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2015/05/10

Light Chasing - projects and growth

In the mid-1990s photographer Jim Brandenburg was burning out.  He spent 10 years in newspapers, and 30 years working for the big leagues - National Geographic.  He needed to make a change and get to a point where he was taking images he wanted to take.  So he created a very difficult challenge: take a single image each day for 90 days.

In the old days it was not uncommon for people to take a single image here and there.  Rolls of film in people's cameras could have an entire year or more in those 24 or 36 frames. But Brandenburg is a professional photographer.  He would shoot dozens, sometimes hundreds of images each day.  Even when I was shooting film for the newspaper I would crank out as many as 8 rolls of film in a day (though my publisher did not like to see us using that much film on a regular basis).

Now with digital cameras and iPhones it is like everybody photographs everything, indiscriminately. Bandenburg was going the other way, and doing it on film.  He set his goal to be to only press the shutter release button a single time each day.  No bracketing or exposures, or changing lenses for a different view, and no chimping to see if he got the shot.  This must have taken nerves of steel and in the video about the project he admits he nearly threw in the towel a couple of times.

In the end his project ended up producing a book and a video, Chased by the Light.  It gave him a change of pace and made him reconsider his shooting.

Other photographers I know of have challenged themselves to shoot with only a single lens for a day or a week.  Imagine taking a portrait with a 300mm lens, or trying to shoot sports with a 12mm ultra-wide.


Why do I bring this up? When I worked for the newspaper I never even considered needing a personal project.  Sure, there were times I spotted something and pulled over to shoot it just for myself, knowing that it would never be in the paper, but I always had a reason to be looking to make images.  Since leaving the newspaper I took a break, working on my master's degree.  I continued to pick up my cameras for the school yearbook and for the annual calendar I create as Christmas gifts, but it was not a regular thing.  In fact, it was so irregular that I got rusty.  I found myself having to take time to relearn controls and double check camera settings whenever I pulled out my Nikons.

Christmas time 2013 my old cell phone stopped working and despite not wanting to spend the money for a data plan there really was no good choice for a regular replacement phone.  I decided to stop fighting the system and picked up the iPhone 4s.  It was not new technology, and I was not that excited about it as a phone or as a camera.  For almost a year I had the phone and seldom made any images with it.  Then several months ago something changed and I started looking at the possibilities of using the iPhone, trying a bunch of different apps.  The issue I was having was that I was trying to make my iPhone be my camera - using apps that would make the photos look the same as my Nikon bodies and lenses.  Then I started playing with the Hipstamatic app and it is really got me thinking about images not as reality (something that has been stuck in my head for a long time because of my journalism career) but as an expression of ideas, as art.


In a few weeks I will be having a birthday, summer will start with the Memorial Day weekend, school will be ending, and I feel like I need to push myself in a new direction.  No, I am not going to try to take on the Jim Brandenburg project.  But there are other project ideas out there.  I am planning to do a 365 project - posting a picture a day for a year.

I have not worked out the details completely yet - and it is okay.  I am not talking about taking selfies each day, or only using one camera and lens, or anything like that.  I am not even necessarily going to be able to post the photo on the day I take it - but I will shoot at least one image each day and share the image.

This type of project as potential to be frustrating, getting stuck in a rut, but then again it gives me a reason to make images and hopefully I can work through the ruts and come out on the other side with some great images.

I am going to try using a special web site for the project - but as I said I have not worked out all the details yet, and I may change my  mind.  For now I will be using this site to post the images.
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