10 tips for completing a 365 photo project

Boom! I managed to complete my 365 day project. For the uninitiated, that’s a photo every day for a year. All 365 days, ideally photographing something interesting, but definitely photographing something.

(It’s here if you want to check. The eagle-eyed may spot there are still a few missing; I’m almost done editing them and they’ll be up within a week, I just don’t follow my own advice as you’ll see at tip number 8.)

There were a few hairy moments on days when I nearly forgot to take a picture, there were lots of times I didn’t feel inspired and quite a few where I took a less than great photo, but it feels like a bit of an achievement to have challenged myself to ‘find’ a photo every day. And really, that’s what it’s about – the pictures are out there, you just have to find them. Which is easier on some days than it is on others.

161 the washing machine drum webTaking a photo every day for a year can be pretty tough going; lack of creative inspiration strikes often (at least it did with me), and it’s hard to keep going when you’re feeling ill, busy with work or forget until the last minute on any given day and end up taking a dreaded ‘panic photo’ of something really cruddy. Like the inside of your washing machine (see right for day 161’s effort).

It’s difficult to be inspired every day so it’s a case of forcing yourself to look at the world differently, to see the everyday things you might ordinarily walk past as potential photo subjects. To see the small things as well as the obvious ones, and rewiring your brain to see the world around you through your lens as well as your eyes. It’s definitely doable, just takes a bit of effort. And if I can manage it, so can anyone.

Random washing machine photos or not, finishing it means I have another completed project under my belt, a better understanding of my strengths as  photographer and (I think) a better eye for a photo as a result. I certainly have a better understanding of my camera. And doing the project inspired me to buy a new camera half way through the year – it’s much easier to justify an upgrade to yourself when you’re using it daily. So if you’re thinking about a 365 project, even though I’ve started off this blog post by whining on about how hard it’s been I’d definitely recommend it, and if you’ve just started one yourself – good luck, I hope you’ll agree when you finish it that it’s totally worthwhile.

I like to think I’ve learnt a few things along the way, so here are my tips for completing this photographic feat. If nothing else, it might be useful for me to refer back to in the future. I could do with following these tips a bit more.

1. Have your camera ready for action

196 spot the lady with no visible pants webI’ve put this first because, along with number 2, it’s probably the most important one, or at least the one which has made the most difference to my photos. There are many shots I wouldn’t have taken if my camera wasn’t ready around my neck or in my hand (with the strap safely secured round my wrist!). By the time you’ve gone through the faff of unzipping your bag, putting your camera strap round your neck and turning your camera on, the shot you were after might well have passed you by. A bit like this one would have done. It’s like Where’s Wally but with a lady who’s apparently forgotten to put any clothes on her lower half. (Even when you zoom right in there’s no evidence of underwear. Not that I’ve done that, obvs, because that would be weird.) It was taken at Waterloo Station while I was eating a sandwich.

Okay, it’s far from the best photo technically, but it made me chuckle when I took it. And but for a couple of seconds, it would never have been taken.

Obviously, to have your camera out, you have to have your camera with you at all times which can be a bit cumbersome. I ditched my handbag for the last few months of 2014 and got myself a decent rucksack to carry my kit around, which had a bonus of also being able to carry my laptop so I only had one bag when out and about with work. It was a bit of a standing joke with everyone I know that I always had this huge rucksack with me, and while you might feel a bit like a donkey lugging it around all the time, you’ll soon get used to it. Kind of. But at least I always had my camera with me. And as an added benefit I now have strong shoulders from carrying camera kit, a laptop, my purse, phone etc. on my back everywhere. Hee-haw.

2. Set several reminders

173 gutter and drainpipe web

I had reminders set on my phone at four different times every day to make sure I remembered to take a shot, the last being at 9pm when my phone would remind me ‘last chance to take a photo!’. You’ll get into a habit at some point, but it’s always good to have something other than memory alone to help you along, as there will be days when you’ll forget and have a last minute panic. A bit like this drainpipe shot. Nice. And it would be a shame to miss a day when you’ve gone to so much effort, which would have been guaranteed for me without reminders.

