I’m not a writer, which may become evident before I finish the first post. I’m also not a photographer, just a guy with a hobby. That said, I do enjoy making photos. Like most anyone who has been bit by the photography bug, I’ve made a lot of really bad photos mixed in with a few really good photos. Over the last few years I have seen some improvement in my photography as I’ve learned, shot and learned some more. Like anything else, the doing pays greater dividends than the acquisition of theory. Two recent blog posts have inspired this blog; a post from Zach and Jody, Nashville wedding photographers, where Zach shared an early photo that by his own admission wasn’t that great; the lighting was flat, the colors a little off. He contrasted that against a recent portrait of a local musician that was something a hobbyist like me aspires to shoot. The lighting was multi-dimensional and the colors jumped out of the monitor. That two dimensional photo had life. What grabbed me about the blog post was something we’ve all heard before; shooting is the best way to get better at making photos. Zach and Jody have done a lot of it and it shows in their work. The second post and maybe of greater personal importance was by Zack Arias, an Atlanta based photographer and a great teacher (just realized both sources of inspiration were named Zach/Zack, I wonder how my 12 year old would feel about a name change). Zack was working on a project making a portrait of a local artist. The portrait was to be made inside the artist’s home. The blog included a video of the shoot and watching that video was a photographic smack upside the head. Zack made two very good portraits but the one that really grabbed my attention was a head shot on a white background shot in the artist’s kitchen. Zack walked into that small space, saw his limitations, and worked around them. Between himself, his lighting and his subject I would guess he made his portrait in a space about 4′ wide by 8′ deep with appliances, cabinets and a table crammed in tight around the setup. I commented on the post that it made me realize that space limitations were mental more so than physical. And the idea for this blog was born.
I think everyone of us with this compulsion to use a camera to convey something knows when they’ve made a good photo and when they’ve made something just so-so. When you envision an image and then actually execute that vision, the joy you get is something that doesn’t have an equal. Sure there are things of much greater importance in all of our lives but that feeling is something from a different place and it’s personal and it’s prideful and there’s no shame in that because you made it happen. So I asked myself, what keeps me from making more of those photos, the ones that give me that feeling. Seeing Zach and Jody’s post turned the key and unlocked the door; you have to shoot. You can’t expect to get better at something without doing it. But I wasn’t doing it enough and it was because I had a lot of obstacles in the way of shooting. Then I watched Zack Arias’s video and that door that was unlocked by Zach and Jody swung wide open. The obstacles in my way are the same ones you have in front of you. I’m speaking in present tense because this is day one and those obstacles are still very real for me. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the right gear, I don’t have the right space, I don’t have someone or something to make a photo of. You can insert some of your own in the comments and decide for yourself if they’re purely mental but I know now that all of mine are.
Now before I get to my goal, let me tell you a little about me so you have some insight into my mental obstacles. I’m 40 years old and work a full time job that involves a commute every day. I married to a wonderful wife who also works outside of the home. We have three children between the ages of 11 and 16. We have two dogs and an empty aquarium begging for some fish. And oh yeah, I’m also a part time student currently working on my Bachelors in Computer Science. To say time I have very little free time is as truthful for me as it is for most of you. So my first mental obstacle is the big one, time. I have very little free time but I’m going to work around that. Referring back to all of the above, it might not surprise you to know that we have a household budget that doesn’t have room for full frame cameras, expensive glass and high dollar studio equipment. I have my trusty, used Nikon D90, a Nikon 18-55 kit lens and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8, a second hand SB-600 one cheap light stand and one tripod. That’s pretty much everything I’m going to be working with for this project. You may have more, you may have less but I can’t recall how many times I thought “If I only had a…” and thought the object would help me make better photos. The truth is, gear limitations are also mental. Sure a set of Alien Bees and, a Nikon D4 and some big dollar fast glass would be great but if I’m not shooting with what I have now, what good would all that gear be sitting in a bag? I’ll use what I have and work around any perceived short comings in my equipment. The last of my limitations are people and space and these two are ridiculous. Seeing Zack’s video in that kitchen caused me to promise myself to never again be limited by space, I’ll find a way to work around it. And people? I have myself and a tripod. Even if I didn’t know a single person or wasn’t at all comfortable asking someone to sit for me, I could take photos of myself as much as I wanted and I would always be available when I was ready. So I can work around that obstacle too.
So my project is this; I want to make a minimum of three photos a week for the next 16 weeks. I chose the time frame to match the 16 week semester I start on Monday so I’ll be as busy as I ever am. I will limit myself to 10 minutes to setup and shoot my self protrait and another 10 minutes to choose one, do some minor editing and get a blog post up. I know I can make myself find 20 minutes in my day somewhere a few times a week even if it’s 5 minutes at a time. I’ll time myself and try to record a few of these to show the process once I get comfortable with it. I’ll of course think of the shot during the day or while laying in bed at night and mentally plan my shots but that doesn’t really take any extra time; it’s a nice thing to have on your mind when you need to take it off the day for a moment. I’ll limit myself to the gear I listed above and limit the model to myself (sorry for that, my kids look better but they’re outside the scope of the current project). My photos might not be great at the beginning. Honestly they may not be that great at the end either but I’m going to shoot regularly because I haven’t been doing that. I hope to accomplish a few things here; one is to be a better photographer by working around those mental obstacles. I think most of us as photographers strive to be better. I also hope to help a few other people recognize the obstacles they have and challenge themselves to think around them. Most importantly, with all that I’m responsible for and all those who I’m responsible to, I owe it to myself to find time to do what I love. This project is for me.