What a difference a year makes

Back in 2017 I accepted an invitation to attempt a 365 Challenge for 2018. I signed-up for 365, consecutive, daily images each made on the day it represented. I started in late October 2017 to get into the habit before the start of the Challenge proper, and today I reached the culmination of four, complete, consecutive years of the Challenge. Thats over 1,500 consecutive daily images.

Each month’s images are collated into monthly mosaics and looking back at the consolidated mosaics for 2020 and 2021 I was struck by the difference.

A Year in Pictures – 2020. It’s a shame I didn’t put them in order!

I am habitually a black and white photographer. January and February of 2020 bear this out. However, in mid-March 2020 I started shielding due to a global pandemic and something strange happened. Colour started to predominate. It’s not until November that black and white starts to reassert itself as my main photographic preference. It’s probably no coincidence that it was around then that I started to get out more.

Let’s take a look at 2021 next.

Notice anything?

Around 90% of the 2021 images are in black and white suggesting that 2021 was more typical of my usual approach since returning to film as my main medium for making photographs. Looking back 2018 for example was very colourful and largely digitally captured. The mosaics for 2019, the year in which I moved from largely digital to largely film, is a 50/50 split.

What is also apparent from looking at the images themselves is that a larger proportion of the 2021 365 images were made using traditional film and chemicals. As I exposed well over 200 rolls of film and in excess of 100 sheets of 5×4 film and glass plates there were far more options available for daily film images. I also set up a permanent “scanning” station and was far more likely to develop films on the same day as they were exposed.

It will be interesting to look back in twelve months time and see how the make-up of my 365 changes as we move through the fifth complete year.

365 becomes 1500

Back in 2017 I was invited to take part in a picture-a-day challenge on Flickr, starting 1st January 2018. I’d attempted a picture-a-day once before a few years earlier. This hadn’t been a full 365, but simply for one month … let’s just say it wasn’t my most successful project. The low point was a phone snap of my suitcase in the boot of my car at 11pm as I checked in to my hotel.

30th October 2017 and the image that started it all

One thing that I had learnt from that earlier experience was the importance of making the challenge simply a part of my normal routine for the day and not something that needed to be specifically planned in every day. With this in mind I set myself a 63-day challenge to make a picture-a-day for what remained of 2017. I completed the challenge and reflecting on the experience was glad that I’d done it as by the time 2018 started it was almost just a part of my daily routine. It would be a few more months before it was totally embedded but the start to that first 365 was undoubtedly eased by the 63-day Challenge.

Mosaic of images that comprise January 2018 in my 365-2018 Challenge – the first month of what would be my first ever “365”

I ended 2017 and started 2018 rather unwell with pneumonia, an illness that lingered for almost three months, but somehow I still managed my daily picture. It would be two years later when a pandemic restricted me to my home for four months that the discipline and experience of those few months would pay additional dividends too. As we entered 2020 the “365” as I was calling it then was a well established part of my daily routine and it would take more than a global pandemic to divert me from the challenge. Even if I was shielding and confined to the house.

Fast-forward to 23rd November 2021 and I’ve just uploaded my 1,489th consecutive daily image to Flickr. A picture a day, in an unbroken run from October 2017. Whilst I don’t always post them on the day the rules of the challenge mean that they have to be taken on the day. Some days I only make one image, specifically for the challenge, whilst on other days I choose from the series of images made that day.

When I started out I was a bit sniffy about using my phone but I’m relaxed about that now. Since starting the challenge I’ve also returned to film photography as my main method of making images so these regularly appear in my daily uploads. I’m debating dedicating my 2022 “365” to film photography only but I’m not sure I want to commit to such an undertaking for a whole year. I’ve posted daily film photographs for extended periods from time to time but a whole year might be a step too far. Perhaps I will aim for a full month, “Analogue April” perhaps?

January 18th 2019 – Huawei smartphone

So, as I approach my 1,500th consecutive daily image on 8th December I’ve been browsing through over four years of daily images and reflecting on what I’ve learnt.

2020 – my first “366”

One thing I have got into the habit of doing most days is my “insurance” shot. An image taken early on in the day, usually in or around the house, which I have in reserve just in case I am unable to get out with the camera later in the day for a more considered daily image. I rarely use them but it is reassuring to know they are there and there have been a few occasions when I’ve been grateful for the insurance.

Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the sequence. The completer-finisher in me helps keep me going. That said, I’m only human and there have been days when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are few and far between as the 365 has become just a part of my normal daily routine. I get up each day and each day perform the routine hygiene tasks (washing, dressing, eating etc) without really considering them a chore and my 365 image has similarly become almost part of this hygiene routine.

Horizon Kompakt and Fomapan 400 – 30th November 2020 in the rain/drizzle

I firmly believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind that the majority of my 365 images are taken within a mile of my house, has sharpened my eye and I see compositions and creative opportunities more readily as a result. This has undoubtedly been a major benefit of undertaking the challenge and has also been a great help during the restrictions that we’ve put up with over the last twenty-plus months.

I mentioned earlier that I am now mainly working with film and one of the by-products of this has been playing with a range of cameras and discovering genres such as pinhole and panorama (true panoramic images not simply cropped into a 3×1 format). This variety has helped to keep the interest alive and I’ve a couple of other ideas up my sleeve for the coming months too – watch this space!

November 2021 – still experimenting (6×17 pinhole camera)

So, 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 the quality of my photography because of this apparent focus on quantity. It’s a big undertaking undoubtedly and not one for everyone but it is now as much a part of my daily routine as eating breakfast (which I never miss). I’ve just signed up for the 2022 challenge and have my eyes set on May 2023 and image number 2000!

Until then, the next milestone comes on December 8th 2021 when the consecutive daily image tally will hit 1,500!

One scene – three takes

I have mentioned in the past that I have been making an image a day since October 2017 as part of a 365 Challenge. On Saturday I wandered down to make that day’s photograph with just the Fuji X100T in my pocket and a vague idea of photographing the virtually derelict garages behind the petrol station. In the end I saw a different composition and left the garages for another day.

1st May – Fuji X100T

When I made the image of the scene for my 365 (above) I had to compromise on the composition slightly in order to mask a couple of cars behind the bushes to the right. With that in mind, when I returned early Sunday morning I was hoping the cars would be gone so I could get the view I wanted with the church tower clearly visible.

2nd May – Fuji X100T

I was lucky. Not only were the cars gone but conditions were similar, if not slightly better in terms of the light. I was pleased therefore to create the version I’d hoped for.

I was actually out that morning on a mission to make four pinhole photographs. so this was an adjunct to my main purpose. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a version of this image on 5×4 film.

2nd May – Zero Image 5×4 pinhole

Not unexpectedly there is a world of difference between the very clean, almost clinical, digital images and the extremely wide version created with the Zero Image. In hindsight I could have added the other two frames I had with me to narrow the field of view of the pinhole but I was hoping for a uniform look to the pinhole series. A possibility for another morning perhaps?

Lockdown not shutdown

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.

Random images from isolation 72
Even when I have managed a slightly more urban-looking subject I’ve chosen colour!

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.

Random images from isolation 100

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 Isolation and it is these that I have drawn on for this post.

Random Images from Isolation 111
Poppies have often featured in the past
Random images from isolation 107

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.

Picture of the day – 3rd March 2030

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.

365 – 650+ images in!

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.

© Dave Whenham
2017 – the first 36 images of the 63-2017 Challenge


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:.

CameraImages%
Fuji16974%. (65%)
Smartphone4017% (3%)
Drone83%. (9%)
Instant camera42%. (-)
Other94%. (1%)
Nikon– (22%)
365 August 2019 mosaic
The latest set of daily images which includes two Instax prints

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

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?)

365-2019-228
Image 228 in this years 365 (Fuji X100t)

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.

© Dave Whenham
Fuji X100t

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!

© Dave Whenham
Top Deck – iPhone XR + Hipstamatic

365 – 277 days and counting

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!

© Dave Whenham
This one didn’t make the 365 – but was a contender!

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.

© Dave Whenham
This one didn’t make the 365 either – although the shot the drone was taking did!

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.

 

 

Musings – 365

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.

© Dave Whenham
365-2018-198.

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.

© Dave Whenham
365-2018-203. How many times have I walked past this and not “seen” it?

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.

365-2018-196.jpg
365-2018-196

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”.

365-2018-123.jpg
365-2018-123

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.