Beauty is in the process

Today’s photo: You make me live.

You Make Me Live

The original version of today’s photo: Posted first with the title Alice Makes a Friend.

Alice makes a friend.

Today’s lesson: Imperfections are an opportunity to play.

I posted the original version of this earlier in the day, but I wasn’t happy with it. After work, I decided to play around with it a little bit in Photoshop, and the poster version above was the result. I figured out how to do a few small things in Photoshop, and I had fun doing it. That seems like lesson enough for one day.

“You make me live” is inspired by Queen.

Resistance is Futile

Today’s photo: The Temptation of Alice

The temptation of Alice.

Today’s lesson: Sometimes your subject can be your background.

I don’t have much to say today, but I do have at least one answer to my own question about how I can take a new picture every day of the same object without running of ideas too quickly. I don’t know the whole answer. I just know that the answer to getting through one more day is the simple little trick of shifting my subject to the background. Alice looks good in blur. I don’t think she minds.

Today’s cat: Jack Cat contemplates his next move.

Jack Cat contemplates his next move.

A little bit goes a long way

Today’s photo: A drop of inspiration is all you need.

A drop of inspiration is all you need.

Today’s lesson: A drop of inspiration is all you need.

It seems the rain just keeps pouring down, and the days just keep getting nastier and more depressing. They say there is a chance of a snowflake or two later in the week, and I can’t even work up any interest in that. I love snow, but I miss sunshine. I do not feel inspired by constant rain. Fortunately, I know because I’ve preached it to myself and no doubt been preached to about it by others that you don’t need much inspiration to get up and do what you need to do. I only found a raindrop today, but that was enough.

Alice’s photo of the day: Alice wonders if she needs a new pair of boots.

Alice wonders if she needs a new pair of boots.

This is the actual parking lot Alice had to walk through today to get to her car.

Jack Cat’s photo of the day:

Jack Cat in High ISO SOOTC

I’m proud of this one because it represents a small attempt to try something I hadn’t tried before.

Here’s my conversation with myself about this shot.

Me: I should take a picture of Jack, but there’s no way I can get a shot of a black cat sitting on a black jacket in low light with no flash.

Myself: Push the ISO up.

Me: I can’t push it that high. The shot will be too noisy.

Myself: Didn’t you buy the fancypants camera for precisely the ability to take pictures in low light without a flash? Why did you spend the money for that camera if you aren’t even going to see what it will do?

Me: Oh, okay. Let’s give this a shot.

Here we have it. Black cat sitting on a black jacket in low light shot with ISO at 20,000. Straight out of the camera. Not even a sharpening tool has touched this.

This didn’t take a lot of effort. I never left my couch. It only took a minute of my time. It’s only an accomplishment because I talked myself into trying something I wasn’t sure would work. This is my new goal. Just try things with the camera.

I don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning new camera skills. Someone has to earn a living to support Jack and Alice. I don’t have to learn much on any one day to continue making progress, though. Each tiny little fragment of learning adds up just like each little calorie of Hershey’s Kisses adds up in Alice’s skinny jeans.

So don’t let the dismals get you down, and don’t be afraid to just try something even if you think nothing you can do will work.

Some days you just have to free yourself

Today’s photo: A message from Alice — Bates was framed.

A message from Alice: Bates was framed.

Today’s lesson: If you can’t go outside, bring the outside to you.

If you aren’t a Downton Abbey fan, you might not get this shot, but that’s okay. In that case, I didn’t take it for you. Alice’s fellow fans will understand.

Today was all things yucky. It was cold and rainy and even the sidewalks where slushy. Alice was miserable, and I didn’t know what I was going to do about taking her picture today. I really just wanted to go back to bed. I didn’t think Alice would mind if we skipped a day. As happens so many times, though, I just couldn’t quit thinking about my photo prompt for the day, which was “framed.” I also couldn’t quit thinking about last night’s episode of Downton Abbey, so one thing just led to another. When I thought up what to do for a shot, I really wanted to do it outside, but that was impossible. Thus, I went for the next best thing: a giant classroom window.

The window gave me an outdoor background, plus a soft, diffused backlighting. I don’t hate the window. I think I will use it again at some point.

It’s easy to do a 365 in the spring and summer when everything is in bloom and the bugs and birds are buzzing around. It isn’t quite so easy in the winter when nature has gone dormant and the days are grey and wet. If I were going to give up on my 365 project this year, today would have been a good day to do it. But days like this are what improvising is for. Days like this are what those giant windows are for.

Standing at the corner of hope and regret

Today’s photo: Alice’s favorite buildings are past their prime.

