An idea pops up that you’ve never had before–maybe you know what triggered it, maybe not–and you think, “Hmmm…that would be cool to do some day. Maybe I’ll try it when I have more time.”
You push the thought away since “more time” isn’t anywhere in sight. But the idea keeps coming back, poking you in the arm and whispering, “Pay attention to me. I’m not going to leave you alone.”
That’s how it was for me when I saw my friend James’ photos in 2013. He was sharing his 365Project.org photo-a-day images with his Facebook friends. I was drawn in by the creativity and craft of his work, which got better and better as the year progressed.
But James already knew a lot about photography when he started his project (he downplays his expertise, but I have trouble buying that). I had taken a lot of travel and soccer photos over the years, but had only used the automatic settings on my camera.
Even more daunting than my lack of photography knowledge was the fact that I had already set myself the goal of completing my book in 2014, which would require daily writing on top of the rest of life’s obligations. And I wasn’t willing to give up other activities that have become essential to my overall wellness (daily meditation, exercise, and sufficient sleep).
Adding the 365 challenge–not just taking a picture every day of the year, but creating something that I deemed good enough for the world to see–felt frightening and overwhelming.
“Yup. That’s just why you should try it,” the Universe answered back.
And so I did.
Here’s what I learned in the process:
- Presence is the photographer’s best friend. If you’re lost in thoughts about the past or the future, you’ll miss the opportunity right in front of you.
- Connect with others who inspire you (going it alone is limiting).
- Train yourself to be still. In much the same way that mental stillness brings clarity of thought, physical stillness (my own and the camera’s) brings clarity to my photographs. My tripod has become as important a tool to me as my meditation bench.
- Light is fleeting — take action now. The colors of a sunset will change in an instant. The slant of light that adds soul to your subject may fade in the blink of an eye.
- Find beauty in what’s available in the present moment, letting go of the expectation that there will always be something better out there.
- Stay alert and be prepared for surprises (just in case something better DOES show up). A few times, my best photo of the day was taken after I had posted my 365 shot. If my camera hadn’t been within reach, I wouldn’t have captured this image when two bluebirds alighted on the birdhouse just outside my kitchen window.
- Approach your subject from many different angles.
- If you think there is nothing to admire, you’re not looking closely enough.
- Keep your eyes open (and off your phone screen).
- Put a border around your goal to keep the project manageable and reduce overwhelm. I didn’t start 365 with any theme in mind, but after seeing the benefits that a structured topic can provide (whether via illustrating song lyrics, or working your way through the alphabet, or targeting a specific color for a week or a month at a time), my project evolved organically to parallel my book themes (gardening, mindfulness, and transformation).
- There is magic in the mundane.
- Take a class. My friend Amy and I took a 3-day class on macro photography in the spring that fueled my project for the rest of the year.
- A kind word about your craft from others is empowering and deeply motivating (thank you social media friends!).
- Be OK with good enough. Without fail, when I posted a photo I wasn’t completely happy with, somebody else would find something of value in it–a pleasing detail I had overlooked, a memory evoked, or an interesting fact about my subject.
- Rainy, misty days offer up their own rewards. As the flashy blossoms in my garden started to wane in the fall, I found myself wishing for precipitation to add some sparkle.
- Form and detail trumps surface color.
- When we’re following our purpose, the Universe drops gifts in our laps. During my alphabet series (June 2-27, 2014), I had about five minutes to find a “V” shot. I ran into the garden, focused my lens, and found a whole collection of V’s in this variegated leaf.
- Chickadees are hard to photograph, but worth the effort.
- Meditation and core body strength are useful photography tools.
- Daily practice (of photography or any other endeavor) may not make perfect, but it certainly makes us better.
- Don’t be afraid of the dark.
- The early bird catches the sunrise.
- Creating and sharing something beautiful, or at least interesting, every day has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.
- As in every other goal we set for ourselves, just showing up is the secret ingredient to getting the job done. Some days that entails dragging your tripod out into the dark if you’ve been too busy while the sun was up (or if you forgot that days get shorter quickly in December).
- The Universe loves to create, and uses us as its paint brush.
If you’d like to see the rest of my 365 Project photos (which include a lot of bad shots — especially in the early days), you can find my album here.
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