenty-four hours later I remembered, a year or two before I’d attempted a picture-a-day for February, the shortest month no less, and I not only struggled I produced some really abysmal images. What was different in 2017 that I thought I could manage 365 consecutive days? I started looking in all the drawers for the marbles I was certain I’d lost the day before.
The 63-2017, as I’ve commented before, set me in good stead for 2018. So much so that I’m now well into the 2019 Challenge and over 650 consecutive daily images to the good.
To satisfy the inner geek here are year to date camera usage figures, with 2018 in brackets:.
It’s too early to do a complete “review” of the 2019 Challenge but suffice to say I continue to make a daily image and continue to enjoy the experience. Many of the images I’ve taken would not exist if it were not for the Challenge BUT there are none that I would not, with hindsight, have taken so hopefully that means I have not compromised on quality because of this focus on quantity.
Breakfast in America … well not quite, but breakfast at an American fast food joint in West Yorkshire 🙂 We did take the long way home though (I wonder how many will get the lyrical connection?)
Todays image in my 2019 365-Challenge happens to be the 656th daily image since I started taking an image a day in 2017. Taken with my Fuji X100t its main appeal to me was the receding composition giving a sense of depth to the two-dimensional image.
Of course, I played with a few other compositions with the only rule being I could not move more than six inches from where I sat. I made a tactical error by sitting half-way along a bench seat so next time I set myself such a challenge I will think more carefully about where I sit.
The only other successful shot from breakfast was again playing with perspective and depth this time looking upwards. I did however have one final play with this idea on the bus home but overall a mini project that ended a bit more thought before jumping in!
Wow! August 6th was my last blog post. I knew I’d been a little tardy but hadn’t realised it was that long. Mind you, my Mum used to say if you’ve nothing to say don’t say it!
I’ve just shot today’s “insurance” image; an image taken early in the day just in case I don’t get out later for a proper walk or shoot. In the 340 days since I started the picture-a-day I’ve only used my insurance shot twice but I still take one most days just to be safe. I have a list of potential images in my head centred around the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Many of my daily images have come from this historical and immensely interesting site and in addition I am there most mornings when taking the wife to work. It is therefore also a great option for the insurance shot.
I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how to approach a 365. Another is not to stress out about it, the images will flow if your mind is receptive, and it cannot be creatively receptive if you are stressing about the next shot. It is a Challenge but it is not a matter of life or death after all!
For me the most important question is whether or not I’m happy with the image I post each day. For the most part, indeed almost all, I’ve been very happy. There are a couple that with the benefit of hindsight I’m not overly keen on but nevertheless there are none that I regret posting. Indeed, the Challenge has meant that I’ve got a lot of images this year that I simply would not have made without the daily challenge. There are numerous days when I would probably have stayed at home and not ventured out were it not for the Challenge.
But, has it made me a better photographer? Well the first thing is to define “better” but I’m not in a philosophical mood this morning so I will skip that. What is sure though is that I am very confident with all of my cameras, know how they will react and can shoot unconsciously meaning I no longer worry about the mechanics but can concentrate on the creative aspects. I’ve written before about muscle memory and it’s great that whilst prior to the Challenge I largely had it for my most used camera I now have it for all three cameras. I genuinely believe that being able to operate a camera without needing to think about the mechanics makes for better images. Aperture/shutter speed/ISO are the only things I actively think about other than composition. Not however from a how-to-set them perspective but how they will affect the aesthetic of the image I’m trying to create.
My experiences with the drone are also convincing me of the importance of being able to operate your great without thinking too much about it. I was out one Saturday recently with a good friend and watching me with the drone he commented on how much more at ease I was with the operation of the equipment compared to the last time he saw me fly it (last November, I flew it into a tree). Most importantly he said that he had already known that without watching me as he’d seen the improvement in my aerial compositions.
So, three quarters of the way through the 2018 Challenge I do feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for. Taking images is now just part of what I do every day. Whilst I do not have the luxury of a full days shooting every day I am spending time every day with a camera. One of the benefits I hadn’t anticipated was that I am now “photo-ready” at all times. In the past if there’s been a couple of weeks between shoots I’ve taken time to get my eye in and settle in to the rhythm as it were. Now my eye is ever-ready it seems and I am better equipped to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities for image making.
Today is Day 204 of my 365-2018 project and the 267th since I started creating an image a day and posting it to Flickr. I’ve noted before that the 63-2017 set me up nicely and indeed as I sit here this afternoon pondering which of this morning’s images to use for 365-2018-204 I’ve realised that it has indeed become “just” a part of my daily life.
I did try a picture a day project a few years back and whilst I did manage to take a picture a day it was a struggle, many of the images were of mundane things, snapped just to get an image, any image. I photographed the suitcase in the boot of my car at 11pm one night with my phone. So what am I doing differently in 2018?
