Saturday, 9 February 2013

365 Challenge - Was it worth it?

Hey everyone.

    It all started with a rather rash, and slightly drunken, decision on new years eve 2011. As the near by Church bell droned 2012 in, I made a new years resolution.

Mid 2011 I stumbled across a photography challenge that caught my eye. The 365 challenge - take at least one photo every day for a year. "Sounds interesting" I thought to myself "It would help to push myself with my camera, and maybe gain some exposure for myself too". I planned to take it on starting on January 1st 2012. I also added to the original concept of the challenge - post the photo on the same day too.

It would serve two purposes, 1) to learn more about photography, cameras, techniques, lighting and 2) promote myself as a photographer.

As I started to tell my friends about my challenge for the year a few knew people that had previously tried the very same thing.

And most had failed.

The common time to give up was around 2 to 3 WEEKS. I have to admit, it didn't fill me with confidence. Looking at the few photos that they had gotten through, it was clear to me that these guys were good photographers, some full time. If they couldn't do it, how the hell could I? My bread and butter earning is as a game producer at Frontier Developments. This challenge would have to fit around that. And sometimes I have to work 12+ hour days. 5-7 days a week. Sometimes for months in a row. The odds were stacking up against me. Regardless I forged ahead.

Day 1

So I woke up on January 1st, 2012, ready for day 1. I had read an article in a magazine about ISO. In particular not to be afraid of high ISO. I was afraid (and still am a little, but getting better) of high ISO. I like pin sharp clarity. At least I try to achieve it. And now here is this guy telling me to 'embrace the noise'

"No time like the present" I said to my fiancee "Day 1 here I come!" Armed with a new view of ISO, I took a self portrait photo, in a mirror. Cliche, but a good way to introduce myself. 

Day 5

The days started to fly by, I was having a great time. Learning and trying out new techniques, and how to capture shots like I had seen and wanted to attempt. Work hours were sensible, and I was able to put time and effort into the daily shot.

I had also bought new gear for the very first time since getting my Nikon D60. I invested in a portable studio, with 2 flash heads, soft boxes, and background. Along with that a new lens, a 35mm prime f1.8. I had a few niggles with the studio (the trigger set was broken) but on the whole, the new purchases really helped me push the challenge along nicely. The lens was, and still is, probably the best piece of gear I have bought.

Day 36 

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into February. I had made it past the point were the few people I had investigated had given up. Surely I was onto a winner?! Admittedly I had started to struggle on some days to come up with an interesting subject for the daily shot. But I was still enjoying it. I never felt like a chore. I was still wanting to go out and take photographs.

Not only had I managed to keep up with taking a photo a day but I had also kept up with posting it every day too.

Day 77 rolled along, and that changed. 

It was March, and I was heading down to help my sister move house. I had started to worry (yes worry) about how I was going to get the photo taken, let alone uploaded too. Could I use my phone? Did my sister have internet connection? No of course she didn't, she was only just moving in. Anyway, she didn't have a PC either. Also, time was a factor. In just two days (not full days) we had to decorate almost the entire house, and I had to lay a wood floor. Plus we had to fit in the essentials like having a few pints and getting some food. It was playing on my mind. I headed back home to Essex, armed with just my phone camera. I headed into the unknown.

And all my worries came true. No internet connection. My phone had mobile internet, but Blogger wouldn't let me upload a photo via it. So I took a photo, and saved it. "It will have to wait, no-one will notice" I soothed myself, and got stuck in with the move. 

Day 77 was a crap photo, I am not ashamed to admit it. It could have been great, the subject was interesting (a fish inside a clear pig shaped piggy bank!) But the camera wasn't up to the job really.

Day 77

Day 78 was the real test. I was up at 6:30 (after a late night, fueled by Guinness) and got on with the remaining work. It got to late afternoon and I hadn't even started the wood flooring. Nor had I taken a photo. Tired, aching and covered in paint I finished the floor, and lowered myself to taking a picture of it. It was the lowest day of the challenge so far. So much so that I am not going to post it again here, go and check it out if you really must.

April arrived, and so did days that started with 100. I had gotten past a hundred days of photos. Almost a third of the way through. My determination was gathering strength every day. It had to. The challenge was starting to take it's toll. I had slowly started to become a chore, and I needed to combat it. There were still highs though, such as day 101. One of my favorite photos I have ever taken.

Day 101

 I had even started to get a few 'jobs' - just shooting family and friends, to test my studio out etc. I had a couple of friends weddings lined up for later in the year too.  

