Monday, 1 February 2016

366 Project First Month - Initial Thoughts

A few years ago, I was considering the merits of a 365 project (a photo a day for a year). At the time I recalled a blog post, sadly no longer available, theorising that practising taking photos without purpose only results in practising poor techniques. The general consensus, and the one I subscribed to, seemed to be to focus on quality instead of quantity.

At the start of 2015, I thought about the project again. I’d taken my first few faltering steps on social media and had taken purchase of a little Sony RX100 mk 3, so the idea of a 365 project had appeal. However, the little camera in my hand never captured my imagination the way I expected it to. January 1, 2015 came and passed without me taking a photo.

Cut to the start of 2016, and, once again, I had a brand new camera but this time it had me excited. I had also been recently inspired by the video of John Free talking about how important practice is to your photography. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I decided on some rules I had to follow for the first month.
  • Only one camera to be used, the Sony RX1R II.
  • No RAW editing on computer (only JPEG editing on phone).
  • No cropping allowed, including straightening.
  • No tripods, other than little tabletop ones, could be used.
  • No portraits of anyone I know.
  • Only using found light (no flash or otherwise manipulating light).
  • All crops to be square.
So, on the evening of January 1, 2016, I went out and took my first photo. When I took it, it seemed just like a fairly plain, almost boring, photo – a simple pan of a tram in Bourke St Mall. However, on reflection, it seems entirely suitable to be the first photo of my journey.

A Melbourne tram bustling down an iconic street, a passenger looks out on a journey they have limited control over – their only choice is at which stop to disembark. Artsy bullshit rationalisation? Yep.

So, after one month, what have I learnt, and will I continue?

Firstly, I found this an invaluable experience in familiarising myself with a new camera. At the beginning there were a couple of times I failed to take the photo I wanted at the decisive moment because I fumbled with the controls. Lessons learnt in a pressure free environment.

Even if give up this project, I think forcing yourself to take a photo a day with new gear is a great idea. Going forward, I plan to spend least a month doing a photo a day with any new lenses or cameras I purchase.

In the past, when I have joined groups for photo walks, I have often being impressed by photos others captured within a few meters of myself. Somehow they had seen a photo I had missed. Going out every day looking to capture a photo certainly adjust your mind and eye to look for images. In fact, I think joining a group photo walk would be a very interesting conclusion to the project.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Not completely linked to doing a 365 Project, but my choice to stick with one focal length definitely has made me think about composition more as well. With photos where I would have just zoomed in and moved on, I now have to work out a way to balance the subject with their background.

Not a photo I am proud of, but having just one focal length made me think how I could still take a shot of this family of ducks.
By forcing myself to do all cropping in camera and not being able rely on post processing to fix minor errors has also been a tougher challenge than I expected. I am surprised how much I need to concentrate when going for symmetrically balanced photos, even after a month.

‘Likes’ are a measure of popularity, not quality.

Before now, I didn’t share my new account details with more than a couple of friends. After getting a feel for things, I slowly started experimenting with hash tags. I was taken aback when total strangers started to like some of my photos. Even more so when a couple started to follow me. Suddenly, I felt pressure to stick to the style and content that made them press the follow button. At that moment I had to ask myself, is this project for the followers and likes, or is it something for me?

I realised this is definitely a journey for myself to try to take my photography forward. To do what I think others want, to try to keep followers, would be a disservice to myself and would defeat the purpose of this project. A few days later they stopped following me, and I actually felt a bittersweet sense of relief.

However, despite this being largely for myself, I think posting to a public gallery is an essential part of the process. If I wasn’t regularly posting to Instagram, it would be all too easy to skip a day, or just take any random photo with no concern for quality. Whether you have followers or not, posting somewhere public will keep you accountable.

Would I recommend this to others?

If you’re just starting out in photography the answer is easy: no, I wouldn’t recommend it. A 365 project takes a lot of time out of your schedule and for people starting out I think there is a lot more to be learnt and absorbed from tutorials, books, workshops etc.

However, if you’ve already have the ability to critique a photo beyond “I like it”, it can be a great experience. My photos over the month have been hit and miss, but all the hits wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t started this journey.

What’s next?

My original thought was to stick to a 35mm lens for the first 6 months, and then to an 85mm for the second half of the year. Over the last 31 days, there have been plenty of times I wish I had something either wider or longer than 35mm. At the same time, I have found 35mm to be an incredibly flexible focal length. Part of me wants to force myself to stay at 35mm, to keep pushing against that particular envelope. But, being one of those curious human beings with a love of variety, I’ve decided to mix things up and go wider in February.

But I will be back to 35mm, often.

P.S. If you want to follow along in my journey, you can see how my 366 (it’s a leap year) project is progressing on Instagram: @andrew366

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