Wednesday, January 1, 2014

365-photo-a-day - December - and some final thoughts

union square - artichoke - looking up - met museum christmas tree - birthday smiles
biscotti - bangs! - met staircase - sweet potato chips - midnight mass
christmas present - urban tree - pretzel time - christmas cheer - brunch
pharos in waiting - foggy day - szechwan houses - empty gallery - park sitting
smooches at midnight - christmas corner -bryant park - morning light - coffee time

Well, I did it (sort of). I actually stuck to my plan to try to take one photo per day in the year 2013. How did I do? Not too bad, really. I did not end up with exactly 365 photos, but I got pretty damn close - 352, to be exact. That's only 13 photos shy of my goal, which equals a 96% if this were a high school math test. And in my high school, a 96% equaled a solid "A."

Your goal should reflect your lifestyle
What did I learn from all of this nonsense? Well to start, I learned that setting a goal of taking one photo per day for an entire year turned out to be an impossible goal for me to achieve. My lifestyle, schedule, location, and career was not conducive to my plan. I often spend days on end in darkened theaters with people who, for legal and publicity reasons, cannot just have their pictures taken by any old assistant with a photography habit. As a result, my photos tended towards the things I could take pictures of, which was often the same five subjects - sunsets over my balcony, Union Square (the greenmarket and surrounding buildings), my feet, lots and lots of food, and museums. Not at all a terrible selection of subjects, but how many times can one person really photograph a slice of pizza and call it interesting? I also occasionally ended up using multiple photos from single outings. I tried to be sensitive to just how many I was using (15 photos from one excursion was unacceptable, for example), but there were months in which one long #touristforaday session resulted in three or four final photos.

Find beauty in the everyday.
I was lucky to have a handful of fantastic travel opportunities in 2013 - Las Vegas with the girls, a quick trip to the Jersey shore, the family lake house in Tennessee, a weekend in Portland, and Florida (twice!). But I realized that it would be too easy to just stock up on pics of palm trees and call it a day. I wanted this project to be an accurate reflection of my entire year - so if I only spent four days in Vegas, then I could only use four photos from that trip. As a result, my challenge became finding the photographable moments in everyday life. With this in mind, I quickly started adjusting my schedule a little bit here and there so that I could take even a few moments really take in my surroundings. I began getting off the subway two or three stops early and taking the long way to work, pausing in parks along the way, which allowed me to literally stop and smell (and photograph) the roses.

Not everyone wants to be photographed. Not everything should be photographed.
There were so many moments this past year that in my head, just begged to be documented. But in reality, it would have been in poor taste to whip out my phone, demand that people cease their conversations and hold their exact pose, possibly move a lamp because it's casting a weird shadow, and then spend five minutes making sure I got the exact photo I wanted. There is a fine line between snapping a quick group photo at a bar and being that girl Instagramming every last french fry on the table, and I tried really hard to not cross it. Photography can also be an intrusive medium. There were countless times when I'd be sitting down to a meal with a friend and think, "oo, this would make such a great photo!" but then realize that the friend sitting across from me was all sorts of sweaty from having just come from yoga/the subway/a one night stand/a terrible dance call and absolutely did not want to have his or her picture taken, knowing that it could quickly end up on seven different social media.

Good lighting is key
Low and/or incorrect lighting turned out to be one of the biggest factors in my lack of photo-taking. Darkened bars, blue-light-only backstages, terrible overhead fixtures in my apartment, and grey and unforgiving skies plagued me almost every day of 2013. Hundreds of photos were taken and immediately discarded due to poorly-lit environments, and even though I eventually discovered a really convenient spot on the floor of my new apartment that turned out to make for some great food photography, I learned that day-to-day life is usually accompanied by some really bad lighting. A large aspect of this project was using photographs that I felt proud to call my own. This didn't mean that every single picture had to be National Geographic-worthy, but blurry, noisy, and badly-lit photos just wouldn't do.

Inspiration in the digital age
An unexpected benefit of this project came from Instagram. Previous to 2013, I had posted only three photos to my feed. It wasn't that I was against the site, I just felt like the last thing I needed in my life was another social media distraction. But when I decided to embark on this year-long journey, I chose to make Instagram my platform - and I'm insanely happy I did. First of all, I was able to use the hashtag search function to find other people who were also taking on 365-challenges. I found and followed a lot of people in the beginning right away, but over time saw their pictures dwindle and then eventually disappear all together. I'm not ashamed to say that there was at least a little bit of prideful competition within me when I realized that I was still posting almost daily in the later months of the year. I also found endless amounts of inspiration by following both friends and strangers whose photography I admire. Lifestyle bloggers, food photographers, a traveling sketchbook, and a German doodler are just some of the artists I've discovered and now learned from over this past year. It's said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and Instagram makes it so easily wonderful to learn from the best.

Practice makes better 
I am pleased to say that I became a better photographer during this past year. While I have no concrete measure of this fact (my three most "liked" photos each got 12 likes - an utterly dismal number by Instagram standards), I can objectively and personally say that I noticed a positive change in my photography by the end of the year. My angles became more confident, my use of negative space became greater, and my point of view became clearer. And that might be the biggest thing I can take away from all of this - I spent a year of my life honing a skill through study and repetition, and it shows. I took hundreds more photos than I normally would have because of this project, and as a result I have a handful of pictures that I am truly proud to call my own.

What's up next for me?
I will not be repeating my 356-photo-a-day project in 2014. It was actually pretty stressful to always be looking for that perfect picture, and as I mentioned before, my life doesn't really allow for those daily photo ops. If I wanted to live a life of making the monthly numbers, I would have become a car salesman. I will, however, be giving myself another photography challenge for the upcoming year - but this time, at a rate of one photo per week. The name of the game in 2014 is editing - I now know that I can produce over 300 photos that I deem printable. But what would happen if I force myself to edit those 300 down to just 52? What makes one picture that much better than all the rest? What constitutes a really good photograph? I foresee some hard choices - do I include the slightly odd and offset photograph that perfectly captures a moment only I remember, or do I choose the crowd-pleasing and absolutely stunning sunset-over-the-beach? (I dream big). We shall see :)

365/Photo-a-day was a personal undertaking to capture one photograph per day in 2013. All photos were taken by me and processed with Instagram, Snapseed, PhotoToaster, and/or the new A Beautiful Mess app. The images were compiled using Picture Collage Maker Lite. What to see my pics as they happen? Follow me @maspad on Instagram!

1 comment:

  1. Nicely said Mary. It's great to see you learning and progressing in your hobby. It's also always great to see you learn about yourself through your hobby and to have kept at it through the whole year.