Today marks the third anniversary of the start of my daily photo blogs. I’ve been thinking for a while about how to mark the occasion, and have put together this reflection of where I have come from since 1st February 2012. Every day for the last thirty-six months I have posted a new photograph, or group of photographs, for the world to see.
I didn’t know how far I would get, how much it would consume my life, or how long I would keep it going before boredom set in. The original plan, as I have mentioned on more than one occasion before, was to celebrate the fact that February 2012 was a leap month, uploading 29 images for the world to see. Looking back on those images, it’s almost embarrassing to see how amateurish some of them appear. I’m not suggesting that I am a fully fledged professional now, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I am certainly more comfortable behind the lens in February 2015 than I was 1096 days ago.
During that time, I have not always found things easy. While I always take my camera with me wherever I go, while I always aim to take at least one photograph every day, I often have periods where I am apathetic about what I am photographing. I honestly don’t think I will ever be unenthusiastic about photography. However, having failed to take a photo during a long day because I have been unable to escape the office for lunch, or because I have driven both to and from work in twilight, there are only so many times that I can take a picture of an ornament without becoming bored, by both the subject and by what I know the outcome of that shot will be (often a grainy ISO-6400).
I do have days or weeks of intense enthusiasm, an idea forming in my mind, my brain desperate to turn that thought into reality. (I am like that about a lot of things; once I get an idea in my head about something, I have to go out and accomplish it, right there and then, if possible.) But throughout all of this, there has been one constant; the daily WordPress posting.
So, if I have developed as a photographer over the past three years, then what have I learnt?
Photograph whatever you want to
During the first week of the blog, I took shots of halved fruit, crocuses, daffodils, frosty plants and snowy hills. Since then, I have taken well over 30,000 photographs using two cameras (a Canon EOS 400D and a Canon EOS 600D). I take photos of what catches my eye, whether it’s a spectacular view or a discarded cigarette butt. I’ve mentioned on this blog before that people are sometimes surprised by what I take photos of: I cannot say what draws me to a subject and I admit that the shot doesn’t always work (in reality it’s probably around a 10% strike rate).
This isn’t to say, however, that I don’t find myself in the photographic doldrums from time to time. There are days when inspiration hits and I can come away with 50-100 photographs that I am happy to work through and share. In between, however, as I mentioned earlier, I can find myself not drawn to anything at all, ending up with a solitary, poor and grainy image that’s not worthy of anything more than the discarded folder housed on an external hard drive. (I never delete any images; I may never come back to them, but I feel like I should keep some sort of record of what I have done, whether it’s good or it’s bad.)
Gain inspiration from others
One of the best things I have gotten out of using the blog is seeing the work of others and gaining inspiration from them. I am lucky enough to have close to 850 people from across the world following my daily posts and, while I (shamefacedly) admit that I do not follow as many people as that myself, those I keep track of, I do for a reason. I freely admit that I am no academic when it comes to photography; I am extremely envious of those (including my dad) who grew up enveloped in the world of film cameras and use the associated developing skills that we of the digital age have missed out on. One of my school friends regularly goes out ‘pinholing’, as he puts it, taking time to master the film process and develop images using that technique. I’m straying off the subject a bit, but it’s that sort of technique, imagery and commitment that inspires me.
There are bloggers out there whose images have piqued my interest, and I have tried to emulate what they do. Whether it is through throwing my comfort zone out of the window and diving into street portraits, experimenting with layered images, or theming a series of shots through song titles, having a focus by emulating a peer definitely gets the creative juices flowing. Meeting up with Richard and Mike over the last couple of years has, I think, worked well for me (I cannot speak for them) and I enjoyed a) seeing first hand how they work and b) photographing with them.
Photograph for yourself, not for others
One of the things I have found myself doing – and which I have had to stop myself from doing – is photographing for a mass audience. I’m not necessarily talking about doing a photo shoot or being commissioned to capture a happy couple’s wedding day on film. What I mean is taking a particular shot because it will appeal to those people who read the blog. tailoring an image for a target market.
I love photography because I love capturing a moment in time, a facet of my life, an element of mother nature, for eternity. Yes, my photography has developed enough over the last three years that I now take photos of absolutely anything, and yes, I gain inspiration from others around me, but at the end of the day, I keep having to rein myself in, taking images because I want to take them, not because I think others will like them.
Similarly, I have, on occasions, fallen into the habit of sharing the photos I take with my other half only through the blog. Again, this shows that I sometimes become too focused on my ‘target market’ rather than to share with loved ones.
