Toward the end of last year, I started contemplating doing a photo-a-day project. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Take a photo a day, and publish it, preferably on the same day. I pretty much decided that I already had too many commitments in 2015 and that I wanted to cut back, but I just couldn’t bear to scrap the idea entirely.
Then, on New Year’s Day, I woke up, and saw this nice light pattern on my wall, which I caught on camera. Then I decided, “Screw it. I’m going to post this as Day 1, and see how far I get. If I end up giving up, no harm done.”
So I posted it. Ten days later, I’m still doing it. (You can follow my project on Flickr.) I felt ready to give up on both Day 2 and Day 3, but I didn’t. Instead, I got clearer about what I was trying to accomplish, and why.
I decided that my main goals were to document my life and to practice. If I had to choose between posting a mediocre photo that told a more accurate story of my day versus a gorgeous photo that was largely irrelevant, I would go with the mediocre photo.
This immediately raised several problems, the main one being that I don’t lead a very glamorous life. I’m usually indoors in front of my computer or in a meeting. I decided to take this on as a challenge. It would force me to exercise my storytelling muscles in a more creative way. At worst, it would encourage me to get out more — a very nice side effect.
Another problem was that I didn’t always have a camera with me. This was surprising, given that I feel like I’m always carrying my camera around these days. But within the first few days of the New Year, I found myself missing out on what I thought were good opportunities. I have a smartphone, but I don’t like its camera. Yeah, yeah, I know that the best camera is the one you have on you, but I was having trouble getting over this.
By Day 7, I had to confront this problem head on. I knew I was going to have court-side access during the pre-game warmup at the Warriors game, so I brought my camera and long lens, expecting to take some cool pictures of the players. But the arena wouldn’t let me bring my camera in, because the lens was too big.
I was disgruntled, but I knew I had to get a picture, so I got this one of my friends with my phone. And I love it. It’s technically unremarkable, but it means something to me personally. Maybe I would have taken a better one of the same subject with my good camera and lens, but maybe not. Constraints are good.
The last problem was that I had to get over myself. This could take an enormous amount of time if I let it. I’m not a professional photographer, and I’m not trying to be. I want to get better, but I have a bunch of other things going on in my life. I need to be okay with improving at a realistic pace.
When I started taking photography more seriously, I started getting more self-critical. This improved my photographic eye, but it also prevented me from putting myself out there as much. One of the reasons for my improvement these past two years is that I simply share less. That’s legitimate — curation is a huge part of photography — but I could probably improve even faster by putting myself out there more, even if that means exposing inferior work.
Furthermore, taking good photos requires a lot more concentration. Sometimes, I find myself giving up on taking pictures entirely, because I just want to focus on whatever it is that I’m doing, and I know that any photos I end up taking will be mediocre as a result. If you look at my meeting pictures over the past two years, you can gauge the level of my involvement in the meeting based on the quality of the pictures. When I was facilitating, the pictures ended up being mediocre (or sometimes nonexistent), because I was devoting 100 percent of my concentration to my job at hand.
I’m trying to manage my standards and just publish something once a day, focusing on the benefits of practice rather than worrying about my self-critic. I’m enjoying it! I’ve already started to notice key opportunities for improvement, and I’m looking forward to being able to see that improvement over time rather than worrying about not being there yet.
Most of all, I love having a journal of my life. I was never able to keep a daily written journal, even when constraining myself to bullet points. But a picture journal seems easier and a lot more gratifying, and it’s amazing how a single picture can trigger a lot of memories.
It’s also an incredible way to recognize life patterns. This past week, you can see that I was around lots of people, which was great, but not typical. Next week will be similar, but the week after, I’ll start bearing down. I’m curious to see what new patterns emerge and how this feedback mechanism changes my behavior (hopefully for the better).