Well, first off is state of mind I think. I am relaxed about the project and despite publicly proclaiming the project by joining a Flickr 365 Group I have not put myself under any pressure to “perform”. At the start of the project it was my first, waking thought – I woke up thinking about getting my picture of the day. Until I captured that day’s image it was in the back of my mind constantly. Now though, whilst I am still mindful of the project I am less consciously thinking about it and if I do think about it then it is only in the context of deciding what I may want to photograph.
On those days when I don’t expect to go out anywhere I’ve taken to making an image early doors; having an image as a form of insurance removes the pressure at a stroke and I don’t think I’ve fallen back on this insurance more than once or twice in the last nine months.
I take a lot more notice of what’s under my feet as it were. I’ve always made photographs in the back yard especially when the flowers are blooming and insects are buzzing. But just recently I’ve “seen” rather than just “looked” and have found interest in the otherwise mundane. This conscious act of freeing my mind has extended beyond the borders of my back yard though and I “see” so much more around me now, especially in the localities with which I am most familiar. In this sense I am a better photographer than I was last year.
Whereas in the past photography was a specific activity that I planned in advance I now find that photography is just something that I include in my daily routine. I often take my wife to work at 7am and rather than turning around and coming straight home I have taken to spending ten or fifteen minutes taking photographs before going home. I don’t miss the fifteen minutes in the context of my daily chores and I exercise my photographic muscles in the process. Some days I drive in, noting the light and by the time I drop the wife off I know exactly what I am going to photograph and from which vantage point. I created a very pleasing series of blue-hour images in this way none of which would have been taken in the past when photography was a specific something that I did. I now photograph as part of my routine daily functions such as breathing, eating and sneezing.
On days when I have chores at home I regularly take a short walk early afternoon, partly to stretch my legs and get some fresh air but mainly to give me the opportunity to look for images. I always carry a camera and whilst I may not come back with that day’s image every time it has proven a very fruitful activity and greatly increased my knowledge of my local patch and it’s possibilities.
The picture above of the former Elland Town Hall building and its Grade II listed telephone boxes is a case in point. Wandering that way the previous day I realised that if I returned on a bright sunny morning with blue skies and bringing with me the fisheye lens I could make a very pleasing image contrasting the brickwork warmed by the morning sun from behind me with the bright blue sky. The fisheye would be needed to get it all in and by leaving enough space around the subject I could correct the lens distortion. Sure enough, the following morning dawned with ideal conditions so I timed my daily walk to include this location whilst the sun was still in the optimum position. My daily image, taken within an hour of rising with no stress, no hassle and as it happens fitted in simply by knowing what I wanted to do and making a small detour when going to the Post Office. The 365 is genuinely part of my daily life it seems.
So much of what is needed for a successful 365 seems to come down to your state of mind I feel and how you approach or think about things:
I carry a camera all the time – even when walking down for the papers;
I look AND see, noting what might make a good image and under what circumstances – greedily storing away opportunities for the future;
I do not rely on photography “trips” – every time I leave the house is a photographic opportunity – it’s a state of mind;
I make opportunities out of my daily routines;
I no longer worry about what other people might think of my images – I photograph anything that takes my eye, that moves or amuses me – if others like it then that is a bonus;
Train yourself to look beyond the obvious – floral portraits have been a staple of my back yard photography in the past but there are also shapes, shadows and the play of light on the steps if I look and see;
Don’t Panic! If you are really concerned about capturing that day’s image then try to take a photograph before breakfast – it’s amazing how that frees you from worrying and sometimes it turns out to be better than you’d anticipated;
Embrace the location, the weather, the light – cameras work in the rain and the dark – in fact dark, rainy nights in town can make some great images – just get out there;
Sounds counter-intuitive but stop thinking about the daily image – free your mind from the worry and your creativity can come to the surface – sounds a bit “New Age” thinking but it does work – trust me.
We talk about muscle memory a lot in photography. Consolidating a specific motor task, in our case changing ISO, adjusting the exposure compensation or whatever, into memory through repetition builds this so-called muscle memory. It is important, so the thinking goes, because it enables us to deal with the technical aspects of photography on auto-pilot freeing the mind to think about aesthetics and creativity. I am starting to think that beyond the technical aspects there is still an element of creative muscle building going on. Taking images, with a purpose, every day is exercising all our photographic muscles and with repetition and practice comes competency and a greater ability to “see”. To misquote a rather hackneyed phrase ” the more I practice the more I see”.
So, my five penn’orth on the subject of the photographic 365 based admittedly on just 267 days experience. And before anyone thinks I’m implying this is easy – I am not. It can still be hard work but by approaching it with the correct mind set and incorporating it into part of your daily routine, rather than a standalone activity, it is possible to ease the burden and more importantly really enjoy the process whilst expanding your skills and competency at the same time. Win-win.