A few days before the start of 2014, I thought I would challenge myself with a 365 photography project. I had just completed a Masters degree in 2013 and my schoolwork was keeping me away from fully engaging in photography the way I wanted to. I figured a project like this would force me to jump in with both feet. I knew that there was only one option for me. I was going to complete the project. No question. So on January first, I began.
My first few weeks of photos were thought out, and set up. I spent about an hour or more each night shooting and editing the photos. I felt good. I even tried to balance what was being shot. If I shot a portrait one day, I would try to photograph a landscape the next. I wanted to use this project as an opportunity to dabble In all different areas. I knew that later in the year I would be photographing weddings, so the start of this project was intentionally darker to compensate for the lovey stuff that was on the way. It was also winter and by the time I got home each night it was dark already. I soon found that I liked the darker themed stuff. These early images also came along with a narrative that I was posting to flickr. At this point many of the images I created were a fictitious reality. When I turned the camera on myself, I would get comments from people that the photo didn’t even look like me. I am always smiling and upbeat, but these images showed a different side. But, these images actually showed a completely different person. I wasn’t taking a self-portrait. I was taking a portrait in a certain way to project a feeling. The character in front of the lens was not me, it was a character. Just like when I turned the camera on my wife or daughter. At this point, they were characters. I asked them to look or feel a certain way before I pressed the shutter. It would not be until later on in the project when I began to capture more reality. At this stage, I was practicing the creation of a false-reality. I would continue to sprinkle this false reality into the rest of the project, but I feel I started off more heavy in this area.
The project continued to change and it began to challenge me. I began to doubt that I would keep having good ideas, or any ideas at that. There is only so much time in the day and I have several jobs. I wondered how to make everyday things look or feel interesting. Some days I would try so hard to create an image and it would just keep disappointing me. I wanted these images to be interesting to other people, not just myself. But I still persisted. I scrapped an image if it was giving me too much trouble and I tried to focus on something simple. Or if I was really stuck, I could always pull off an abstract image. At least that way, I felt like I was creating something rather than simply capturing one.
About a third of the way through the project I felt like I got in the groove. I began to let things happen more naturally. I had my camera on me at all times. This forced me to take different routes to and from work. It made me become very aware of where the sun rose and set each day. It made me more curious. At stop signs I could look off into the woods and find a beautiful old cabin that hasn’t been appreciated for years. At night, I would check out the sky to see where the stars were and what phase the moon was in. In the mornings when I saw my wife and kids I would smile to myself knowing I could take a photo of any of them right there and that would be the most beautiful thing I would see all day. But that would be cheating. So I set out each day knowing that I wouldn’t have to always create a scene, because the world was already doing that for me. I simply had to be observant of the scenes laid out in front of me.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed. It’s simple to be tired and uninspired. It’s hard to be committed. Ultimately that is what this project wound up being. A commitment. A commitment to my creativity, to hard work, and a commitment to this world. A statement that says “yes, I am paying attention”. This project made me a better person because it taught me to be more present. It challenged me to not give up, and when I didn’t, it delivered spectacular sites for me to capture. I believe this world is a projection of your perception. And as a photographer, you are responsible for the creation of a reality. If you are feeling a certain way inside, it is certain to come out in the images you produce. The same way that a customer service agent learns that if they answer the phone with a smile on their face, the customer on the other end can actually perceive their happiness. When a photographer is capturing love, they need to be channeling love. To capture something mysterious, the photographer must have a sense of curiosity. We each see the world through a unique lens. Our prior experiences are the tools we use to build upon our current reality. This is one of the things that excite me most about photographing people. Both the photographer’s reality and the subject’s reality get slammed together into an image that only that combination could have created.
Let’s be real here. By the end of this project I was so ready for the year to be over. I loved the project and I still do, but I was just ready to move on. I feel like it taught me so many lessons along the way and I just wanted to be on the other side of it. But the project makes you work. I don’t know if a project like this is for everybody. I’d like to think it is. I wasn’t ready for what it would entail going into it. I just said I was going to do it. Not that I was just thinking about it. I told my wife I was going to do this and she said “ok”. As soon as that happened, I knew that this would be part of my world for the next 365 days in a row no matter what. Some days you are going to be sick. Some days are going to be so busy that you may take a photo of the wawa logo reflected in a dirty puddle as you get your dinner at 10 pm after working a 14 hour day at two different jobs. So what. You said you were going to do something. You told yourself. I think a lot of people spend a lot of time telling themselves things they are going to do and then they wind up breaking those promises. I am going to join the gym this year. I am going to call that old friend and see how they’re doing. By breaking these promises to yourself, I feel that you create mistrust within yourself. And if you can’t trust yourself to come through on your word, you will not trust others to do so. This can be a toxic inner voice to have to deal with. I think there are times every person has grappled with this. For me on this project, I knew that my inner voice is what told me to go ahead with this, and I knew I had no other choice then to listen.
The support of friends, family, and strangers was just awesome during this 365 photography project. At times it seriously kept me going. If I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in a while, there was a good chance they would mention the project, name a few recent favorites, and ask a question or two. It was cool to feel like some people were connecting with the work. I didn’t go into the project hoping for more “fans” or “likes” or anything like that. I simply wanted to take photos everyday for a year and see what would happen. A lot of people asked what the end goal was for me. My answer was simple. I want to have 365 photos that were taken in 365 days. I am ok with some of them being terrible as long as some of them were great. I feel like I accomplished that. I probably really like 50 of the images a lot. Totally acceptable. Another lesson along the way was; be a perfectionist when you need to be but meet the requirements of the job first. There were days where I uploaded an image and was not impressed with my work. But, it was my job to take and upload the photo, so I mark that a win. Knowing I didn’t really like Mondays photo would make me be more aware on Tuesday. I couldn’t have two lame photos in a row, so I opened my eyes a bit wider.
In the end I am proud of the project and I feel that its intensive training made me a better photographer. Look through the portfolio and you will find many different types and style of images. Some natural light, some night photos, some special effects, use of constant lights, and use of strobes. You will see landscapes, and starscapes, portraits, and abstracts. A respected friend asked me early on in the project if I was going to find a style or a theme and shape the project around that. He is an English professor and mentioned that many writing workshops focus on that technique. I understood what he was getting at, but that was not the intent for me. For me it was to be as diverse in rage as possible. This is mainly due to the fact that I am a wedding photographer. In wedding photography, you will undoubtedly be faced with challenging lighting scenarios. It is not a job for the faint of heart. I take my job extremely seriously and I want to use this project as a boot camp for challenging lighting scenarios. My confidence level in my ability to handle a myriad of lighting challenge is very high. I feel like I am equipped to hit this 2015 season with confidence, skill, and some new creative techniques that will make my work stand out and give my clients something of great value.
On top of that, this project opened my eyes a bit wider. It made me quicker on my feet. Faster on the draw. The project has inspired me to never stop learning. Never settling with where I am creatively or professionally.
I have to thank my wife for supporting me for this entire year. It was a huge commitment on her part. She allowed me to work this out. Get it out of my system. We talked about it frequently. What was I learning along the way. I am sure she learned from it as well. If you are passionate about something, do it. Do it often, and do it because it makes you and others feel good. Be thankful for the people around you who are encouraging you and supporting you, because you cannot do anything in this world alone. Every expert started off as a novice. Skill is not much more than persistence and learning. Keep learning. Keep working. Continually improve as a person. Build skills that will fulfill you creatively, and inspire others.
Much love, friends. Here’s to an awesome 2015. Much more to come from Mackey Photo, soon.