On Progress Toward 365^H4 Pictures

May 9th, 2017  |  Published in etc

I take joy in photography. Some time late last year I found myself down on the waterfront on a rainy night trying to get a few good pictures of downtown Portland from across the river, and I had this to say about the experience:

It was pouring on the way home tonight, but I’d brought along a tabletop tripod and loved the way the tops of the skyline were shrouded in mist, so I got out the camera and played around for a while despite the problems that little tripod and all the rain were causing me.

I’m so happy I get to live in such a beautiful place.

And I love the inner quiet that follows when I open my eyes and heart up to what’s around me. I’ve only felt that when writing, or when sitting with another person and setting aside everything but what they’re saying and feeling. Now I’m finding it in moments like this, when I’m out with my camera trying to pull off the Magic Eye trick of seeing nothing to see something. It feels like the thing is to practice enough to marry the quality of the craft to the quality of the inner state.

I haven’t felt happiness the way I felt it out in the rain tonight for a long time.

So at the beginning of the year I decided to do a thing I forget to do every other year, which is commit to taking at least one picture a day for the next year.

Sadly, sickness in early March caused me to forget a day. There’s a picture of me looking sort of miserable and wrapped in a bathrobe, then a woozy picture of a bottle of Jack Daniels in a darkened kitchen. In between? Sickness. So I’m not going to have a picture for every single day of this year.

Another thing happened, too, which is that life sort of got bumpy and didn’t straighten out for a little while. It made picture taking hard, because EVERYTHING was hard. I managed to get through the period sticking to my commitment, but one day’s picture was literally a hole in the ground with a chunk of concrete sticking out of it, because a picture of a hole was about all I could manage before getting home and going to bed.

Somedays all you can shoot is a hole

There are also some days with self portraits because I’d forget to take a picture until I was home, then I’d be unwilling to go out and look for stuff, so I’d drag myself into the garage where I have my little studio with flash and backdrop and take a picture of myself, because, you know, fuck it: Nothing says defeat like a half-assed selfie shot 10 minutes before bedtime.

DSCF0726.jpg

At some point during this spell I was so unhappy with what I was taking that I considered quitting, but I thought about that a bit and realized a few things:

  • Even on my worst days, I’m still pointing the camera at a thing and thinking about what I’m doing, even if it’s just for a split second.
  • Even on days where I hate what I shot, I’ve probably been spending at least part of the day with my photographer’s eyes on.
  • I’ll be happier if I don’t quit.
  • This project has made me learn a lot about my camera. I’m way more proficient with it than I was a few months ago.
  • Looking back over the year so far, there’s a certain eclecticism that even the bad days reinforce. It’s not so bad as a whole.

Then I thought a bit about what was making the whole thing less pleasant to do and realized I’ve built up a pretty dense workflow that involves Lightroom automation and dealing with RAW files, and it’s not very fun. It’s also an invitation to rathole on salvaging images.

So, because I have a shooting engagement coming up at the end of next month and need a second camera, I picked up a new one that’s better suited to walking around, got it a small bag, and played around with a few presets meant to make it easier for me to quickly capture shots in a few styles but output in JPEG, and that has made a huge difference. Files download more quickly, there’s less goofing around to do because JPEGs are less forgiving of manipulation, and I’m being punished for my mistakes with a less flexible image format, which is GOOD because I wanted to do this to learn, and fiddling around with RAW images doesn’t incentivize learning behind the lens. I guess you could say it encourages more intentionality up front.

Anyhow, I’ll be sticking with it for now, but looking forward to summer camping and travel to help me shake up my subjects and break me out of a few ruts.

Here’s the project so far:

2017:365

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