Alice's favorite buildings are past their prime.

Note: I chose this photo as my photo-of-the-day because I was so pleased to have manipulated the depth of field enough so that Alice was in focus in the foreground but a good bit of the background was also in focus. I’ve struggled with that, and this shot is the best I’ve done so far. Camera info: Canon 5d Mk iii, 50mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 2500, Shutter 1/125, Aperture f/22, no flash.

Today’s photo extras.

Alice stands on the street corner hoping no one thinks she looks like a prostitute.

Alice among the ruins

Alice among the ruins

Alice on the infamous rail bound for nowhere.

Today’s lesson: Try not to eat your own seed corn.

If you plant a crop and you want to be able to keep planting from year to year so that you have food to eat indefinitely and not just for right now, you have to save some seed. If you eat your seed, you’ve eaten up your future.

This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in any sort of creative endeavor. You get all excited, you work very hard, and you burn yourself out. Or, you get all excited about your work, and you flood people with samples of it so that you burn your potential audience out, and they all lose interest before you’ve really gotten started.

Try not to do that. You need to save some seed for the next planting.

Today, for example, I have diluted the amount of feedback I will get on any one photograph by posting multiple shots on the same day. On Facebook and Flickr, where I have posted these shots, some people will look at one, and some will look at another, but very few people will look at all of them. I shouldn’t ask anyone to choose my best shot of the day for me. I should make the call myself, and share only one at a time with my friends. That’s a rule I try to keep in mind, but it’s also a rule I often break.

Some days I don’t want to pick just one shot, and that’s okay as long I know that I’m nibbling at the seed corn if my goal in sharing them is to get as many people as possible to look at one of my photographs. It’s also okay as long I understand that I’m going to gobble that seed corn up in a hurry if I don’t pace myself with my own projects. Right now photographing Alice is my project. I’m enthused about this project. Alice makes me laugh. Alice makes other people laugh, and that makes me happy. It would be so easy to put more time than I have into photographing Alice. Once that happened, though, I would start to feel overwhelmed by my life and my job and all of the other things going on around me. I would start second guessing my Alice project. I would start second guessing my own skills and my own purpose in doing any project at all. I would burn out and abandon poor Alice before her time. I’d have nothing left in me to kick start the project all over again when I recovered from my plummeting self-confidence. I’d be staring at an empty field at the start of planting season with no seed corn to be found.

Try not to do that to yourself. It’s the best advice I have for you today.

Feeling artful has its price

Today’s photo: Alice appreciates an artful installation.

Alice appreciates an artful installation, 1 of 3.

Today’s Alice extras:

Alice appreciates an artful installation, 3 of 3.

Alice appreciates an artful installation, 2 of 3.

Today’s lesson: The camera is not what makes the photo, but then again it is.

If you get into photography at all, you’ll be barraged with advice from people who tell you on the one hand that you really need a whole bunch of expensive gear and on the other hand that the expensive cameras and lenses don’t really matter because it’s the skill of the photographer that makes the photo and not the quality of the camera. This is all true. The camera doesn’t matter nearly as much as the photographer, but then again the camera does matter. If it didn’t, National Geographic would sent photographers out with only phone cameras instead of with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

The point we can take from this I think is that you don’t need expensive gear to learn the skills for taking great pictures. If you own a camera of any sort, you can learn techniques that will make you a better photographer. Also, if you don’t have the skills, the better camera will do you no good.

Here’s my example for the “camera doesn’t matter” argument.

Cat about town

This orange tabby was shot with a cheap point-and-shoot camera and uploaded through my phone. The other shots I took today were taken with a Canon 5D Mark iii, which costs more than the price of ten of those point-and-shoots. Yet the point-and-shoot cat is my favorite photo of the day.

I have taken shots with the 5D Mark iii that I could not have taken with a point-and-shoot, and it will certainly do things that no other camera I’ve ever owned will, but it won’t do those things on its own. I’m still better off investing in better skills than in more expensive gear.

Photography is one of those hobbies that comes with a never-ending price tag. There is always another lens or another gadget or another camera that you think you need to move up to the next level. I won’t be doing any moving up any time soon, so I’m just going to have to implore myself and others to consider the orange tabby. The shot is mine for the taking regardless of the camera in my hand as long as I make the most of my opportunities.

The camera does and doesn’t matter, but the photo is always dependent on composition and lighting. Get those two things right, and maybe you’ll be worth the price of the next great camera you think you have to have. Get those two things right, and you won’t even need the next great camera.

Try, Try, Try

Today’s photo: Alice accepts that friendship is risky.

Alice accepts that friendship is a risk.

