The Daily Practice

I’ve had a lot of cameras in my life but most of them were point-and-shoot. Right before my son was born, I decided I wanted the new Canon digital SLR.  It was really expensive and I had no photography training at all. I loved taking photos but I didn’t know anything about aperture, lenses, or even the settings on an SLR. After months of pondering, I decided I was going to get it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I knew that was a sign.

Right before I bought the camera, my husband and I went to Venice Beach with his 35mm and he taught me the basics: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I am a computer programmer, so understanding the technical bits wasn’t too hard for me. What I needed to work on is what I call the magic of photography: seeing the light and developing my eye. Over the years, I realized that I was improving but I wasn’t consistent and I couldn’t tell if my better  photos were due to luck or because I was getting better at photography.

This is when I started the daily practice.

For the last three years, I’ve been taking photos every single day. Every day. Bar none. Some days it’s photos of my children or backyard and other days it’s more interesting things like views of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge or the redwood trees. I’ll admit that most days it’s flowers. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of flowers. And tens of thousands of photos of my kids. And while the subject matter might be boring to others (and sometimes even for me) it’s done much to improve my photography.

The daily practice means that I can notice subtle changes in light better. I take many of my photos in the same area: my house and its vicinity. So, I am quite familiar with it and I can now notice the slight changes in light due to weather, time of day, or other factors. This has helped me figure out how to pay attention to the light. What different types of light does to the photo. It’s also meant that I can experiment with different shots at the same light and see what happens.

The daily practice means I can focus on the photography more. I am not just grabbing my camera when I am trying to capture an important moment. When you’re trying to “catch” a moment, you don’t always have time to play with the settings in your camera. You are focusing on getting the picture, not optimizing the quality of the photo. Whereas, on many days, I am taking my photos during a perfectly ordinary moment. There’s no butterfly that’s about to fly away. I can slow down and adjust my settings. I can play with the aperture and see the effects of depth of field. I can focus on the photography and not on getting the shot.

The daily practice means I can develop my personal style. I take a lot of photos of my kids. Every night I download these photos and go through them. I notice which shots are technically better than others. But I also notice which shots are more interesting to me. What photo stirs emotions and why. For example, through taking these shots I’ve discovered that I favor closeups. I like photos where my kids are looking down and there’s a hint of a smile or acknowledgment of the photographer but it’s not posed.  I favor the right over the left.  Small, subtle differences that make my photos mine. Seeing the pictures night after night helps me notice patterns. Notice changes. Improvements.

I know that the idea of taking photos every day might seem overwhelming and too time-consuming but, like most things, the biggest part is showing up. Just getting up and doing it. Starting the habit of carrying your camera around with you. Choosing a special time in the day to snap the photo. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. You can do more focused efforts like choosing a month to specifically address aperture and another month to do portraits only, etc. Or you can just snap something everyday and look and learn from what you get each night. The most important part is to just do it. Grab that camera and take photographs. Again and again and again.

Until it becomes a daily practice.

On a much more personal and practical note, the daily practice has also meant that I’ve captured thousands of our ordinary moments. What makes us who we are and the reality of our daily life. I know that regardless of how great I get at photography, I will cherish this more than all else.

Please share with us one of those ordinary day captures from your own life as we celebrate the daily practice. And if you have any tips, tricks, or insights on keeping up with your own photography practice, let’s hear them!

Image and words courtesy of Guest Blogger / Honorary Sister Karen Grunberg of Karenika.

Comments

  1. says

    I've been wanting to do a 365, but have been scared to do so.. However, taking Tracey's class Picture Fall, I've been shooting images every single day and learning so much from it. At the beginning of the class, I was complaining about how difficult I found indoor shots – now they come so much more easily, like this one from early this morning:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/85057042@N00/5117147010/

    So hopefully I'll find the courage to commit to a 365 soon! In the meanwhile, I'll continue to be impressed with and enjoy the images of all of you guys who practice every day :)

  2. says

    This post is so dead on… the only way to achieve success in anything is by practice. For me I simply pick up my camera and walk around where I am familiar (like my backyard). As I do I force myself to find things to photograph even though my surroundings are so common to me I wouldn't normally think of them as photogenic. This forces me to look at common things with an uncommon eye. When I do that I find that photographing something as simple as a flower or a group of trees growing in the backyard can be really photogenic! Of course, as I do this I play around with my camera's settings and see what different settings do to each photo so I can learn to understand how to transfer what my mind sees to what my camera captures.