Emulate, don’t copy
While there is no doubt that I have been inspired by the other bloggers out there, one trap I have fallen into in the past is taking that emulation a step too far – imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but (inadvertent) out-and-out copying only upsets people. To those I have offended, I offer a sincere apology.
The trouble is, a lot of the ideas I get for photographs (when I am not just wandering the streets aimlessly with my camera) is from others. Once in a blue moon I have a semi-brilliant idea that I can run with, but the way I have found myself developing as a photographer is through the inspiration of others. There are bloggers out there whose images make me think ‘I’d love to give that a go myself’, but I am much more careful about doing that now than I was a couple of years ago.
The downside of the ‘anything and everything’ approach that I have to my photography is they there is sometimes a lack of cohesion in the images that I post on a daily basis. While I try to theme my shots from time to time, generally speaking you might see a landscape one day and a pile of cables the next. This variety might well keep the blog fresh, but from time to time it does feel as if I am drifting along a bit.
However, I am keen that my blog doesn’t become one big theme. There are some bloggers out there who, while their images are superb, photograph the same thing time and time again, an idea that is definitely not for me. Carissa provides a prime example of an exception to this rule; she’s working through a 365-day project at the moment, with some excellent results. What I don’t want CKPonderings to become is a blog where I only every take a photograph of the same subject again and again and again ad infinitum.
Don’t get me wrong; there are themes that I am please with; song titles, numbers, letters, ‘one one shot a day’. The two Mass Observation posts that I ran in 2013 worked really well, as did the six challenges I set myself last year (apart from the West Pier starlings shot, which I will get round to this year!). I have also tried to mix it up a little – iPhone Fridays and Monochrome Mondays, for example (although please refer to Emulate, don’t copy above).
While not themes that I have blogged about, the exhibitions I have taken part in over the last few years have definitely given me things to focus on (particularly A Portrait of Worthing last year, for which one picture actually did have me wandering the streets of the town photographing more than 500 road names). The exhibitions may not have been financially rewarding (at the end of the day I have made no from the eight or nine exhibitions I have been involved in since the daily blog started, and in fact am considerably in the red on that side of things), the experience has definitely been rewarding, and will continue to be so when, later this year, I take part in the Worthing Art Trail for the FIFTH year.
Having this kind of focus really drives me forward (I refer you to my earlier comment about having to go out and get the complete set there and then).
Always take your camera with you
Thankfully, this is not a trap I have fallen into that often. While I admit that, over the last three years I have chalked up around half a dozen days where I have missed taking a photo, there have only been two or three where I have determinedly left my camera at home, then regretted it. That daily drive to work when I notice the perfect sky and the most brilliant red/pink/orange sunrise; the day that started out grim and grey, with no chance of a lunch break, only for the clouds to part and my workload to dissipate.
When I started out, I was worried that would be conscious about having my camera on me all of the time. Nowadays, it feels odd going out without it.
My mindset has changed though; the first time I realised I had forgotten to take a photograph, I beat myself up about it for days. Over time, on the few occasions that I have done that, I’ve learnt not to wind myself up; at the end of the day, it is my choice to continue what started out to be a month-long project and I have no external pressure to continue to do so. (Having said that, I still have my camera on me every day, and it still feels really odd when I don’t have it to hand.)
Always back up your images
Yes, I know this is a fairly obvious statement, but I am guilty of this crime. I store all of my photographs on an external hard drive, believing that at least that way they would be safe if anything happened to the computer itself.
When my PC unexpectedly departed to the great databank in the sky eighteen months ago, I took it as a sign and, when I got a replacement, I started the long and drawn out process of copying all of my photos onto DVD-ROM. A hundred of those discs later and everything was backed up until the end of 2013. Since then, however, I’ve not continued that process, even though I should.
Rather ironically, as I write this I find myself in the position where my external hard drive, on which are stored close to a decade of photos, has failed. As I type, I am fairly convinced that it is the power unit, rather than the drive itself, but the fact that I currently gave no access to my photographs brings the need to back up my files into sharp focus.
So, where does the CKPonderings blog go from here? I am definitely going to continue, there’s no doubt about that. For a completist like me, I cannot really sign off on day 1096. I still love photography, I still love posting images and the reactions they generate, so why would I draw a halt to things? I see no reason at all for the blog to stop, not when I am having so much fun creating the daily posts and enjoying people’s reaction to them.
More, then, tomorrow!