The next test was a family holiday. After the worry of not being able to post over two days, while still in this country, how on earth was I going to deal with going to Ibiza? It was a bit of a joke. The challenge almost got in the way of a week in the sun. I couldn't let that happen.

But I did. 

The first thing I did once the hotel was booked, was email them to see what computers and internet connection they had. Could the PC's handle USB inputs? My plan was to use an iPhone 4s, with it's very reasonable camera, while out there, instead of taking either of my larger DSLRs. They replied, and my plan fell into place. They had computers. They had internet. They even allowed devices to be connected via USB. I was determined not to let it spoil my holiday. I told myself that I didn't have to post every day. I could do a mass upload 2 or 3 times during the week. 

Turns out my OCD wouldn't let that happen either. I attempted to post every day. Which was a challenge within a challenge. There was only one PC that had working USB ports. The others wouldn't recognise the iPhone. And in a hotel as large as it was, serviced by only 8 PC's, getting on the right one was tricky, to say the least. Throw in to the mix me being rather ill for 2 days, and it was nearly impossible to take the photo for the day, let alone post it. 

At this point, it is relevant to talk about Ali, my fiancee. You see, in those 2 dark days on holiday when I was layed up in bed, or sat on/next to the toilet (I don't need to go into more detail) she was my rock. Both in looking after me, and supporting me in the 365 challenge. She would bring interesting things to the room for me to photograph (like the flower in day 226) and not once did she think it was silly. And that was how she was throughout the challenge. For a whole year not once did she say 'Adam, get a grip'. She just supported me, helping me through each day when I needed it, and even giving me some great ideas, which turned in to some of the best photos. This post will contain some thank you's, but none more than the thanks I owe her.

Day 226

The year continued, and my spirits dropped. It was official, it had become a chore. Rarely did I enjoy taking a photo. The low's had started to eclipse the highs. But, importantly, there were still highs. I did still have the occasional  'eureka' moment. I had a lot of support around me. The guys over at Digitrev were great. I had decided back on day 1 that, to get as much exposure as I could, I would post my photos everywhere. It was then I decided to join the Digitrev community, and start up a Facebook page too. Getting feedback from other photographers, and seeing my work hit the number 1 spot a few times was a great feeling.

Work was starting to take more of my attention, leaving less and less time for photos. I was forced in to taking photos at work. One night I left it till 11:45pm before realising I hadn't taken a photo. There were lots of improvised white box shots of various models that I have on my desk (like day 298)

Day 298

December arrived and I realised that I was in the final stretch, and really I had completed it. If I had come this far and only had a month left, nothing was going to stop me. I even learned new techniques (not that I thought I had nothing new to learn, more that I can't be bothered to push myself) Thanks to a guy I work with, I learned how to 'shape' bokeh (see day 353 for my best results)

Day 353

And so the final day came. December 31st, 2012. After 366 (I had to choose a leap year!) days of taking a photo and posting it every day (almost) I had made it. Completed. Finished. Done. Over.

I felt a little emotional when I had finished writing the last post. It had become part of my daily routine, and I had learned to look at the world in a different way. I wanted to go out on a high - try to produce some great shots. Using my newly found HDR technique I was happy with the results.

Day 366. The end.

So was it worth it? 


Would I do it again?

No bloody way.

"365 Challenge". The clue is in the name. It was a challenge. A BIG one towards the end. But I have learned so much during my time with it, both new techniques, use of my cameras and, probably most importantly, to 'see' the world and light.

I was, and still am now, constantly looking at things and thinking "How would that look as a photograph?". During the early part of the year I would take time on my shots, and move around the subject to see how it could look from different angles, trying to present an ordinary subject in an extra ordinary way. 

As the year carried on, and the challenge got harder, it quite simply became a chore. I 'had' to take a photo by the end of the day, and I started to not really care what it was. I ran out of creativity. It had drained it out of me. towards the end I didn't even want to take my camera with me.

But you guys, some of you vocal in replying and commenting, but all of you adding numbers to my total views, have helped me through it. Seeing that number rise, knowing people were viewing my work from all over the world, really REALLY helped me through. So thank you, all.

So that is it. I have had a break now - I put my cameras away, and purposely didn't get them out - but I am starting to feel the urge to pair up my D90 and lovely 35mm lens to see what I can capture.

I also have been thinking about reviewing some of my photos in video 'how to's' - but I also have a baby coming in May, so time to shot will dwindle (and I am sure you wont want to see the hundreds of baby shots I will be taking!)

Thank you all again, so much for following me and taking the time to view my blog. I know some of the shots haven't been great, but I appreciated you all for coming back to it.

Much, much love.


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