Archive for the ‘Photo a Day’ Category

Photo-a-day: a self-indulgent recap + 2008 year in review

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Day 366: Happy New Year!

The above was taken right at midnight on New Year’s Eve and is my last photo in the Project 366 that had me taking a photo every single day of 2008. Done at last!

By one measure, I failed miserably at this project. By my count I missed at least 8 days (including a 9-day span in December where I missed 5 days), and that doesn’t include the fact that I kind of bent the rules to my advantage sometimes – in some cases using photos taken after midnight to count for the previous day, in other cases using them to count for the next day. I did not miss a single day in any way, shape or form until early August, but after that I completely fell off the tracks. More than just missing days, I also just lost inspiration, and the majority of my shots from September and later were totally rote “I’m taking a photo for the sake of taking a photo” shots taken at the end of the day. At that point I had completely stopped enjoying the project and probably should have quit altogether, but I was too stubborn for that.

By a totally different, and arguably more important, measure, the project was a resounding success. I originally embarked on it because my D70 had been collecting dust in my closet. I would take it out for parties, Ultimate tournaments and backpacking trips, but otherwise never touched it. This seemed like a giant waste since I’ve always loved taking photos (especially since getting my first SLR from my brother in 2000), so I was looking for some way to motivate myself to just get out and take more pictures. On that count, I succeeded way more than I could have possibly imagined. I took over 400 photos in the first week of 2008. I took 10,000 photos in the first three months (compared to 16,000 in the three and a half years preceding). And it only went up from there. I got my D300 in April and have put the shutter through some 40,000 actuations already.

A second goal was to actually improve my photography, and while this is subjective to a certain extent, I at least think that I’ve succeeded. I look at my photos from 2007 and before and cringe, which is a good sign. I am much more confident with a camera in my hands now that I’ll be able to get interesting photos of whatever it is I’m looking at. On a technical level, I’m also much more comfortable with the basics of exposure – I knew them intellectually before, but now I know them instinctively (shooting in manual and adjusting on the fly at concerts has helped immeasurably in this respect). I also am way more comfortable using flash than I’ve ever been, both on- and off-camera, though I still have plenty to learn here. Compositionally, it’s harder to pinpoint clear improvement, but I think I have a better eye than I did a year ago, and am just generally more perceptive.

Day 16: Unexpect live at Jaxx #27

Finally, and this was totally unexpected, I transformed myself into an event photographer. I discovered a real joy for concert photography, and am in the process of expanding this passion to other sorts of events – for instance, I’m scheduled to do my first wedding this May. I developed a pretty efficient workflow for processing massive numbers of images from concerts, sports events, newsworthy happenings and so on. I started building a brand for myself, with the website and blog, watermark, business cards, and so on, which has helped get me some gigs I definitely didn’t foresee at the beginning of the year. The upshot is that while a year ago I was contemplating sneaking my camera into a tiny club to shoot an obscure rock band (above, my Day 16 shot), this year, exactly 365 days after I took the photo above, my first concert shoot will be Metallica at the Verizon Center, a 20,000-seat arena.

An odd consequence of this development has meant that my more free-form “artistic” photography took a bit of a dive in the latter part of the year, when I was focusing most of my energy on live music photography. I got some great shots in the first few months of the year that I wouldn’t mind hanging in an art gallery (and I did, kind of, if you’d consider Artomatic that kind of thing), but in the latter part of the year most of my stuff was more documentary-style. I was doing much less of the “carry the camera everywhere and take pictures of any random thing that strikes my fancy” thing, and I’d actually like to get back to that a bit. I definitely did that during my trip to Beijing and it netted me some shots I really love, like my Day 234 photo:

Day 234: What time is it?

Ironically, it was that trip to China, where I got tons of keepers, that hurt my photo-a-day the most. I had several thousand images to process after that trip, and while going through them I had absolutely no energy left over to take creative photos every day. (The jet lag certainly didn’t help.) I fell into a bit of a creative funk at that point and never fully recovered, choosing instead of focus my creativity in concert and other specific event shoots. It was at this juncture, too, that I started missing days here and there.

So starting in September I was kind of feeling like the project was drudgery, and I was taking crap photos just for the sake of taking photos. Not really the point of the project. Nevertheless, I’m glad I stuck it out, I’ve learned a ton, and I’ve rediscovered a passion for photography that certainly isn’t going anywhere. I just have to figure out how I want to channel it. I’m not doing a new 365 project in 2009 for obvious reasons, but I’m certainly going to figure out some goals for myself with regards to photography, and I think it’s going to be a fun year.

The power of post-processing

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

The image above is straight out of the camera. Hover your mouse over the image to see what it looks like after post-processing. (Sorry, if you’re reading this post in a feed reader, you have to visit the actual site for this to work.)