3. Take photos early in the day

149 a lost umbrella web

You can always take another later, but you might regret not taking one as a fall back in case something comes up later and stops you taking more, so have a ‘banker’, and take it early.

One day in the summer I was travelling to the Kent seaside with work – so lots of opportunity to take some nice shots when I got there – but I still took this photo of a discarded umbrella in the street next to the office in Manchester first thing in the morning. I’m glad I did; it turned out I was a week early and not due in Kent until the following week. I discovered this just in time to avoid boarding the train with my luggage at Piccadilly station. Fail.

So if I hadn’t taken this shot when I did, I’d have missed it, and who knows what I’d have ended up with instead. It certainly wouldn’t have been a view of Kent.

4. Take random shots when you need inspiration

266 top of Oldham Street web

It sounds a bit weird, but I found that pointing my camera at anything and pressing the shutter button – even if my first few were not really photographs but views of nothing in particular – seemed to spark the photographer in me and suddenly I’d start seeing potential photos. Once I’d got going and broken the ‘I need to take a shot of something’ mental barrier, I’d usually find something that was actually worth taking a photo of. So get snapping and something might just turn up.

The shot above was taken within a 5 minute walk from my office, at the top of a street while I was in a bit of a hurry to get a photo done before heading back to work. I started taking (pretty uninspiring) photos of the traffic on the main road and then turned around and wondered whether I could make something interesting out of the building column and blurred poster behind me. Getting in quite close and fiddling with the depth of field resulted in an abstract image and I quite like the contrast in shape and colour in it.

5. Find the unfamiliar in the familiar

204 relief in wall of Fred Aldous Lever Street web

Look at familiar things, the ones you might see every day and walk right past, from new or interesting points of view. Looking at the world straight on and at eye-level is pretty restrictive because you always have the same viewpoint; looking up and down as you walk around can show you things you’ve never noticed before.

This photo is part of the brick relief near a shop literally 100 yards from my office. I’d never noticed it before and wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t scouring the floor for something to photograph. I lay on the floor to take this shot – something I wish I’d done more of with some of my other shots to get interesting angles. That’s not to be recommended though when you’re wearing white jeans (as I was). I guess that’s what tripods are for.

Views from the top of multi-storey car parks can also make for interesting shots of cityscapes (although be aware some are private property so check as you don’t want to be booted out), as can looking down out of a second or third (or more) storey window onto the street. When you think about it, there are actually loads of opportunities for shots with a new perspective.

 6. Take photos that mean something to you

278 possible badger toilet in the front garden web

There have been times during the year when I’ve not included photos of occasions or people which with hindsight, I’d change if I did this project again. I’ve looked for technically good photos at the expense of photos that may not be perfect, but which I’ll look back on and be glad I documented as part of my life. So don’t just think about this as an artistic or improvement project, think about it as a record of what’s going on for you, of your surroundings and your view of the world. That’s part of the reason at one point I decided to do a self portrait. I hated taking it at the time (I’m still not mad on it), but in a few years’ time when I have a few more wrinkles I might be glad I included it. We’ll see.

The above shot of a suspected badger toilet in our front garden means nothing to anyone except me, but it will remind me of the badgers we saw sneaking down our street a couple of times late at night – not something I ever expected to see in the suburbs of Manchester. We nicknamed one of the badgers ‘dirty Mike’, but that’s probably for another blog post…

7. There’s always time to take a photo

073 Milton Keynes resized

So many times I’ve had a really short window to get a picture, I’ve been convinced I won’t find anything interesting. What is there to see in a 5 minute walk around the block to get a sandwich? But sometimes limiting yourself means you have to be creative and really open to spontaneous – and fleeting – images.

