I’ve always liked taking pictures, but I really got into photography when I finally got a digital camera, a Sony Cybershot point and shoot. I was living in Arizona at the time and flying a lot. The camera was always in my flight bag. The world looks very different from 12,000 MSL, and I liked to capture it. I also enjoyed photographing the vast, beautiful landscapes of the desert southwest. I would definitely classify myself as a landscape photographer.
Then, about a year and a half ago, my Cybershot fell out of my bag on a commercial flight. This was both a tragedy, because I loved that camera, and a blessing, because it forced me to finally buy the Sony NEX I’d been drooling over for three years, but could never justify purchasing.
I’m a hobby photographer. I’ve never taken a photography class, with the exception of a one hour workshop at Oshkosh last year. (Which I did find very beneficial.) Everything else I’ve either learned from books or from experimenting with my own camera. After taking 30,000 pictures with my old Cybershot and another 10,000 on my NEX, I’d hope I’d have learned a little something by now.
I have a photography book from Arizona Highways, the subtitle of which is “How & Where to Make Great Photographs.” Throughout the book, the word “make” or “made” is always used in reference to the photos, “take” and “taken” never appear. The difference is subtle, but the meaning behind it is huge. It implies that the photographer plays a key role in the creation of the photograph. These pictures do not happen by chance. They are finely crafted, composed images, carefully thought out, much like the way I compose when I write.
All photographs, in my view, can be placed into one of two categories. Photographs that are taken to preserve a moment, and photographs that are taken for art – photography for photography’s sake, if you will.
The first category can be anything, my cat sleeping in a strange spot, the cool design my sister-in-law painted on my toenails the last time she gave me a pedicure, a family vacation photo. These are photos that are meant to capture everything from the mundane to the monumental, with the simple thought of “hey, this happened,” or “I saw this” or “we were here,” but the underlying reason is “and I want to remember it.”
Often, these are photos where not much thought, if any, is given to composition. The photographer is more interested in preserving the event than in the picture itself. After all, if you just want a picture of your five year old blowing out his birthday candles, who really cares if there’s a pile of mail in the background. (And there’s nothing wrong with this type of photography – I have many photos with background clutter.) And while these photos are often meant to be shared, it’s only with friends and family, not with the world. These are photos that are taken.
The second category is as much about capturing a compelling image as it is capturing the moment. These are photos that are meant to evoke a feeling or convey a message. These are the images of dark clouds which create an impeding sense of the coming storm. It is the intimate portrait that somehow reveals something about a person’s character. It is the altered perspective that makes you look at something in a whole new way.
These photos are carefully thought out, well planned and masterfully composed. In these cases the photographer is paying careful attention to detail, the angle of the light, the lines in the picture, the horizon, everything. Unwanted elements are carefully edited out prior to clicking the shutter. These are photos that are made.
Of course, a photo can fall into both categories. A picture of the Grand Canyon may be shot just as much to say “I was here, I want to remember this view” as it is to create an image of grandeur. Wedding photos are a perfect example of this duality. They are meant as much to be emotional, artistic portraits of the bride and groom as they are to forever commemorate the event.
I will freely admit that I purposefully take many pictures in the first category, and I try my best to create images that fit in the second.
About This Project:
My goal is to make one good photo a day, for 30 days straight.
Sure, I can just snap one photo a day for a month and call it good, but there’s no benefit to me as a photographer. I could take 30 pictures and in the end, I’d wind up with 30 pictures of my house, my cats, the living room. But nothing interesting and nothing compelling. And while I might preserve I memory or two, that’s all I would get, memories on my hard drive. I wouldn’t improve upon my own skill set.
This isn’t for a class, it’s not some social media thing, or something anyone challenged me to do. Nor is it something I’m going to challenge anyone else to do. The sole purpose is for me to better understand the elements of photography, improve my knowledge of my equipment, and make myself a better photographer overall.
Since this is my challenge, I get to set the rules:
My goal is one picture a day, every day, for an entire month.
I can only use a subject once.
I cannot just snap a picture, I need to actually, thoughtfully compose the shot.
I need to vary my lenses, filters, settings and effects.
I can’t take every photo in the auto setting.
I need to vary the type of photograph day to day (i.e. macro, landscape, architecture, people).
I can shoot as many photos as I need to get a good one, but I can only share one a day.
Photo editing software is not allowed, except for cropping, and this is to be used to the least extent possible.
I don’t anticipate this will be easy.
This isn’t my beloved Arizona, beautiful Utah, or even my native New England. I can find easily find compelling subjects in any of these locations. Instead, I’m currently in the Midwest, and there’s not much around here I find intriguing for subject material. To make it even more difficult, I work full time, and I’m usually pretty tired at the end of the day. This means I not only have to find a subject, I have to make time to go shoot. But hopefully, I’ll get some good pictures, and learn a thing or two.
I have a Sony NEX-5R. It’s a 16.1 megapixel compact system camera, with interchangeable lenses. I currently have three lenses. The first is standard lens, which I purchased with the camera, an 18-55mm f3.5-f5.6. I also have a telephoto lens, which is a 55-210mm f4.5-f6.3. My third lens is a 10-18mm f4 wide angle.
In addition, I have a set of 4 macro filters, (+1, +2, +4 and +10) and a set of 3 neutral density filters (ND2, ND4 and ND8). These fit both the standard lens and the telephoto. I also have a polarizing filter, a florescent light filter and an ultraviolet light filter for both the standard/telephoto lens and the wide angle.
I recently got a new point and shoot, a refurbished Canon PowerShot, also 16.1 megapixel. I refer to this as a “stupid simple” camera, because in it’s main setting, all the user has to do is press the shutter, and the camera does a pretty decent job figuring out the rest. It also has a few scene modes that can be user selected, but nothing that requires a lot of knowledge of photography. I got this camera so I could have something small to carry in situations where the NEX was too large to easily take with me. I mainly keep it in my car, in case I encounter something I want to photograph when I don’t have my NEX. Despite being the same megapixel, the photos from the NEX are clearly superior in quality. I don’t anticipate using the Canon much, if at all, for this project.