    When I am not taking photos and I stumble across a photo of something I really like I think to myself… 'ok, that's a great photo! But WHY is it so great? WHAT exactly makes this photo better than others?' And by answering those questions I learn what to look for when composing and creating my own photographs.

    It just takes practice :)

    http://www.nekphotography.blogspot.com

    http://www.cabinfeververmont.com

  3. says

    Couldn't agree more!! When I started my 365 this year, I thought I would not be able to finish it… and now I'm in day 298!!
    As you say, I capture mostly my kids in normal and daily situations, but I know those will be priceless memories in the future. I also try to make nice compositions, still life and things like that. But as a mom, my favourites are my kids's photos… just like this one.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/happy-mami/5058143544/

  4. says

    Couldn't agree more!! When I started my 365 this year, I thought I would not be able to finish it… and now I'm in day 298!!
    As you say, I capture mostly my kids in normal and daily situations, but I know those will be priceless memories in the future. I also try to make nice compositions, still life and things like that. But as a mom, my favourites are my kids's photos… just like this one.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/happy-mami/5058143544/

  5. says

    I just started doing the project 365 this year. This was the first time I've ever tried to take photos without a purpose. It is difficult, especially since I don't go anywhere, but work and home! It has taught me what I like, close-ups with shallow depths of field (which makes sense, because I mainly take pictures of food). When the daily shoot's challenge was to take a creative picture in your bathroom, I knew that I could fall back on the kind of photo I like to take:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidewalkshoes/5079515004/

  6. says

    words for thought–love it. I'm finding that keeping my point and shoot close with me at all time has led me to some wonderful candid shots and I've been practicing aperture, shutter speed, etc with the DSLR. And I do like the daily shots a bit better these days.

  7. Tracy Sutherland says

    I started a 365 project in January because I wanted to develop a habit of using my camera more often. I enjoyed photography but it seemed that sometimes I didn't touch it for months. Just the other day I was thinking that I'm not stopping at December 31st. It feels less like an annual project now and more like a lifestyle.

  8. marina says

    thank you for this post (and for sharing this stunningly beautiful shot!): it is so inspirational! so far I have not been able to start a daily photo practice, but I have thought about it so many times, and your words are such an invitation to start it!!!
    in the meantime, when I manage to, I try to find the beauty in my everyday life, as in this shot:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mar_s/5111983064/lightbox/

  9. says

    You are so right – it is so much about practice and trying new things!
    I am trying to do so as often as I can, however most of the time I only have time during the weekends…

    For now, I leave you with some everyday captures of mine -
    Fall(ing) sky: http://le-fabuleux-destin-de.blogspot.com/2010/09/falling-skies.html
    Impressions of fall: http://le-fabuleux-destin-de.blogspot.com/2010/10/home-sweet-home-impressions-of-fall.html

    Viele Gruesse, Kristina

  10. says

    I couldn't agree more. I was in an abusive relationship for many years and lost a good deal of my memory. Now with my dSLR I take pictures every day and am creating new, beautiful memories. It has been part of my healing process and I look forward to those unexpected surprises to capture every day! Cheers girls!

  11. says

    I love this.
    During our house hunt, this past Spring, one of the things I considered above almost all else was the amount of light in the house. The house we ended up choosing was first seen on a rainy day, so I came back during the week for a second tour and saw the AMAZING sunlight the living room got and just *KNEW* it was the one.