The above shot was taken in Milton Keynes on the way back to the train station after a meeting. I didn’t have time to stop and set up a shot, but because I had my camera around my neck (see 1) as we were walking past this water feature I was able to quickly capture three people walking past. It’s great when you have lots of time but 10 seconds might be all you need for a photo, you just have to be looking for it – and ready when it turns up.

8. Keep on top of your editing

269 on the tube web

This one’s a bit rich coming from me because I still haven’t got all 365 pictures up on here, although I’m getting there (maybe one of my rules should be follow your own rules). I started off badly and quickly got behind with my editing, ending up with such a big backlog it became unwieldy which then made me put it off even longer. I had over four months’ worth at one stage to sort out and it felt like such a huge task I didn’t want to face it! Try to have a set time e.g. once a week to get them updated, because if you have a habit and routine you might avoid a photo editing meltdown.

Being a bit more selective about shots and moving around more is something else I’ve learnt to think about. While popping off a few shots is good to get you started (see 4), taking lots of shots of the same thing or from slightly different angles does nothing to improve your photography or create more interesting shots. It takes up space on your hard drive and makes it a longer process to edit, so cull obvious duff shots in camera, and then do the same again as soon as you save them onto your hard drive. And move around a bit more when you’re shooting – try some different angles (see 5).

9. Don’t over-analyse your shots

113 sunset in Wales web

You could spend ages agonising over your shots when you’re choosing ‘the one’ to represent the day, especially if you’ve taken a lot of shots or got a few you particularly like. If I did this project again, I’d spend less time procrastinating about ‘the one’ (searching for ‘the one’ can become a bit of ‘a thing’ if you’re not careful), and pick my favourites on gut instinct.

There are some shots I look back at now and I wish I’d chosen another photo from that day as ‘the one’. But I could revisit them again next year and have a different view again. Or I could just accept that I chose what felt right at the time. I had a couple of hundred versions of the sunset above, from slightly different angles and with slightly different lighting. But really, one’s much the same as another. And just because you pick it to represent the day, it’s not like committing to it for life or anything, so keep it in perspective.

On a related note, you could also spend ages editing your pictures and I wouldn’t recommend that either. I didn’t, partly because I’m not as good at post-processing as I’d like to be, but partly because I’m trying to create better shots in camera. I’ve tended to limit any editing to a basic touch of contrast and slight colour boost, the occasional crop and a few black & white conversions, but looking at my images in a fairly ‘raw’ format means I can spot things I’d change in future. It also means catching up on a backlog of images is more achievable as each one is quick to process (see number 8).

10. Challenge yourself

019 Sadie at 364 days old resized

Review your photos regularly to check you’re not photographing the same kinds of things, and challenge yourself to take different types of shots (this is significantly easier if you keep on top of your editing, see 8). Architecture, abstracts, people, shapes and patterns featured quite a lot for me although I made a conscious effort to go out and take different types of photos. Sometimes I’d only take one lens with me, e.g. my 70-300, or just a 100mm, to encourage a bit of creativity. This experimentation will also help you work out what sort of photos you enjoy taking – and are best at. I wish I’d taken more portraits, so that’s one goal for 2015.

And so to 2015…

This year I’m doing another 52 week project, rather than a 365. I decided one year was enough to do it every day, but I was keen to carry on with some kind of ongoing project. So I’m doing a mixture of either taking a new photo every week, or trying a new post-processing technique on existing photos. It takes a bit of pressure off for new pics, but also means I’m still learning new skills. You can have a gander at how I’m getting on here. I’m determined to follow my own advice and stay on top of the editing this year, but we’ll see how that goes.

If you’re starting a project, or if you’ve done one yourself, what are your tips for getting through it?

10 tips for completing a 365 day photography project

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the last few weeks, but having made it through to the middle of March I’m still up to date on the 365 day project, most of which I’ve now uploaded here.

