Friday, October 15, 2010

365 Days of Photos

(Warning: This post is quite a ramble, and it's very photo-heavy)


Finally, a year later from the start of my 365 project, I'm done. I made it out alive, but most importantly to me, I made it through the whole project without ever once missing a day or cheating in any sense. It's probably one of the hardest photo challenges I've ever had. It was also simultaneously the longest year of my life, and the shortest year of my life. Confused? Here's why:

We all pride ourselves on being creative, whether we are considered "creative professionals," just hobbyists, or even just dedicated parents helping your children with an art or science project. We all feel, and utilize the little sparks of creative inspiration that pop into our heads from time to time. But can creativity be forced? I'd like to say, for certain, it cannot. It can be coerced, it can be coaxed out of hiding, you can certainly bargain with it. However, it is as stubborn as a mule and if it doesn't want to come around, well, it won't.

This project gave me many almost-sleepness nights. I'd be up until 4 or 5AM at times, trying to force creativity to deliver some magical idea to me. Most of those nights it did not. I would settle for less, if absolutely necessary, but I was never happy about it. Some of the toughest days were the ones that I didn't have anything in particular planned. Some days I'd wake up with an idea, or it would hit me at lunch time, or I'd finally have the time needed to go after a planned photo idea that maybe had come to me weeks prior. Sometimes it would depend on the weather, sometimes it would depend on my day-to-day schedule, sometimes it even depended on my location, or even my health.

The bottom line is that I really wanted to stick this out. There were so many nights that I thought I may fall asleep just trying to think of something, and to me, if I didn't have a new photo before I officially fell asleep for the night, then I failed. There are some shots in here that I knew I could have done better if I'd had the time to bust out an entire lighting setup with stands, modifiers, clamps, background holders, and other items that only photographers would know by name; but quite simply, I was too tired, or in too much of a hurry, or something was in my way that could not be helped. So I did my best and uploaded the least-worst of the batch. This was meant to be a learning experience, and sometimes the only way to learn is by missing the target from time to time.

So, what did I learn? In no particular order:

  • You can't force inspiration, you have to feel it. It will find you, not the other way around.
  • Anything can be made to look great if given the time to really set up a shot with meaning
  • When you rush, you can still complete a masterpiece, but it's hit-or-miss
  • Having no experience what-so-ever with a particular photographic method is all the reason in the world to finally give it a try
  • When in doubt, grab a flash
  • In the words of Zack Arias: "What really is a studio? A floor and a couple walls? You got a floor and a couple walls? You got yerself a studio!"
  • A-clamps are absolutely invaluable
  • Always carry at least one light stand and a tripod in your car at all times.
  • In general, things start looking different after the first few weeks. You notice more photo opportunities where you never thought of looking before.
  • Learned how to plan more involved shots into smaller spans of time
  • Invaluable lessons in timing and quick setups
  • The first time you try something new, it's going to suck, unless you get lucky, but it's the only way to get started. You always need the first building block.
  • Any photo can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. If you have a specific message to get out, you need to put as much into it as you can.
  • If you lock yourself into one specific style, you will fail. You don't have to master everything, but you have to be open to trying new styles and ideas
  • You can improvise backgrounds out of anything as long as you can get enough blur from an open aperture.
Hell, there's probably lots more, but that's most of it. Most importantly though, I'd say about 90% of these photos had no real "Photoshopping" done to them. Sure, maybe I'd boost some brightness, bring out some more shadow detail, change the saturation; minor tweaks that you would do even with film in a darkroom. Aside from one photo where the purpose was to layer 2 images, I did no recompositing; there are no sharks jumping out of the water attacking a helicopter in this gallery. Everything was displayed the way it was shot. If you can't learn to get it right in-camera, then you're not bettering your photography, you're bettering your editing skills, and that is opposite to the purpose of doing a project like this in the first place.

Were there days when I wanted to quit? Sure, of course. There were times when I was sick, physically sick and stuck in bed, but still dragged myself out to take a shot. Many nights I'd pace my house for hours before something hit me. I had people telling me I should just let it go so I could get back on a regular sleep schedule. Hell it took me a few days just to write this entry. I needed to finally get my mind off of it. The funny thing is that I still get that panic-like rush when the sun starts going down and I forget, for a moment, that I'm done and don't need to take a photo for the day. Then the calm washes over me and a sense of accomplishment rushes through me.

The project finished Tuesday night. Originally I was going to grab a picture of my cat's behind, sort of as a "kiss my ass" to anyone who thought I couldn't pull this off (myself included, believe me) but instead I had the chance to get out and photograph Sevendust's concert that night. I think it's incredibly appropriate that a project like this end with a concert photo, since concert photography is what got me started in the first place.

If I had to give any advice to people wanting to do something like this, the most important thing would be to make sure you've got the strength to go through with it. Anyone who doesn't understand probably thinks I'm over-dramatizing right now, but it's the truth. It's very taxing on your nerves, on your thinking, and on your time. If you don't make time to use the creativity that hits you, you'll fall right off the horse. Try planning shots over time, that way one days when no inspiration hits you, you've at least got a backup list of things you can shoot. I only figured that out more than halfway through, and even then some of the ideas I had were too intricate to pull off when you've barely got one eye open.

Not all of the images in the gallery are masterpieces, but they serve a purpose. some of them tell a story, and some of them were just nice ideas in-and-of themselves. I am proud of each and every one of them. In fact, some of the crappiest shots are very important to me because those are most likely the ones that came to me at the very last minute in the early morning before I could barely stay awake any longer.

Finally, the images. Here are some of my favorites:

Day 14: 10-26-09 Lemon Ice

Day 36 11-17-09 Sparks (probably my absolute favorite of all)

Day 52 12-03-09 Seasons Greedings (first attempt at bokeh)

Day 61 12-12-09 Identify

Day 71 12-22-09 Butcher Shop

Day 79 12-30-09 Down In A Hole

Day 121 02-10-10 Snow Day

Day 136 02-25-10 Someone In The Oven

Day 167 03-28-10 Ignite

Day 174 04-04-10 Infinity

Day 181 04-11-10 What Does This Do?

Day 202 05-02-10 Lost In The Summer Sky

Day 216 05-16-10 How Could You?

Day 262 07-01-10 Paradise

Day 285 07-24-10 Drill Sgt.

Day 320 08-28-10 Ferris Wheel

Day 358 10-05-10 Crimson

Day 361 10-08-10 David Ellefson

Day 363 10-10-10 Coexist

Of course, there are others, but it would take too long to go through all of them.

I am definitely going to make myself a photo book of this entire gallery. I don't know if anyone else would care to own a book full of all these shots, but they're definitely special, and important, to me. If anyone has any interest in a photo book full of my 365 shots, please contact me ASAP. I will try to order a few at once to keep the pricing down, but due to the cost of putting something like this together I probably can't make it available indefinitely just yet.

Thanks to everyone who supported me by sharing kinds words about my photos and by visiting the gallery every so often to catch up on what's new. Extra special thanks to Lisa, my fiancee and best friend. I wouldn't have the determination I have without you, and I certainly wouldn't be the person I am without you in my life.

More soon.

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