    I took this photo, yesterday, when the sun was being particularly beautiful on my couch.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yarnattacks/5115419677/

  12. says

    You have captured in words what I've been striving for this year and kuddos to you for 3 years of daily practice! I am coming closer to the end of my 365 project and I love that I can go back to any given photo that I chose to represent the day and tell you what was happening. It's such a great record of our lives and I'm so glad I did it. Here's an everyday shot I wouldn't have been able to capture if I hadn't had my camera with me all the time recently: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anngeedee/4747339937/in/set-72157623122903804/

  13. Jennifer says

    I've been taking photography fairly seriously for about a year now, and I often go through my stream to see where I was and how far I've come. I take a considerable number of photos of children because there are so many around me, and I'm always pleased when I can capture them without them taking any notice of the camera.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cardboardsea/5114468656/

  14. says

    wonderful post. i feel a daily practice is so important if nothing else but to teach me to "see" and to keep a recording of my simple life. i don't participate in a formal 365 but i do take a photograph every day even if it's just with my iphone. but what i strive for is to get better techinically too and hopefully one of these days i will take a photo that is recognized as great or atleast really good.

  15. says

    I too have found that a daily shot project has helped me to improve my photographic skills both from the technical and artistic point of view. I use ShutterCal (http://shuttercal.com/) as a platform to keep and see these pictures, and it really works for me, the calendar view is like a collage. I can see a whole month in a glimpse and identify what I am missing (more landscapes, self-portraits etc…)

  16. Bettina says

    LOVE this post! I just bought my first DSLR in February. I started a 365 project October 1 and have learned so much… here is a recent pic..

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bettina2/5100687039/

    its nothing spectacular, but i did learn a lot, taking different shots of these rings, at different angles, with different setting…. practice practice practice…

  17. says

    karenika.com is a daily stop for me…not just for the inspiring photos, but for the words as well. I wish I understood the technical aspects as well as Karen, but I do have fun taking photos and I guess that's all that matters.

  18. says

    So true….
    Practice – it's how musicians get better, it's how athletes get stronger, faster, higher.

    I'm in my 2nd year of taking photos daily, and the most important thing for me is to have my camera with me at all times. This means carrying it around in my purse. Yes, I have a big DSLR with a big lens. I have a medium sized bag that is very heavy! And a camera available at all times.

    http://www.shirleybehindthelens.com/2010/10/barn.html

  19. Laura O'Hanesian says

    I can't remember when I decided that the thing to do would be sure to take at least one photo a day so I guess it has been a while! I like how you mentioned that you just have to show up, that makes me smile. Some days I think, did I take a picture yesterday? Always when I check my cameras, yep I usually have two with me at all times, sure enough there is proof that I am in the habit of practicing! I also liked that you mentioned that by taking daily photos we journal our lives and what is beautiful to us. It is interesting to me when someone asks me what do you like to take photos of? Everything!
    I work at a winery surrounded by vineyards: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraophoto/5115471167/ sometimes I warn my friends beware: another vineyard shot!

  20. Corinna says

    I just started a 365 project two weeks ago, and so far what I love the most about it is that it encourages me to really NOTICE the details of life that happen around me all the time, but that I'm usually too lulled by my routine to stop and see. It feels like it makes me a tourist in my own life, in the best possible way. Yesterday I actually stopped on my way to work and the most magical image presented itself to me… something that I probably wouldn't have seen if I had just been driving to work like I always do. I posted it here:

    http://www.birdwannawhistle.com

    So far my daily practice is making me feel more alive. Thanks for the encouragement.

  21. says

    I too have failed at a 365…just seems to suck the creativity right out of me…but maybe if I do it privately, just for me and to improve my skills and not having the pressure of displaying them would make all the difference. You've got me rethinking this too.

    Here's an everyday shot…I think I'm getting better at capturing what I see…so thers can see it that way too.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sun_sugar/5117471201/

  22. says

    I tried to do a 365-day project for Flickr, and it was so hard. I think I made it to day 89. It got to where I was taking pictures very late at night and hating what I was posting. It taught me patience though and acceptance of imperfection. Well, not really acceptance so much as learning to like it for its imperfection to the point it looks perfect to me.