It’s worth reflecting on what I’ve learnt so far, especially since it’s getting harder to come up with ideas the more the year continues.  It may seem a bit premature to be offering advice on completing something I haven’t actually completed yet, but I’m going to do it anyway and keep my fingers crossed that I do finish it. If not, feel free to ignore any/all advice that follows because if I fail then I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about in the first place. Either way, here are 10 tips which are helping me get through the project (so far), but do add yours in the comments below, I could probably do with more than 10 tips to get me to the end of the year!

034 Manchester skyline resized1. Take your photos early in the day. You can always take more later but you never know what might come up during the day which could stop you taking a photo, even if you have the best intentions. Better to have something you can improve on than nothing at all.

2. Have your camera with you all the time. I’ve lugged mine around everywhere with me this year, and with some of the travelling I do for work this has meant carrying four bags including a laptop and overnight case halfway across the country and back. But although it’s not particularly convenient, you get used to it after a few weeks, and if you don’t have it with you, you can guarantee you’ll find a perfect photo opportunity which your phone camera really won’t do justice to.

3. As well as having your camera with you, have it out, so you’re always ready for action. Hang it round your neck or tie it around your wrist. Then you’re always ready to go if you spot something worth photographing; if you keep it in your bag, by the time you’ve got it out and set up, the moment might have gone.

4. Keep your battery charged (ideally, carry a spare) and make sure your memory card  is in your camera.  Yes I know this is obvious, but on more than one occasion I’ve  gone out to take photos and left my card  in my laptop from earlier editing/uploading. Which is very dumb but also very annoying.

055 Police museum resized5. Keep on top of the editing. I’m not doing particularly well at this, and I’ve uploaded over 20 photos today which I’ve barely edited at all. On the plus side, not sorting them out for a few weeks makes you quite ruthless – I don’t want to spend hours all at once editing and deciding on which photo to use so it’s made me quicker at deciding what makes the cut. But it wasn’t ideal to do so many at once, I reckon a week’s worth at a time is a manageable number (for me, anyway).

6. Keep a  list of random ideas for photos which you can go back to on days when you have no inspiration or are really pushed for time. I have a proper notebook which I tend to leave all over the place, so I also use the Evernote app on my mobile to jot down ideas (other note apps are available!).

7. Convince yourself anything can be a potential photo, whether it’s the road in front of you or the building you work in. This forces you to think differently about the things you see everyday. Can you find an unusual viewpoint of a familiar subject, or create abstract patterns in the ‘ordinary’?

8. Go back  to places you’ve already visited to help you improve. Often I’ll have a wander around Manchester at dinner time and take photos of a few different things. The ones I don’t use I’ll re-shoot on different days, by analysing what didn’t work the first time and (hopefully) making them better second time around.

058 looking up a wall resized

9. Look up. I’ve found you can create some interesting shapes by photographing buildings at odd angles. I seem to be a fan of abstracts and patterns judging by some of the pictures I’ve taken. Or maybe I just find it easier to see a potential for a photo that way.

070 St Paul's Cathedral resized

10. Spot patterns in your work and see where you can stretch yourself. I’ve noticed there are certain things I photograph which are very similar (like shapes and buildings), so I need to experiment a bit more with different styles. In London the other night I photographed St Paul’s Cathedral, but feeling a bit underwhelmed with my pictures – and not having a tripod to take a decent shot with a slow enough shutter speed at night – I decided to play around with my lens by turning it as the shutter was depressed. At least it hid any blur from resting the camera on a bush! Experimenting with turning your lens or deliberately defocusing a shot are ways of creating a more abstract photo. And you could try re-taking scenes you’ve already photographed using these kinds of techniques, resulting in some really interesting images.  I haven’t done that yet, but definitely intend to as it’ll give me a way of setting up a photo on days when I’m  struggling for other inspiration. And anything which helps that has got to be a good thing.

Share your own tips below!