Focused on photography

Evaluation of my 52-week photo project

2014 will soon be over and I’d like to evaluate the 52-week photo project I started at the beginning of the year. If you are interested in hearing what it was or was not good for, sit back comfortably and read on. It’s quite personal and it would be a different process for you but I guess we are not that different in many regards.

First of all I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks to my wonderful husband for supporting me and helping me with everything I needed. He was often accompanying me, sometimes taking his own photos, sometimes just being there with me which also helped.

Further I want to thank all of you who paid attention to this project, came to have a look at the photos and left a comment. Especially I thank to those of you who were coming repeatedly and helped thus to keep me motivated. Thank you for all the appreciative and constructive comments you left. They provided precious feedback and some of them even started an interesting discussion. I have to admit that sometimes it wasn’t easy to accept some of the critical opinions but I believe that all of them were meant to help me and to provide sound feedback and I’ve been grateful for their sincerity.

I didn’t expect that following the project would be easy and it truly was not so I’m happy to say that no week stayed unfulfilled and in every box of the 2014 week calendar you could see a photo.

I may have awoken too high expectations when announcing this project of mine which was basically aimed at practising regularly and learning along the way. Some of the photos you liked more, some of them less, I put my effort into all of them. Sometimes I had just one photo in several versions but usually I had more photos to choose from. I might have selected a different capture later when looking back but I had my reasons for making every particular choice at the relevant week.

Soon I realized how different it is to post a series of photos interlinked with text where one accompanies the other and to post individual photos without any further explaining information. In this regard I’m glad that I was adding just titles and omitted adding any story because that would be quite another project. A bit more about blogging and a bit less about photography which was not what I was aiming for. You could ask and express your impressions in comments, I tried to answer and supply the requested information and I think that was enough.

My husband suggested that I could make a book based on the project to conclude it and I can see exactly how it would look. A square-shaped format. A photo with its title on the right side and the relevant week plus a short reflection or story related to the photo both in Czech and English in the form of two paragraphs on the left side. I can almost see the font of the text. It would be a nice reminder of that process but I’m not sure I want to go back as I’d rather prefer to use the time and the gained experience to create new and better images.

There were circumstances of various nature that were hindering me from achieving better results and I’m going to be absolutely frank when listing them as I recognized them in the course of the year. No excuses here, just facts. The order is of no importance in the following list, I’d rather say that the issues were tightly interconnected:

– Lack of time
With the exception of summer holidays I usually managed to find time only at weekends and the amount of the time available was rarely excessive. I have a full-time job in a city 30 km away, two children, house and a large garden and moreover, my husband was often out of home because of his work so the time was passing quickly during weekdays and even more quickly during weekends. Yet there usually is some time available and it is important to know beforehand how to use it, more planning would surely help.

– Lack of planning
I’ve become strongly aware of the fact that I’m not good at planning or arranging a photo. I need visual impulse, to see something and find a story in it. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, yet this is something a photographer can’t just rely on and I definitely need more often to think beforehand about the contents of my captures.

– Lack of inspiration
This may sound silly as there is so much inspiration all around but the inspiration is often somewhat unreal in the personal scale. I’m often more overwhelmed than inspired and unable to transform what I see into a lesson I could learn from. I don’t want just to copy someone else’s ideas, I want to have mine. Definitely an occasion for me to open and broaden my mind.

– Lack of abilities
Sometimes you simply have inspiration but are unable to transform it into the capture you long for. Further practise and learning are necessary in many regards.

– Lack of (better) photo equipment
My camera and lenses are not that cheap but not that great either. It is quite a difference whether you can shoot captures without too much noise with ISO values set at e.g. 1600 or only at 400 as acceptable maximum, it matters how much light your lens can utilize and let through, it limits you to rely on very limited usage of a built-in flash if you don’t have an external flash, it is difficult to manage inside shooting without any reflectors, umbrellas and reflecting surfaces. We don’t have money to burn so I can’t plan any exchange of my camera and lenses for the ones I’d like to have but there are so many areas I need to get better regardless of my photo equipment. By the way, when preparing this evaluation I added here that I wished to get an external flash which would be very useful and I’m thrilled to tell you that to my big surprise I found one among my Christmas presents!

– Lack of confidence
I realised I don’t believe in my photography enough, in its value, and that prevents me from exposing myself in places or under circumstances I feel awkward in though there is no real reason for that. I’m also easily discouraged by every doubt I have. As I want to continue expressing myself by means of photography, I definitely need to work on this as well as to step more often out of my comfort zone which is quite narrow.

– Stress
I felt serious about firstly fulfilling the project and secondly about not just snapping shots so imagine that it’s Sunday morning or even afternoon and you don’t have any photo taken and any idea where to find it and when you finally decide what to focus on, it does not work… I sort of like deadlines, they help me to focus, but stress doesn’t help anything, just blocks my mind so better planning is important here as well.

– Laziness
No need to elaborate, I hope, we all may have been there.

