Last summer, I started a photo-a-day practice to help me improve my skills as a photographer and I found it very valuable. I found that shooting daily, for personal interest only, helped in a variety of ways, including:
- Helping me learn to see better as a photographer/visual artist
- Increasing my proficiency with my cameras
- Helping me to think creatively, finding photographic ideas & solutions even where there might not seem to be any at first glance
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So, what is a photo-a-day practice? At its simplest, it’s a commitment you make to yourself to take at least one non-client photo every day for some period of time.
Define Your Goals
You can define your practice in whatever way you want, but you’ll get more out of it if you begin by setting some goals. It’s possible to use the minimal definition, given above, as the commitment you make. That alone might have value, but you probably want to go beyond that. For me, taking snapshots wasn’t the goal.
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As with anything in life, what you get out is proportional to what you put in. I had all three of the bullet points listed above as goals when I began my practice and after a few days, it was clear that realizing those goals would take some effort. In order to improve my photographic vision, I would need to spend time really looking through the viewfinder and practicing composition. It would require paying careful attention to the light. I would need to study the work of other photographers. In order to achieve mastery with my cameras, I would need to use all of the features (well, almost all), including the ones I’d never used before. I would need to pull out my camera manuals. I would need to shoot a lot.
Taking a Shot or Making a Photo?
As I was practicing all of these things, I was also conscious of a desire to do good work. I wasn’t really interested in just sharing shots of my lunch—or if I did happen to do that, I’d want the shot to be a good one. Of course, what is good is highly subjective. And we’re all at different levels, so what I accept as good might or might not meet your standards. But we each start from where we are and the goal is to improve.
Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. — Fred Brooks
Improvement sometimes requires experimentation and experimentation doesn’t always lead to “good” photos. So, you have to be willing to take some risks and to realize that others may not share your vision. Failure needs to be an option.
Share Your Work
An important part of my daily practice was sharing my photos with others. Knowing that other photographers would notice whether or not I was posting provided extra motivation to shoot and post every day. Knowing that they would be evaluating my work pushed me to try and do good work. As mentioned above, failure is sometimes the result when you try something new. But “failure” is sometimes only the initial result. If you keep working an idea, you just might find an approach that succeeds. Knowing that other photographers would be viewing my work critically often drove me to keep trying things and to refine the shot. Also, if you’re sharing your work, you will also be giving feedback to other photographers on their work. This means you’ll be looking every day at the creative output of other photographers and thinking about what works and what doesn’t (in your opinion). That thought process is bound to inform your own work.
Making Time, Keeping it in Mind
Most of us lead busy lives and it’s hard to find time to shoot personal work every single day. I have to admit that there were days when I just couldn’t find the time and energy needed to make a serious effort at doing quality work. Even so, I did make a point of shooting something interesting or trying to shoot in a creative way even if it was just with my cellphone. Ultimately, your practice is your practice and you have to decide how much time and energy you want to devote to it. One thing that can help prevent missed days is to always keep your practice in mind and try to plan for a time each day when you can fit it in. If you’re thinking about it throughout the day, you’ll have a better chance of not forgetting it. And, sometimes I found that having my practice in mind led me to recognize serendipitous moments when I was doing something else, but a unique photo op presented itself.
Try Something New
When you’re shooting every day, you become so familiar with your tools that the shooting process can become semi-automatic like driving a car. With less need to be actively thinking about what setting to use or where the right button is, you can focus more on the creative aspects of your work. A daily practice also forces you to try new techniques and genres. If you like photographing flowers, that’s fine, but after you’ve shot flowers every day for a month, flowers can get boring—even if flowers are your passion. At the very least, you’ll want to branch out and try different approaches. Maybe you’ll want to try macro techniques with flowers or maybe you’ll want to shoot entire gardens or meadows. These sorts of challenges will help you grow and improve as a photographer. So, give it a try. Pick a month, a season or a year and make a commitment to shoot every day! Just see what happens to your photography when you do!