How I Failed At My Photo365 Project And Why That’s OK

A little too shattered for this

Towards the end of late last year I  was in a deep photography rut. I wasn’t feeling the excitement or confidence in myself as a photographer and was looking for a way to revitalise those feelings via.. something. I wasn’t sure what. I ended up settling on doing another photo-a-day (photo365) project as I had done one back in 2009/2010 which I enjoyed and got a lot out of. So come January 1st I confidently decreed it was time to do so again and away we went, onward to excitement & confidence!

And… Nope.

It started off well, I made a few good photos, got a bit of the interest back but I very quickly found I was starting to not just dislike the project but actively hate it. It took some time to figure out why this was but in the meantime I stubbornly continued, taking a least one photo a day until I finally had an epiphany. The reason it wasn’t working this time was because this style of project wasn’t what I actually needed.

The photo365 worked the first time around because I was still very new to photography with a DSLR and being forced to take a photograph every day was a good way of getting me used to it. It generated interest in various styles and ultimately became one of the major factors in why I so enjoy macro photography today.

Instead of producing good shots like I intended to, I was mostly producing mediocre, poorly thought through and rushed images. A few great ones here and there but most of it, to be quite frank, was crap. I can be quite a stubborn person and I could have just continued on and finished the project but this time around I decided no. It wasn’t working, time to can it. So I did. Stop taking a photo a day, pulled down the posts from this blog and removed all but the best photos taken during that time from my smugmug gallery.

Failure Is Always An Option

Decision made, it was time to just move forward right? Well I’m afraid it wasn’t quite that easy, I felt even worse than before, that I had failed at what I wanted to do and generally moped a lot. I thought about writing why I quit the project but even that I’ve been staring at for over a month and not been able to fully admit to my own failure. Until a few days ago when a curious memory popped into my head.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be sent my employer at the time to attend DEF CON® 17 in Las Vegas and while wandering through talks on botnets, social engineering and tutorials on lockpicking (which was actually a lot of fun) I quite by accident wandered into a talk entitled “Failure” given by Adam Savage who you may know from the ever interesting Mythbusters series.

The talk (embedded below) given by Adam explored the idea of failure was being a positive thing and a learning experience rather than a totally negative and to be despised pit of despair. He goes over a few of his own stories of failure and describes emotions very similar to what I was going through now.

I remembered that the time thinking this talk was awesome and clearly it made enough of an impression that I squirreled it away to be referenced at such a time like this. I rewatched the talk and cheered up immensely. Failure was an option, I just needed to figure out what I really needed to achieve.

From Decay Comes Life

So there was the moment of zen. The acknowledgement that while yes I had failed good and hard, it wasn’t for nothing. I had simply learnt that what I needed now wasn’t a daily grind of taking photos it was to sit down and think about what my weak spots were and how to move forward.

Instead of shooting each and every day it was time to look at things like planning shots, actually learning how to better post produce my photos and get back into my love of taking photographs of critters of all kinds. I’ve started back into it and while I’m still feeling at a low eb of confidence things are moving forward, with a recent photowalk netting this photograph of a wasp

WaspSo here’s to the learning experience that is failure. I highly recommend watching Adam’s talk and thinking about what you want to achieve and accepting that failure at something is not the end of all things, not even close.

11 More Random Hints & Tips For Doing A 365 Day Photo Project

Keep all your ducks in a row

Back in 2009 I wrote a small and apparently popular item Hints & Tips For Doing A 365 Day Photo Project and it seems only fitting that for the end of 2010 / start of 2011 I provide 11 more random hints and tips that I have learned in the last year.

  • Use the project to explore your passions – When I first started the 365 Before Thirty project I didn’t really have a particular field of photography I was passionate about. Within the first 3 months however it became pretty clear that macro photography was where I liked to work. Use your project to find what you want to do and pursue your passion.
  • There is always something to photograph – No matter how mundane things may seem you can make a good photo out of them, Food in the fridge, piles of books you have lying around, kids toys and pretty much anything you can see can make for a photo opportunity.
  • Get yourself a comfortable camera bag – In the previous article I talked about taking your camera everywhere. This means you want to be comfortable doing it. Research camera bags, find one that fits your needs and let it be your constant companion.
  • Accessories do not make the photo – You do. Photographers tend to occasionally suffer from belief that if they only had that lens or this filter this shot would be perfect. Don’t let a good opportunity go to waste just because you think you don’t have the right kit. The result may surprise you.
  • You don’t need professional lighting – I learnt that with a single household halogen lamp I was able to set up some pretty fantastic photos.
  • Track upcoming events – Are there events over the new year that will fit in with your project style? If so track them somewhere like a journal or Google Calendar (my preference) lest it slip your mind. I very nearly missed the yearly zombie invasion because I didn’t track it correctly.
  • Get up early / Stay out late – The world is a different place in the very early hours of the morning or the dead of night. Animals behave differently, white balance is an all new challenge and there are new opportunities. Seize the night and make it yours.
  • Don’t ignore social media – For me personally Twitter has been one of the greatest resource for critical feedback, ideas from others and great conversations with fellow photographers. Other social media sources are just as useful and shouldn’t be shrugged off. Look into how it can help you out or how you can help others out.
  • Read – Traditional media isn’t dead either. There is much to read in the form blogs, books and magazines. The one set of books that I highly recommend you get your hands on is Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography books. Fantastically well written and I guarantee there will be something you can learn from them.
  • There is always time to take photos of ducklings – No exceptions to this rule I’m afraid.

With that have a great 2011 and enjoy your 365 project.


A Year In Photographs

As of the 24th of August I officially finished the  365 Before Thirty project – my photo-a-day project to take a photo every single day of my 29th year. It was a lot of fun, annoyance, joy & pain. Some days it was easy to find something, others it was a chore to even think about lifting up the camera. But the end result was worth it. I learnt a lot of things about my camera, the style of photography I like doing and a deeper insight into my life.

Below is the entire years worth of photos from start to finish, traversing the fun times, the dull times and the just plain weird times. I highly recommend doing one of these projects as it’s a very worthwhile experience.