IT’S time to bring on a new year, and bring on a new photo project.
If you have an iPhone in your pocket, there’s good news.
You own the world’s most popular camera — or at least you own the most popular camera on Flickr, the photo sharing social media site which boasts more than 112 million users who share 1 million photos a day.
The iPhone doesn’t have the biggest sensor in the smartphone camera world but it is the smartphone that, more than the others, inspires people to snap and share photos.
There is an old saying in photography that the best camera is the one you have with you — and if you have a smartphone, you probably always have it with you.
That means, or at least should mean, that taking a picture every day of the year should be a snap. Well, a lot of snaps. But for anyone who has tried, and failed, to complete a year-long photo project, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Motivation wanes, life gets in the way of ambitious projects, and at some stage it seems easier to stop than to continue.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The new year of 2016 is the perfect chance to tackle a year-long photo project. Forget about the typical challenge of a 365, with the leap year this is your chance to do a 366.
The rules of a 366 are simple: you take a photo a day every day of the year. The key thing is that you each day you have to take a photograph. If you start your week by taking five great photos on a Monday, you just choose one picture for your project and then take another photo the next day.
Sure, there are no 366 police to make sure each photo was taken on a different day — but that’s the challenge you put on yourself.
Why do a 366? Looking for a photo each day will make you a better photographer. Recording each day with the simple act of taking an image becomes a journal to look back on. And taking a few minutes to think creatively is something that can be hard to do at the time but rewarding in retrospect.
There are plenty of lessons you’ll learn along the way. Having done three 365 projects on an iPhone, and about to embark on a 366 iPhone only project, here are my 10 tips to get you through the year.
1. Share and share alike: Pick a way of journalling your photo project and stick with it. Plenty of people like the ease of Instagram or the simplicity of a 365 app where no one sees your photos except for yourself. Then there’s Facebook, if that’s your thing. Whatever you go with, let your friends know so they can support you and give you feedback. My favourite photo site is Flickr — the interface is not perfect but you get 1TB of free space for photos and it is one of the few social media virtually entirely free of negativity.
2. Composition counts: Sure, it’s just a smartphone but a camera is a camera and the rules of photography still count. Any 365/366 project will have plenty of average images — but with each image you take you should think about the basics of good photography and composition. is the image lined up on the thirds thirds? Are there leading lines taking the eye into the photo? Think about the light and the story you’re trying to tell.
3. Take it everywhere. Really, everywhere: Doing a 365 on “just” an iPhone gives you an advantage over someone using a conventional camera. Sure, they have a range of lenses you just can’t used but the iPhone is easier to carry. If you’re going for a run, take it with you. Heading to the beach, take it with you — although first you might want to put it in a tough and waterproof case. The morning dog walk could make for a great picture — particularly if the light is right. And take a picture early in the day just in case. There will be some days when that quick shot of the train station on the way to work is all you’ve got — but you only need one picture and that will do the job.
4. Shoot low: The best lesson you can learn about iPhoneography is to play to your strengths — and the strengths of your smartphone camera. The iPhone camera is not great at everything but it is great at some things. Low angles work really well with the iPhone. Turn your iPhone so that the camera is as close to the ground as possible and crouch or lay down so you can see what you’re doing. Sure, you’ll look a bit silly but the perspective you can get in your photos is worth it.
5. Shoot reflections: The iPhone’s other strength is in shooting reflections. When you’re walking through a city, look for shiny walls that can give you a different perspective on a city scene. Handrails can also create reflections. If you combine tip number four on shooting low, and look for puddles, you can find photos that other people will never have even noticed. It’s a similar story with shadows, that can be emphasised by using the Drama setting in the free Snapseed app.
6. Think small: If you’re out and about doing interesting things, finding a photo is easy. But some days you’re stuck at the office from the dark morning of a winter’s day to the dark evening — and you have nothing but artificial light on an uninspiring scene. It has taken me three 365 projects to realise this, but the best friend you can have in an iPhone-only 365/366 is an Olloclip macro lens. There is a range of Olloclip lenses that slip onto your phone, and each has it’s strengths. If macro is your thing, and with an Olloclip it should be, it’s hard to go past the Macro Pro lens that has a 7x, 14x and 21x macro lens. Even on your busy days, grabbing a piece of jewellery or even a utensil out of the kitchen draw can make for amazing macro photos.
7. Involve the family: Whether your new year’s resolutions is to run a marathon this year or do a year-long photo project (or, like me, both), you will need the support of your friends and family. Yes, they’ll groan and roll their eyes when you stop yet again to take a picture of something random. But if you involve them, by getting their help on choosing your picture of the day, then you’re more likely to finish the project.
8. Filter but focus: Some iPhoneographers love to spend hours creating arty masterpieces using a combination of app effects and filters. But that sort of processing takes time — and time is not always your friend when you just need to get your image for the day done and dusted. Try out a few apps and discover your “go-to” processing techniques you can use for most photos. This year, most of my images were processed just with the exposure, lighting and filters of the native iPhone camera app with Snapseed my go to for special effects such as the Drama and HDR effects. Shoot, tap, tap, tap of processing and share it online. Done and dusted is the best feeling in a year-long project.
9. Like Santa, start with a list: Some days you will have no idea for a photo — it’s a fact everyone who does a 365/366 faces. On those days, consult the list of ideas you started with. Write down some themes, like black and white or street photography. Before you even start the year, write down ideas. Think of colours — then try and find a picture with an object that is red, black or whatever. Act like a tourist, and go to those parts of your town where everyone has their camera out. There are groups out there, such as on Flickr, that have weekly themes that can inspire you. If you see two things that make a great shot on one day, keep one of them in mind to revisit on another day. Don’t be afraid of using the same subject regularly. One Flickr friend created one terrific photo series by taking a pair of very shiny red stilettos everywhere she went and then created another terrific photo series by shooting old VWs whenever she spotted them. Another Flickr friend made an alphabet of images with a food item for each later. A third Flickr mate got an Advent beer carton and turned each beer into an interesing image. Remember what is “typical” to you is unusual to someone else — a walk along the riverbank might just be your normal thing but to someone on social media that’s a beautiful scene. A day of the beach is a dream come true to those stuck in northern winters so look at your photos through the eyes of someone else. Be willing to experiment. A bad picture doesn’t mean you didn’t try and so long as you have a picture for the day you can mark that down as a success.
10. Find your friends: Your best way to succeed in a photo-a-day project is to commit to a project where other people are doing the same. I have found a bunch of 365 Flickr friends who comment on my photos with helpful suggestions, encouragement and understanding when the best photo I’ve come up with has been truly average. Encouragement is a two-way street with a year-long photo project on social media. If you take the time to look at other people’s photos, they’ll probably look at yours. And the best way to learn is to find a bunch of people who, like you, are looking at making themselves better photographers one day at a time.