In My Eye

I recently joined a photography community where users are provided with periodic prompts and post one thing each day. While it’s not specifically in the rules of the community, I have been challenging myself to take a picture every day, rather than hunting through my archives to try and find things that match up with the prompts. I have a lot of archived photos, so I am rather proud of myself for nobly resisting the temptation to phone it in sometimes.

The results have been really interesting. Some of the photographs I take I absolutely loathe. I’m trapped at home, the weather is poor, and I take a picture of the cat, or a lamp. Other photographs turn out to be unexpectedly excellent, surprising me. Sometimes I go out with a plan to shoot and a vision in my head and when I get back and transfer everything from the camera, everything has come out dreadful and all my hopes are dashed.

But the most excellent thing that has happened is that I’ve become a lot more observant about the world around me. Everything is a potential photograph and I start thinking about composition and lighting constantly. I start to pick up on things I never noticed before, from the fine details on wildflowers I used to pass without a glance to subtle changes in the topography of Laurel Street. There are still a lot of things that I miss, but I feel more connected with the world because I’ve changed the way I relate to it.

It kind of reminds me of when I first started writing. At first, it was hard to write every day. Really hard. It was a struggle to meet the word limits I set for myself. And the things I wrote were often really bad. Just dreadful.

And then, I got better. I started to get into the rhythm of things. I started turning out things I really liked. There were still things of mediocre quality, of course. There always will be. But the daily exercises made me a better writer. Made me tighter, more focused. Forced me to think about how and where and when I use words. I developed strengths. I could look back six months, or a year, and really notice the changes in my work and my skills. And I see the same thing happening as a photographer, even within the limitations of my little Canon point and shoot camera.

People ask me for advice on how to become a writer sometimes, and the advice I always provide is: Write every day. Set a daily goal for yourself. Maybe it’s 500 words. Maybe it’s one hour of writing. Do it. Every day. And keep doing it. As you start to produce things you like, ask people to read them and give you feedback. And people always look at me incredulously, like ‘it’s that easy,’ until they start doing it and they realise exactly how hard it is, to do something every day.

And it’s the same way with photography. Photography is very much a hobby for me and something I will never do professionally. It’s one of the few things in my life right now that I do purely for fun and it’s a valuable outlet for me in that sense. And setting a goal of taking at least one picture every day has really improved my photography skills and has made me more aware of my own limitations and the areas where I have room for improvement. Getting feedback from other hobbyist photographers has also been terrific. I like to be good at things, even hobbies, so I’m excited to see myself becoming a stronger and more effective photographer.

Boards of a porched, stained with green light caused by sunlight passing through a vase. The picture is composed so that all you see is the green boards, and not the vase.

I have started looking at things from new angles and discovering new and hidden worlds. This image is the result of light passing through a vase. I originally set the vase up to shoot a still life in the sun, and then I realised that the most interesting thing going on wasn’t the still life, but the way the green light stained the boards on the deck. Then I had to figure out how to compose it, how to crop in with the camera (I really like to post things straight out of camera), how to focus to get the best end result. It was challenging, and it was fun.

The trestles of an old railway bridge.

I have started thinking much more about composition and framing, where my focus falls, what I want to evoke when I take a picture. This was early morning at Pudding Creek, and I’m not quite happy with how it came out. It doesn’t pull together and gel; there’s the cutoff trestle at the bottom right that clutters the image, and slightly distracting stuff happening at the very top of the image in the middle. But I also love the lines and shadows and the organic nature of the sand behind the structure of the bridge.

A brick wall covered in cream paint. An X made of metal, also covered in paint, is in the middle of the wall. In the foreground, there are foxtails.

Sometimes I interpret the challenges very abstractly, and sometimes very literally. I’ve been sort of pushing my brain around a bit and forcing myself to view things in new ways. Sometimes I ask myself ‘how does this even fit in with the challenge’ and it’s interesting to think it out, to lay out the reasons I think something would be a good candidate for a given challenge and to photograph it in a way that will convey those reasons without needing to explicitly state them.

An abdominal X-ray of a cat lying on his back.

Sometimes things are surprisingly challenging. Shooting this X-ray without accidentally catching the edges of the light table, without fading out the black, without blurring the detail, took a lot more tries than I thought it would. (This is Mr. Shadow, if you’re interested.)

A droplet of water hanging from a maple leaf after a rain.

Sometimes things feel astoundingly cliche, but I love them anyway. I guess there really is a reason people tend to take pictures of the same things as though they are entirely new. Because, really, they are. Drops of water on a leaf are not new, but these drops and this leaf are. On this particular day, this particular configuration.

I work so much in words that I am really enjoying the time outs I force myself to take every day to communicate in images instead. I feel like I’m learning a lot, not just about photography, but also about myself.