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

365-2019

This years 365 Challenge is doing well with only one slight wobble so far and as we have just passed the 100th daily image for 2019 it is time to update my thoughts on the project. Now, I’m a bit of a geek and love numbers so let’s start with a look at what cameras I’ve used so far this year.

CameraCount Percent
Fuji X-T32931%
Fuji X100t2526%
Huawei P20 Pro2223%
Fuji X-E11112%
Fuji X-H177%
Mavic Pro (drone)66%
INSTA 360 ONE/ONE X22%

Unsurprisingly my Fuji cameras make up the majority of the 102 daily images year to date, I moved fully to the mirrorless system in March, although the ever-present Huawei smartphone is holding its own too. The Fuji X-H1 has appeared seven times but given that I’ve only owned the camera for ten days this represents a very high proportion of recent daily images.

I maintain a spreadsheet with image details to complement the albums on my Flickr photostream

The least surprising fact from my little spreadsheet (see above) is that almost half (47%) of my daily images would be classified as urban images. The reality of a 365 is that we shoot images where we live our lives and whilst I’d love to fill my days with rural landscapes (14%) or coastal seascapes (2%) the reality is that I spend most of my time in an urban setting. Of the remaining images, a further 37% of them, whilst categorised differently, were also taken in or around my home making them essentially an urban capture too.

Tree bark - macro

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. This close-up of bark was a recent insurance shot which wasn’t used as I was able to spend time photographing one of my grandsons that day.

I wrote recently about the case of the disappearing mojo and in that piece I reflected on how the 365 Challenge can help keep the motivation alive. Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the daily image capture. Image 102 was posted yesterday but that was actually my 530th consecutive daily image since embarking on the challenge in October 2017. The completer-finisher in me helps keep the sequence going. There have been days though when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are getting fewer as the 365 becomes 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.

365-2019-102: Another grubby grandson pic! Samyang 100mm macro at f4, the IBIS in the X-H1 allowing my shaky hands to get away with 1/40th second. This is the image that supplanted the bark shot above.

There is no doubt therefore in my mind that the 365 Challenge has helped to keep me creatively motivated, especially now that we’ve got past the initial months where it was a new routine and it is now firmly embedded in my daily routines; it has become a way of life, or at least a part of my everyday life.

365-2019-101: I deliberately tilted the camera to catch the lens flare, I’ve shot this scene many times before and wanted something a little different today.

I also believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind half of all 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. Image 101 (above) is a case in point and is less than a mile from my back door. I’ve shot this scene many times but wanted to do so again because I liked the glow along the left hand side of the frame – but how to make it a little different? Lens flare was what popped into my head and with the rising sun sitting naked in the sky I only had to tilt the camera slightly to cause the extremely bright source to flare and create some colourful streaks. Flare is something I usually avoid even shading the lens with my hand at times but on this occasion it seemed to fit the image nicely. In fact I liked it so much I made it my daily offering eschewing the other more traditional images I captured on that walk.

So, there we have it. The 365 is an ongoing project and one that I intend to keep going for as long as I am able or for as long as I have the inclination. Each month I set up a folder on Flickr for that months offerings and the March 2019 folder can be found HERE.

The Case of the disappearing Mojo

Loch Maree
Loch Maree, Scotland

How to define “mojo”? Well, the dictionary on my desk says:

“… a magic charm, talisman or spell”

Which is all well and good and accurate etcetera but not quite how we tend to use it as we tend to define that peculiar lethargy that robs us of the inclination to create as “losing my mojo”. Clearly, for me that means photography but I think it can be interpreted much more loosely and be used to encompass not just creative activities but other less creative pursuits.

As an aside, mojo is also the name given to several spicy sauces originating in the Canary Islands. But I digress (and not for the first time).

I do try to stay creative and full of energy and my 365 Challenge has proved very effective in keeping my enthusiasm alive but even so there are the odd days when it is more of an effort. I wrote this piece on one such day as part of my daily fifteen minutes free-writing exercise. I was supposed to have been in Manchester indulging in some street photography but, long story short, I’m at home through no fault of my own. Perhaps the sudden removal of something I’ve been looking forward to all week has contributed to this lack of enthusiasm?

I’ve just taken the grandson to school, something I do most days, and slipped my Fuji X100t in my pocket intending to wander down to the canal for a walk and to take a few snaps. Instead, I went straight to my favourite local cafe and had breakfast before heading home. I did listen to a podcast on my phone whilst at the cafe so not all was lost – but still I avoided using the camera!

I’m not the first and won’t be the last to lose their mojo and in fact this wasn’t even my first such case of a disappearing mojo but nevertheless it is worrying whenever it happens. Sure, history shows that I will get over it … but what if?

The good news is that disappearing mojos have a knack of returning especially with a lit bit of gentle coaxing. The first thing I do is put the camera away and if practical take a walk (without a camera) or sit with a coffee and a (non-photography) book. Sometimes just forgetting about creating for a while can help to clear the negative log-jam that is holding your creative juices back.

Another thing that often works for me is tidying up my desk. Sounds odd but simply handling the photographic detritus on my desk and putting it back where it belongs can often reignite an interest in doing something. That fisheye lens buried under a pile of papers that hasn’t been used in a while … now I wonder … It’s a bit like buying new kit without the costs involved; new kit is a sure fire way for many of us to get out with a camera and regain that enthusiasm but it’s not always economically viable.

If that doesn’t work I take a look back through my archive and remind myself of the many “wins” in a bid to remove negative thoughts. Sometimes seeing an old image can rekindle an interest in a particular technique or subject leading me to have another try.

If there is one thing that my own experience has taught me however it’s that I shouldn’t panic. The “lost” mojo is not gone but merely stood out of sight for a while, it will return and sometimes stressing about it only makes things worse.

365/500 #2

I wrote in my last post about why I have committed to a picture-a-day and how I’ve recently passed the 500th consecutive day.  

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 500+ 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. Other options that I have in the back of my head are possibilities close to my home in Elland and within easy walking distance regardless of the weather.

I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how I need 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 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.

365-2018-035

I spent the last few years of my working life living, breathing and even dreaming (yes, really) spreadsheets. You’d have thought I’d have had enough of them but somehow the picture-a-day project drew me back into the murky world of spreadsheets and data analysis. Thankfully not in too much depth but enough to be able to tell you that of my first 500 images just under 30% were mono/black & white which was really unexpected. Prior to starting the “365” Project only around 10% of my posted work was in colour so for my pictures-of-the-day to account for 70% was very counter intuitive. Having a regular audience (the members of the 365 Group I joined) must have subconsciously steered me towards colour. So far in 2019 around 40% has been black and white and it seems I am subconsciously trying to redress the balance as it were.

[table id=2 /]

The shift towards urban photography was to be expected; I cannot escape to the mountains every day after all. One unexpected piece of intelligence I gleaned however was how little I was using my full-frame Nikon D800E and it’s partner the D7100. Delving into Lightroom recently I found I had not used either Nikon for getting on six months and so the decision to fully embrace the Fuji system and sell the last of my Nikon kit was made.

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365-2018-017

So,  after 500 days into the Challenge I feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for and 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.

A “365” won’t be for everyone but I’m intrigued to see how far I can go with it!