One year ago I was bored and in seach of a challenge. I felt that I needed to be a bit more purposeful with my photography and hone my skills in a more scientific manner. To my mind, I had the basic concepts of photography down and while I loved it, I felt the rut of a well-worn path developing. In order to break the complacency I decided that I needed a new challenge to keep me growing as a photographer.
Over the course of a few days I searched high and low for what I considered to be an interesting enough project to invest time in without it pressing me into areas that I didn't feel compelled to explore...I am looking at you "100 Strangers" project.
Thinking in broad terms and after some consideration around how I could logistically support the idea of shooting daily, I decided that I would shoot enough to create one "usable" photo, every day, for a year. This provided me the flexibility to purposefully experiment within a framework of a project, without being too narrow in scope.
Project 365 was under way.
Shooting the Project...or How I Learned to Love the X100S
To get started, I had hoped to keep things pretty minimalistic regarding camera gear. Of course, I could carry around my large DSLR (Canon 5D MKII) with lenses, but to me, that just didn't seem practical on a daily basis. Of course I would use the behemoth many times over the course of the year, but portability would need to be considered.
Enter the Fujifilm X100S
Besides the small size, what the X100S brought to the table was discretion, a high quality sensor and fast auto focus. It was the perfect rig for street shooting and proved to be just as good at nearly every other type of scenario that I threw at it.
What surprised me was, from a feature perspective, there wasn't one particular thing that stuck out as a reason to love the X100S, but I found myself really enjoying the experience of simply using it. The entire package really engaged me in new ways of viewing potential photo opportunities.
I have never felt more earnestly that a camera was an extension of my vision, than when using the X100S.
My time with the X100S was so enjoyable that I honestly can't imagine a day where I don't own a Fujifilm X-Trans camera, but I digress....
Expanding the Scope
After a few months of taking photos and really enjoying the process, I settled into a nice rhythm. It was around this time that I realized a parallel growth opportunity was to become an expert with Aperture and so the project's scope was expanded to include, "...or creatively edit an existing photo."
I found that as much as I needed to be shooting, I also needed to explore how I treated and processed the images. This direction prompted an entirely new avenue for the project--diving into my old library of images to find new creative ways to view old photos. Constructively criticizing and re-imagining past work can have a profound impact on how you view your creativity when compared across the arch of time.
A Slight Change in Direction
As noted, I had been working with Aperture for a few years, so it was a natural fit to dive deeper into its functionality. Then, after months of speculation it was shelved by Apple. I then started evaluating several different software options. After reading a great article on laroquephoto.com about Patrick's transition from Aperture to Lightroom, an echo of my experience with Aperture at that point, I decided to switch to Lightroom and delved into its features.
Now That it is Done, What did I Learn?
As I reflect on the daily challenge of creating an interesting photo every day, I am struck by a flood of thoughts. I ask myself right now, "What did you learn?" and it is hard to narrow down a take-away.
I know that I've changed. I feel it. The passage of time, however, has faded my memory to what I didn't know--if that makes sense. I suppose that a better way of saying it is that I may not have learned many "new" things, but rather hardened concepts that I already understood. I certainly am a more sophisticated photographer with more purpose now. That is something. Outside of that, I suppose that I did learn or refine the following:
- Even though digital photos cost nearly nothing to shoot, don't shoot everything. Make your shots count for something and be proud of them.
- On the other hand, because digital photos cost nearly nothing--EXPERIMENT. Try new things often.
- Never underestimate the power of other peoples' perspectives. My photos that were most popular on Flickr, Instagram, Facebook and/or purchased were ones that I was proud of, but would not have necessarily considered to be my favorites. I was regularly surprised at which photos people loved the most.
- Have a strategy for how you will shoot. Specifically, I found it interesting to shoot outdoor events. So, I would always plan on the type of gear that I would need, the weather conditions, where and when I wanted to be at specific locations, etc. Preparedness is critical.
- To that end, being prepared to shoot at the right moment and knowing how to capture the shot with the "correct" exposure is 99% of the battle.
- In an age of Instagram and filters, post-processing is an art in-and-of-itself. An easy trap to fall into is over processing images.
- The claim that RAW is the only way to shoot is blown out of proportion.
Speaking of Experiments...
Some additional experiments and techniques that I rolled into this project were:
- Shoot for a continuous month with only one camera (X100S & 5D MKII)
- Shoot for a continuous month with just one focal length (35mm & 50mm)
- Shoot for a week at the same aperture setting (f/2.0)
- Shoot for a week in Black and White only
- Shoot only JPEG for a few months
- Shoot only RAW for a few months
- Long exposures
- Star trails
- Lunar photography
Ok, Besides Learning, What else Happened?
A year is a relatively long period of time and things naturally change. On the back of this project, the following things all changed for me:
- As mentioned, Aperture went belly-up, so I switched to Lightroom.
- I figured out how to sync multiple Lightroom catalogs across multiple Mac computers via cloud storage--which proved to be incredibly valuable when traveling abroad.
- I had enough interest in my photography that I started up this blog and ultimately my IAMLESHER Photography business.
- I sold a bunch of photos!
- I developed a strategy for social sharing that worked for me.
- Through that strategy, I grew my Instagram, Flickr, and Facebook followers.
- I made a ton of great friends and contacts.
Observations from the Data Nerd
- Most Used Camera: X100S (250 photos)
- Most Used Non-X100S Lens: Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM (55 photos)
- Most Used File Type: JPEG (Shocking! 261 photos)
- Most Used Aperture: f/2.0 (68 photos)
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
Most Popular Photo on Flickr
It wasn't easy doing this project every day. There were days, however, when shooting was one of the best things going. Times when I would get out with my camera and just know that there were going to be great photos taken. Those times were like searching for treasure and finding it. Invaluable.
I am positive that as I digest what this project meant to me over the next few days or weeks it will solidify into a specific take away, but at the moment, there is a sense that what I have learned is not very tangible, but at the same time was transformative. I approach photography differently now. I think about situations differently. Photography may have morphed into a dependency at this point, who knows? I like it though.