    I have been busy with shoots lately, but I love bubbles and I love my son. So I think this picture is rather sweet and magical. He is wearing his frog hat.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hellsbellarina/5095470438/

  23. says

    Might I suggest the idea of a "regular" practice instead of "daily"? I know for me the idea of the 365 is overwhelming, I just know that I don't have the desire for that. But I blog *almost* every day using photos I've taken and I've learned much of the same things you mention with the regular review of my photos taken at other times. I think it's the regular practice of the craft – whether shooting or reviewing or editing – that is the key. I know it has worked for me!

    http://www.kateyeview.com/2010/10/what-inspires-you.html

  24. says

    I can report the same – do it often enough, and you'll notice a difference in your work! I started doing P365 last year, and the different between Jan 2009 and now is incredible. Never mind the fact of documentation, which I'm a big fan of. This year I'll be doing a big Blurb book of all of them, with descriptions and dates, because I did the math and it costs less than getting individual prints and putting them in an album myself! :) Since I got an iPhone this year I've definitely incorporated more of those shots, but just because it's "just" a camera phone doesn't mean you can't work on composition. I really love the flexibility it gives me!

  25. says

    Oh, and I also don't hold myself to posting my photos daily! As long as I know that I shot some that day, I'm fine with only posting them a few times a week. :) The point is not to share with the world (although that's fun too), but to hone your craft.

  26. says

    Such a great post! I started a 365 project and at first I felt a little bit overwhelmed by it. Then I started to get into a groove….and then my camera broke! Utterly fried. I have a new camera on order and I thought I would just skip those days until the new one came in – but I found that I was actually itching to take pictures everyday. So now I'm taking pictures with my iPhone to fill the void. And the pictures are far from technically perfect (as if my pictures with my DSLR were so perfect…..), but I feel like I'm still learning, but in a different way.

    How cool.

    http://angiephoto365.wordpress.com

  27. says

    Wow! This is my favorite post. Yes. It describes so many parts of my own metamorphosis as a photographer. Illness and pain limited me in major ways. When I couldn't draw or paint or work pastels any more I spiraled down into an even worse depression. Creativity will have its way though, and I began coming across cameras in my bedroom and studio. I have a collection of eight. That includes two pinhole cameras and several SLRs.

    To avoid a cliche, I finally started looking up and outward. Everything was new. We'd bought another home and everything outside was coming into bloom. I couldn't drive far but I had the privacy of our back yard. My only child had moved to Chicago but she left her two cats. I had the flowers and trees we'd planted. Eventually we had birds and insects, rabbits, deer . . . I even had clouds and Texas long horns. I had my feet, food, and I had strangers outside Barnes & Noble, our favorite pizza maker, . . . If you ask politely or do it on the sneak, people love being photographed.

    I've taken a lot of photos from my bed while recuperating after five surgeries. I've experimented, read books and magazines on photography. Mostly I've just shot what calls me and almost 99% of the time I get lovely surprises. I never see them until after I upload my digital images onto my Mac. And they're there . . . Things I've never seen before.

    Practice does make perfect. A favorite art teacher taught me that I could never draw a thing perfectly until I'd drawn it maybe a hundred times. It's the same with photography. And it's all about seeing and being aware. Of course I might take thirty shots to get three great ones, but it's practice and safety.

    Thanks for making me feel this kinship with everyone who has what I call My Third Eye. It's my camera's name. :) And thanks for this place.

  28. says

    I have a daily practice but it nothing as structured as a 365. I just take my camera everywhere and shoot whenever I can. I love the beauty in the ordinary moments the best. It is a practice that has me seeing in photographs now. I am much better at seeing the light, and seeing the shot. Hopefully with more practice seeing the shot will mean getting the shot more often.

    An ordinary moment this morning:
    http://www.gogovivi.com/2010/10/wednesdays-with-vivian-753-800-am-.html

  29. says

    I loved this post. I’m challenged to set aside the time to practice daily.

    When I travel I take my camera with me everyday but at home I feel the pressure of work and my camera gets put on the back burner.

    I need to dig into the discipline of an ordinary day practice, get over the fear and find where that takes me.

    Thank you for the post that was so beautifully written.

  30. Becky R. says

    I have a point and shoot myself. I can't afford a DSLR at the moment even though I would love to. I take my Olympus SP-800UZ with me everywhere. I take so many photos but so many of them just aren't making me happy enough to keep them. However, from doing that, I'm getting to learn my camera better and know what it can do and the endless possibilities I can make it to.

  31. says

    This is a fantastic post and an incredible photo – love the lines. Thanks for the encouragement to shoot daily plus providing a really good why to do so. I've been wanting to get out of auto mode forever and while I 'get' the technical stuff, putting in into practice has been difficult.

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