Almost one year ago today, I made a commitment. It was just between me and my camera. Not too many rules, except to shoot every day. I set some goals for myself because, well, I'm a teacher and goal-setting is what we do best. But other than that, I just started shooting. I blew through my goals in about three months, so often was I practicing and so inclement was the winter weather that kept us inside every day. But after surpassing my personal prescribed goals, I pressed on and eventually completed the project!
Recently I've seen some skepticism that shooting a 365 project is worth a photographer's time. I need to address that idea because I feel so strongly about the value of this project. I want to share with you proof that completing a 365 project is not a fad. For anyone wanting to learn a craft or hone a skill, doing it daily is not, by any means, a new idea. Throughout time, people have gotten really good at things by doing them a lot. Period. Opera singers put in hours a day, figure skaters wake up every day before dawn to practice. Yes, having a coach helps. Having goals, schedules, and a dedicated practice space help. But they are not the only thing. The best teachers, equipment, or facilities in the world won't make you an expert at something to which you have not fully dedicated yourself.
Read on, fellow creatives. I hope to share here what motivated me to continue on in this project in the hopes that you too will embark on your own creative journey.
So what motivated me throughout 2015? Well, first and foremost, it was the creation of a daily time capsule of our family adventures and the growth of my children. It may be an overly cited fact, but photography does have a time-stopping quality. Without these pictures, there would be so many small moments that would've already become hidden in some dusty corner of my mind... learning to pour his own cereal, pining to play outside on sub-zero days, building a marble run, finding tiny treasures in the grass, watching TV in his dragon costume, a fall scene reflected in the glass door, the way the light shimmered and changed if we were playing outside early enough on summer mornings. All of it is so heart-breakingly beautiful, yet so temporary.
Holding onto 2015 forever. That was my motivation number 1. But there's more... read on.
Motivation number 2 was seeing my own growth as a photographer. This 365 was vastly different than my first, which I completed in 2011 and was largely a technical pursuit. I started as a photography baby and ended as a preschooler. I thought I was rocking it the whole time, of course. ;-) I started that project with my little point and shoot canon powershot and ended it in aperture priority with my Nikon D90 and a couple accumulated lenses. So when you think about it, that was some pretty big growth for where I started.
This time, I started shooting in manual with my Nikon D800 and ended the same + a few new lenses, but because I had all the technical stuff mostly out of the way, there was so much more space for new learning and experimentation. It was primarily in the areas of composition, light, and storytelling that I challenged myself daily during this project.
If you are a photographer reading this post wondering what you can do to take your work to the next level, I hope you see that it does not matter where you are in your journey-- whether you are shooting in auto with a point and shoot, learning your first DSLR, solely shooting with your phone, or working as a full time photographer using a full frame body. You will experience huge growth if you successfully make this commitment.
My third motivation this year was my application and eventual acceptance to CMpro. If you can believe it, I started the year thinking the program wasn't for me (or if it was, it was some years off). But it's amazing what happens when you simply shoot every day. It builds confidence and on the most basic level, it builds your library of images! As the year stretched on into spring, I started realizing I had a handful of images that I thought were pretty good- maybe even good enough for a CMpro portfolio. I started thinking, "well, it wouldn't hurt to make a collection in Lightroom and start throwing things in as I go. I don't have to tell anyone, and I don't have to submit it." Then, as I got into summer, I started realizing that some of what I THOUGHT was pretty good in the winter and spring was nowhere near as good as what I was making in the summer. And that thought in and of itself is motivating. To have the tools necessary to compare your present self against your past self, especially as an adult, is a rare thing. When you are evaluating your own growth by any means -- in my case-- with a portfolio, you cannot help but see the value of pressing on. I could see myself stretching and changing right in front of my own eyes. I couldn't give up.
By the end of the summer, I had a portfolio of strong indoor and outdoor shots, which completed the story I saw unfolding for the collection of images I was building. In the fall, I started fiddling and reorganizing, deleting and adding, filling in the blanks, and tweaking the overall story arc of my set of images. I submitted at the end of October and found out the first week of November that I'd been accepted! From never-applying in January to accepted in November. Yeah, I'd say a 365 was worth the time.
It is not often in our adult lives when we are lucky enough to experience such exhilarating learning and growth. But it should be more often. There is no rule saying that when we leave school we cease learning. So whatever it is you are trying to become --a writer or a musician or a baker or an artist-- you will only become it by l-i-v-i-n-g it. If you wait for it to come to you, you'll be waiting a long time. And this life is not long enough to waste it just kicking around, in a state of anticipation and hopefulness.
What does next year hold for me then? Another round of 366 stories, of course. 366 more little stories, 366 more opportunities to fail, 366 more opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and 366 more chances to make something AWESOME! Will you be joining me?