What I saw “in real life” is somewhere between the two: with the settings I use, my D300 tends to capture images that are somewhat low in contrast and “punch.” In Photoshop, I pumped up the contrast and, to a lesser extent, the saturation, taking an incredibly boring photo and turning into something much, much more dramatic. It’s still not a great photo by any means, but it illustrates how simple levels/curves tweaks can go a long way.

Pleasant surprises

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Day 213: Do not pass

They say that photographers are seldom pleasantly surprised when looking through recently developed/downloaded photos. If you know what you’re doing, the idea goes, you know when you’ve gotten a great shot. You might be disappointed when you find out it’s not as great as you first thought (or it’s not as great as it looked on that tiny LCD on the back of your camera), but it seldom works the other way around.

The above photo is the closest I’ve come to an exception to this rule. I had the random idea, looking at my sideview mirror, that it would be cool if I could get the double yellow lines on the road and in the mirror to line up. I was stopped at a light and had a couple seconds, so I craned my camera out the window and tried to get the lines, well, in line. I failed miserably. Oh well.

Then when I looked at the shot after the fact, I realized that the discontinuous lines – including the reflected lines on the body of the car – made for a much more compelling composition anyway. Granted, the photo needed some post-processing (cropping, serious curves tweaking for contrast, and desaturating all the channels except the yellow) to make it what it is, but I’ve come to accept that as normal.

Oh, and the one circumstance that I feel “pleasant surprises” happen: catchflash in concerts. There’s just no predicting when you might catch someone else’s flash, giving you a perfect amount of clean white light to balance out the dim, colored washes. It’s only happened to me a couple times, but one of those times it produced a photo that I use on my business cards.

Technically problematic

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Day 187: In passing

Usually I’m a total product of the digital photography age, which means I like my photos sharp, focused, with a strong subject, free of noise, and with accurate color reproduction. Well, if that’s not entirely accurate, that at least describes the kind of photos I know how to take. But sometimes I take a photo purposely not trying to succeed in all of these areas, and sometimes (if rarely) I like the result. This is one of those times.

Sweating for a good photo of the day

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Day 161: Pray it's malignant

I think this photo is better viewed large.

I regularly read Strobist but have not really tried many of the off-camera lighting techniques described there. Part of it is the fact that I lack the basic equipment – namely a light stand and umbrella – even though I have two flash units. Sometimes, though, I’m inspired to overcome my lack of gear and give something a try, as with my photo-of-the-day shot today.

The framing could be better – I ran out of patience, which is the real reason I don’t do much studio-style work. I just had my 50/1.8 mounted on the camera and didn’t feel like switching lenses. Still, I like the effect. This was just done with a single bare flash camera right, along with the on-camera pop-up flash in my D300. Both were set to manual at 1/32 power.

I have no idea what inspired me to try this tonight, especially since it meant putting on way too much clothing for the 100-degree heat today.

Photo a day

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Day 132 alternate: Stuck 2

Like so many others at Flickr, I am doing a “photo-a-day” project wherein, for an entire year, I post one photo taken every day. The inspiration behind this came when I realized that I’d had my D70 for over three years and almost never used it. I paid an insane amount of money for that thing (with kit lens, CF card, sales tax and a Best Buy 4-year warranty that I should not have suckered myself into buying, it cost me about as much as my D300) only to have it sit in my closet except for special occasions like parties and Ultimate tournaments? What a waste.

So I embarked on this project, which, unless I screw it up, will have me taking at least one – and usually more like 20 or more – photographs every single day of 2008. And it’s having the desired effect: this year I have been picking up the camera more than ever before, obviously – for evidence, see my comment for my Day 87 photo:

Fun fact I realized today: in the three months since the beginning of 2008, I’ve shot 10,000 photos with my D70. In the 41 months between July 2004 (when I bought it) and the end of 2007, I shot 16,000 total. Uh, you might say this project has me taking way more photos than ever before. (Who knows how many hundreds or thousands of rolls of film I shot in the years preceding my jump to digital, but I sure didn’t shoot anywhere close to this rate…)

But it’s more than that… I’m also flat-out getting better. There are two distinct ways this is happening. One, I’m getting better at shooting in predefined circumstances – concerts, sports, parties, etc. These are events where I know I’ll be taking pictures, and I’m getting better results than before. (The new D300 doesn’t hurt either, at least for fast-action sports and low-light concerts.) Two – and perhaps more significantly – I’m getting better at seeing photographs in my mind just during everyday life. To me this is the real benefit of this project; I look at the world now with more of a photographic eye than I have since first getting into photography.

Day 63 alternate: And so I throw the windows wide

For instance, the back alley behind my office has been a treasure trove of widely varied photographs (such as the above). It’s a dingy, run-down looking place that I never would have guessed would provide so much great visual material. But I’ll be walking through it to or from work and will be glancing around, and all of a sudden a photograph pops into my head. Sometimes I’m able to capture what I envision, sometimes not. But the point is, I’m seeing, in ways I wasn’t before.