What happens when you take photographs everyday? And what happens when you write everyday? Well, the same thing happens when you do anything regularly, repetitively: you improve your skills. While doing something over and over again usually leads to getting better (improvement is highly subjective. But the act of repeating generally tweaks a process in a positive way), it requires some determination and persistance. A blog post from Leo Babauta on his website called zenhabits made me think about the process of doing something (anything) on a daily basis. As a long time writer, he goes on with a list of the benefits of writing everyday. I found it very interesting and thought it would certainly apply to photography as well. Or just about anything you do with passion. If you don’t do it with passion, then it’s an obligation and you will eventually stop doing it. Unless you’re being forced to do it in which case you should reconsider the situation you’re caught in. When you love something you do, it’s not work, it’s fun. Everything we do should be like that, but.
As a photographer and blogger, I feel the repetition of shooting and writing to improve my skills really makes sense. But it’s hard to do something every single day. Hard to focus without being interrupted by other tasks, phone calls, emails, sms and people around you, and even harder to be constantly productive and inspired. Let’s approach repetition in photography and repetition in writing separately. It will be easier to establish a parallel when both topics have been discussed. In the end, hopefully, finding a solution to one might apply to the other.
Photography has been part of my life since 1997 when I first borrowed a film camera from my brother and started to shoot everything around me. I never stopped since then. But what about frequency? It’s hard to say for the first two years because at that time a “workflow” was undefined and all my photographs usually ended up in one single directory. Even a naming convention was not considered. So all digital photographs taken between 1998 and 1999 were badly renamed and renumbered. Even reduced in size to make space on the drive. Silly me, those were just 1.2 MP files. It was the beginning and, hopefully, a professional workflow was setup and I’ve been using it since then. That means shooting raw (and now DNG), using a proper date/naming convention, and a way to track what was done, when, how, where (i.e. catalogs, folders, exif data, etc.). Whit that information it’s easy to look into “frequency” by month and year. This tells a lot about my shooting habits, even the camera or lens I use the most, and how I use them (aperture, shutter, ISO). I have been shooting A LOT, we’ll over 90,000 photographs (excluding deleted files, of course). But I also realise I have been shooting quite frequently, but not in a sustained, daily way. Far from that.
Going back to the idea of shooting everyday to improve skills, it is clear that I’m not on target at all. It doesn’t mean anything wrong, but it certainly means I’m lacking on frequency.
Writing is something fairly new to me. I’ve been blogging since 2007 and more seriously in 2010. Besides blogging I can’t pretend to any other form of writing, except emails, tweets and keeping a personal journal occasionally. So blogging makes for the essential of my writing at this point. And it’s very easy to track frequency because blog posts are dated and managed in the Wordpress system installed on my server. Wordpress provides a lot of handy statistics. Evidence of my lack of writing frequency was instantaneously noticed.
Going back again to the idea of writing everyday to improve the skill, it is clear that not only I’m not on target, but things are worst than they are for photography. This is certainly very very “wrong”. How can someone improve if they do something only 2–3 times a month? Impossible. Doomed to fail.
Establishing the parallel
There’s a Confucius saying I really like: Everything has beauty, not everyone sees it. If there is some beauty in everything, then it can be photographed and talked about. Photographically there is an infinite source of things to shoot. How many times did you see a photograph you liked, yet the subject was so ordinary and simple? A fork (André Kertész), an apple, a chair. Fine Art! We are surrounded by big (landscape) and small (macro) things that could make of a great subject. The art of photography is all about making that subject look interesting and/or visually awesome. Hence, the art of seeing. Ultimately, if something has beauty and is interesting for some reason, it certainly means something to talk about, to discuss, evaluate or simply share with others through words. That’s probably why we like to take photographs and tell the story behind it, and when the story is special, then the image gains in popularity. In a simplistic expression, we can tell what camera and lens were used. Technicalities. But an image is so much stronger when the story is about the subject itself, not the tools that have been used to make it. I like to have a caption for my photographs to hint the viewer on what I’ve been using to make the shot. But what I prefer is tell people about when and where it was made, along with the context that defines the subject they are looking at. If the viewer gets to “feel” how it was when you were there shooting a scene or subject, then you succeed in your search of the art of seeing.
Solutions and motivations
But what to do with that frequency problem? How can someone manage to do something daily for improvement purposes? Well, with regards to photography I would advise to bring a camera with you at all time. It doesn’t need to be a huge SLR and lenses. Today’s smartphones can take good photographs and they’re always in your hand. Unfortunately, they’re too often used for less than important reasons, but they still make a great tool for taking photographs every day. However, 99% of the time these are point & shoot frames with no real potential for serious and professional photography. It’s good for learning the basics (although every settings are automatically done for you) , practice framing and develop the “eye”. Anyways, bringing a camera (any kind) with you is a good start for achieving frequency. The best camera in the world is the one you have with you. And we all agree that bulky cameras and lenses stay home most of the time. That’s why small APS cameras are so popular these days. Personally, I was hooked to the rangefinder camera as soon as I got my hands on the Leica. He really bind with it, it’s the perfect tool for me. Managing to have it with me all the time is achievable, but not always easy or possible.
As for writing daily, the same approach applies. You need something to write anywhere you are. Pick your favorite tool, be it a pencil and paper, a smartphone or a tablet. Even a small voice recorder to keep your ideas for writing. I find these a bit cumbersome and almost never use them. It’s another gadget you need to handle, and if you really want to have an optimal workflow, then simplicity is essential. Keep It Simple. I find the iPhone is perfect for audio notes, while apps are all I need to get started.
Writing and photography really go well together. I just love it when it’s time to write something about a photograph I have taken. But you can’t just throw photographs and texts at people and expect they will take everything and ask for more. While I agree with the fact that doing something daily helps you to improve your skills, I also feel posting stuff daily is way too much unless you are very popular or considered as a reference in your field. Before reaching there, posting at intervals of 4–5 days seems like a fair amount of material while leaving some room for people to breath and digest all the information they get from others. Today, we really get way too much all the time and it prevents us from going deeper and enjoy things entirely. Too much is too much. Maybe like a huge buffet compared to that specialty plate you pick on the menu of a good restaurant.
Find your way, but just do it
Going back to writing. Blogging is an awesome way to write and share about something you like with others. But it’s not for everyone to “go public” and another option is to keep a daily journal of your life, the things you do or how you feel. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, a few lines daily is a great start. As long as you do it daily! I think I’m going to try it. It might be a bit too much to start with writing AND photography at the same time, but I think kit’s feasible if they’re combined into one single intention: writing about something and show it with a photograph. Or the other way around: make a great photograph and tell something about it. It might seem like the same thing but it’s not. The approach is completely different. Documenting vs Art. Hey, that’s an interesting topic! But I’m allowing myself a bit of flexibility in the process. What I write can’t be a blog post everyday. People find it annoying, it’s too much. So some of my writing will be blog posts, and some will be journal entries for my eyes only. As long as I write something daily. The same goes for photography. Some in blog posts, some in my journal.
What do you think ? Did you ever try something like that in the past, or would you try it? If you have comments on that process or would like to give some advices I’ll be happy to share that on this blog. Let’s get started. It’s a bit intimidating and almost scary, wish me good luck and a lot of fun in the process. If my skills improve, then it’s a very positive experience.
p.s.: I’m already improving because this post is 1749 words long containing more than 9974 characters. That’s for my writing. But I need to have a photograph too, hugh! Let’s get busy!
© Normand Primeau