Nice Lens, Get in the Truck

Lessons from a Daily Photo Challenge

10 things I learned from the daily photo challenge. 


I started the daily photo project to challenge myself to take a photo a day interesting enough to post online. While this project was far more challenging than I anticipated, it was also very rewarding.

I generally find top-10 listicles annoying, however, I am willing to make an exception in the name of efficiency. For those who hate lists, sorry – and for everyone else, here are the 10 things I learned from my daily photo challenge:

Macro photography takes a lot of finesse

The shallow depth of field is both a feature and a challenge. Pinpointing a focal point and a close consideration of the backdrop are essential to creating a good composition. Macro photography also gives me an opportunity to view objects much closer than I typically would – revealing the unexpected in the otherwise ordinary.

macro photography

Expect the unexpected

Nine out of 10 times I would have a photo-worthy subject in mind, whether it was a decrepit building or a picturesque bridge. But sometimes, because of lighting, people or just serendipity, the proposed subject turns out to be less of a feature than the unexpected find. A fish stranded on a rock, a lone plant unfurling in the forest, or a light bulb embedded in a tree are all lucky captures.

macro photography

From the extraordinary to the ordinary and back

Photographer Oliver Curtis points his camera in the opposite direction of some of the world’s most photographed landmarks to capture an equally gripping image. Instead of another image of Tiananmen Square, Curtis turns his camera to the spectators taking photos of the mausoleum. While Greenville, SC doesn’t have subjects as epic as the Pyramids of Giza or Christ the Redeemer, it does have some quintessential icons that are oft photographed. Take for example Taylors Mills – a one-time factory for bleaching, dying and printing fabrics that is inherently photogenic. Hoping to avoid a cliché, I took a more abstract approach to a close up of peeling paint on a window.

peeling paint

Nice lens, get in the truck

There is no way around it; I am going to be conspicuous. Whether I’m parked on the side of the road taking a shot of an abandoned mill, or walking in the woods with a telephoto lens, I am going to get noticed, and someone almost always comments about the size of my lens (usually with a “wow, that lens is bigger than you are”). Clearly I’m not invisible so instead I’ll have to come up with a few good one-liners.

photographer

Not every day is going to be exceptional

While this project was supposed to be fun (mostly), I took it on with the same commitment and dedication I would any other assignment. With that comes a certain level of stress in my need to deliver on expectations. However, not every day is going to bring exceptional results – sometimes a play in light, a long shadow or a single flower will have to do.

tulip closeup

Elements of Style

I approached this project with the desire to expand my photography skills and revive my curiosity. I was also hoping to help define a style. It is so much easier to find a market as a ‘landscape photographer’, ‘portrait photographer’ or the illusive ‘lifestyle photographer’. Instead I find myself wandering the landscape, capturing anything and everything that appealed to me. There are, however, a few elements of style that keep repeating themselves. Patterns, shadows and light play feature prominently in my images.

snow covered steps

Learning the ropes, again

I have been shooting a Canon DSLRs for more than 14 years, and you would think I would have figured out all the ins and outs of the camera. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve always prided myself on being what I call a guerrilla photographer (Guer-rilla, not Go-rilla) for the impromptu nature of my captures. This meant that I didn’t always pay close attention to the camera’s settings, preferring the ‘f-8 and be there’ approach. But when it comes to macro, wildlife, or come to think of it, any sort of photography, closer attention to the camera settings has some big benefits. The dials on my camera certainly got a good workout.

red shouldered hawk

Discovery

Every abandoned building, rusting water wheel and shuttered mill has a history that has brought me a deeper understanding of my surroundings. Photography for me is also a way to document the seemingly insignificant relics of the past that are being bulldozed to make room for a more monotonous landscape. There is nothing wrong with modernity, however, by erasing these run-down relics, we also condemn them to our cultural amnesia and slowly unravel a rich tapestry of knowledge. The Primitive Baptist church down the road reveals the cultural significance of its inception, the shuttered textile mills a significant reminder of the division between rural and urban America. To date, two of the buildings I’ve photographed have been dismantled – and that’s just in one month.

abandoned textile mill

Falls, falls and more falls

While I’ve always loved waterfalls, I’ve also found them to be particularly challenging to photograph. How do you capture the magnificence of a waterfall in an image without it becoming cliché or boring? Confronted with so many waterfalls, I’ve found that a steady hand, a pair of rubber boots and long exposures are the answer. The challenge is to take something exceptionally beautiful and capture it in an enduring image.

rainbow falls

Get out there

I confess, this project has also challenged me to get out there – to stretch out beyond my comfort zone in terms of photography and creative growth. As this challenge comes to a close, I notice that there are some elements in my photography that are strikingly absent. None of my photographs taken this past month have any people in them. This is really ironic since the majority of my past work has included people in them. Perhaps my next challenge is to shoot more people.

rainbow falls

Link to the Daily Wander page for a full list of photos from the daily challenge project.

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