Today’s extra photos:

Self-Portrait of an Introvert

Self-Portrait of an Introvert

The introvert tries again to pose for a selfie

The introvert tries again to pose for a selfie.

Today’s lesson: Whether you succeed or not, just keep trying.

My photo prompt for today was to take a photographic risk. I groaned when I saw this. I knew I needed to concentrate on work today and that I did not need to be side-tracked by spending half the day learning a new camera technique. I decided I would just skip the prompt.

When I came home from work, I took a shot of Alice. This wasn’t a photographic risk. The shot was easy. It was certainly a risk for Alice, though. She barely survived making friends with Jack the Cat. I’m not sure she’ll ever stand up straight again.

I was okay with my Alice shot for the day. I actually like this one. However, it bothered me that I had not really done the prompt. That’s when I started thinking about how uncomfortable I am in front of the camera and how I thought at one point I would do a series of self-portraits as a way of learning some portrait techniques, but I gave up because I didn’t like pictures of myself. A self-portrait then would be a photographic risk for me.

I got out my old camera because I didn’t know how to work the timer on the new camera. I fooled around with it for a bit and took a faceless self-portrait. I decided that was good enough, so I went ahead and posted it on Flickr as my photo for that prompt.

Then I did a few more things around the house and thought about how disappointed I was in myself for taking the easy way out. I picked up my new camera and figured out how the timer worked. I went for a pose that was halfway in between not trying at all to do a real selfie and actually trying to make it work. I don’t know whether my first, second, or third attempt is the most successful today, and it doesn’t much matter to me. What matters is that I learned something I didn’t know before by continuing to try.

That’s what I got out of my day. How about you?

Got that Wednesday afternoon religion

Today’s photo: Alice is a spiritual work in progress.

Alice is a spiritual work in progress

Today’s lesson: One person’s cliche is another person’s tried-and-true.

When I took a picture of Alice on New Year’s Day, I was just taking a picture for that day. I wasn’t trying to set up a month-long or year-long project with a single object. I’m on day 9 and still taking pictures of Alice, though, because more people are asking me how Alice is doing than are asking how I’m doing. More people are asking me how Alice is doing than are asking how my Mama is doing, and I live in Mississippi where everyone asks how your Mama is doing. So here I am taking pictures of Alice, and I guess her day-to-day adventures have turned into a story that I am telling. I don’t know how long the story is or how many chapters it has. I’m just the one taking the pictures. Alice has to have her own adventures. Maybe I’ll go for a month of Alice. If that works, maybe I’ll go for a few more days or a few more weeks.

I’d like to to be one of those people who does a year with one object, but I don’t know if I have it in me. I don’t yet know if I have tomorrow in me. I have no more idea than anyone else does what Alice might get up to tomorrow. I just have some concerns about my ability to keep this interesting.

Case in point: Today’s shot shows Alice in the foreground and a church in the background. The background establishes Alice’s location and suggests the story of what she might be doing or thinking. This is a cliche setup. It’s one I’ve already used several times. The subject is in the foreground. The background establishes the context for the story of what the subject is doing. I’ve done this several times because it works. It’s not all that creative if you use the same setup every day for your shot, though. Same setup. Same subject. New background. I could pull this off for a few days or weeks but not for a year. At some point I have to get a new game.

Anyhow, it’s a cliche shot, and it’s a cliche because it works. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be such a common pattern in photographs.

Sometimes you just have to go with what works. Tomorrow is time enough to figure out something different to try.

In which math is a snug pair of pants

Today’s photo: This time of year the numbers really start to bother a girl like Alice.

This time of year the numbers really start to bother a girl like Alice.

Today’s lesson: Embrace your failures.

I consider this shot a failure mainly because I hated it almost as soon as I posted it. I thought of at least ten other ways I could have gone about this that would have been more effective. Unfortunately, I thought of those ways on my way out the door. The shot was already uploaded to Flickr. It was my photo-of-the-day whether I hated it or not.

That’s okay. The truth is I’ll hate a lot more of my own shots than I will love this year. I tell myself these shots I hate, the one that I am stuck with regardless because there is only so much of me to go around on any given day, are just investments in the process. The only way to get where you want to go is to just keep moving, and the only way forward is through a sludge of self-doubt and fear and disappointment and regret. These are the enemies of creativity, but they are also the building blocks of art. People the world over abandon projects by the millions because they cannot learn to love their own failure. The people who get there in the end are sometimes the people with the most talent, but they are more often the people who just manage somehow to cope with the sludge of their own doubts.

Failure is good. Failure is the sweat equity of creativity. Failure is my friend, or if not my friend, at least a very close acquaintance.