That’s it. To sum it up like this sounds terrible yet I like to see what I face. You might think that actually nothing of this could be new to me and that’s surely true. Yet the project put the facts into different light and made them less general and more particular. I feel like knowing where to continue which is good and motivating.

The negatives have been defined, what about positives? Here we go – again, the order is of no importance in the following list but this time the interconnection is not that tight:

+ I’ve had more lenses but I used to be afraid of manipulating with them on the spot and always needed a solid piece of anything to lay them down while changing them or my husband had to hold them for me. I rarely changed the lens used during a trip. It’s changed absolutely. I’m able to swap lenses without any support and as often as I need.

+ At last I use our tripod both outside and inside, several of the photos in the project were taken with its help. I don’t feel weird any more when using it. Just a bit clumsy… And I understand better now that when there is bad light, using a tripod may not be enough to achieve a technically good capture.

+ It seemed to me that one of the lenses I had was of poor quality but I was not sure whether the poor quality was not my fault. I and my husband performed a test of that lens and found out that the quality issue was definitely not on my side so I decided to stop using the lens.

+ I feel more confident now when carrying my camera around and taking photos.

+ I’ve learnt some technical stuff about my camera, I even went as far as using manual focusing which had been out of question before. There is still a lot to learn but this helped.

+ I’ve started to shoot in raw format. Actually I have my camera set to capture both raw and jpeg but I use the raw files for post processing. There ARE more data in the raw format and more space to manoeuvre in post processing. I know that the raw format is not suitable for all types of photos, it’s not the best option when you need to be quick and have plenty of photos like in sport photography but for landscape, architecture and still life it’s great.

+ I don’t have Photoshop, just Photoshop Elements, and raw file development is very limited there. I decided to buy Lightroom 5 I read so much praise about and I’ve become a fan of it. In many regards it’s wonderful software available at affordable price. I even use it for organising my photos now as in many regards it’s much better than the Photoshop Elements library I used.

+ I’ve found a few great series of tutorials on the Internet for learning Lightroom and Elements and subscribed to them so that I keep in touch with new tips and tricks.

+ I’ve improved post processing of my photos in many regards, especially in connection with using the raw format, Lightroom software and learning new techniques.

+ I’ve gathered a small collection of photographers whose work inspires me personally and who I want to follow here and there. Not to copy them but to educate myself and enjoy their work. A small collection not to limit myself but to acknowledge the fact that browsing the Internet and looking for inspiration there may bear fruit but may also be an unacceptable time eater. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the photos posted on the Internet and I believe that selecting something particular which addresses me will help me to focus.

+ I’ve learnt that certain photos may look like a good idea but technically it is rather complicated if not even impossible to achieve what you want.

+ I understand better my photographic weak spots now and can work with that knowledge.

+ Though it still hasn’t been enough, I’ve practised more than ever. From 2014 I have roughly twice as many photos on my laptop than from 2013 and I don’t count the captures I’ve deleted and the additional jpeg files to raw files.

+ I was trying to get out of my comfort zone to take the photos I wanted which needs more practise but was helpful.

+ I was taking different styles of photos, not just captures from trips, which taught me many precious lessons.

+ I kept in touch with photography throughout the whole year and I’ve learned many pieces of information about photography, both theoretical and practical.

+ I’ve been developing my photographic eye.

To me, positives have definitely prevailed over negatives. Sometimes it was tough but it was worth it. Based on the positives I feel motivated to practise more and learn more.

So what will come next? I’ve been mulling over it for a few months (!) and I’ve come to the conclusion that though this was a really enriching experience, I don’t want to continue in this project in 2015, it would be tiring and non-motivating. Yet the idea of a project appeals to me as it helps me to stay focused and I decided to fulfil it in two ways:

1. I enrolled on an online course “The Art of Photography” provided by the Australian RMIT University. It lasts 4 weeks, it’s free and it starts at the beginning of January. The course consists of short videos, quizzes and four assessments and it’s suitable for everyone interested regardless of the amount of knowledge they have in this field. Those who will want to participate in more active way may follow additional tasks and even work in groups. I’m looking forward to participating in it very much! I like the contents of the course and the introductory presentation of its instructor and I hope that my English will be good enough to understand everything I’ll need.

2. I signed up for a still-life course named “Still life – Fifty two” run by Kim Klassen. Unsurprisingly, the “fifty two” stands for 52 weeks as the course lasts the whole year, a lesson a week. It’s not free but affordable. I like the style she and people gathering at her blog present but I’m not good at it because of many reasons I listed above and more and I find this to be a great opportunity to improve. To improve in planning, arranging, working with light, working with depth of focus, working with textures, opening my imagination… There is quite a range of possible improvement. It’s a self-paced course without deadlines, which I need at the moment to relieve the stress of the last project.

I intend to keep this blog running in relation to the above mentioned projects though there probably won’t be any regularity in posting. No archived photos, just new stuff, it stays the same. What may be different is that there may be more than one photo in a post but no lengthy text, I want the blog to stay focused on the visual message.

Is there anything else to be added?

Looking forward to 2015 and wishing you a Happy New Year!