Half-week homework: Commit to 20 great photos this month

Today marks the start of National Photography Month here in the USA. A lot has changed in the field of photography since 1987, when Congress first recognized May as a month-long celebration of the art you know and love, but we are proud to have remained a constant in the community and pleased as punch to be celebrating it for the 33rd time—and the 7th time in two states!

Of course, every month is photography month for us.

As a full month’s recognition suggests, the field has a great deal of depth. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing a wide gamut of content to help you focus on the subject from a variety of angles. We’ll look at terminology, history, purpose, technique, and more. But let’s not push the shutter before there’s film—we’ll start with a technique you can use to control yourself more effectively, which will in turn enable you to use your camera more effectively.

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”

Twyla Tharp

It’s a beautiful myth to which we all fall victim at one point or another: the artist is merely a conduit, and all art is channeled from some supernatural plane of beauty, source of all things provoking excitement in the heart and mind. Whether it’s hopeful delusion or a misleading bout of inspiration, every aspiring creative person has certainly toyed with the idea. Any successful creative person, however, has successfully disabused themselves of the notion and realized that art is hard work. You’ve got to shoot a lot of pictures in the awful to meh range in order to get one breathtaking shot, and sometimes your vision won’t pan out at all.

I’ll get you someday, you dang ducks…

One of the most inspirational photography stories of all time made the rounds a few years ago, when Alan McFadyen absolutely nailed a mirror-image shot of a hungry Kingfisher just about to penetrate a lake. He wasn’t the first to make an image of that description, but he had a vision, and he spent six years taking ~720,000 photos in order to achieve it. (For reference, that’s enough to completely burn out two high-end DSLR shutters and about halfway through a third.)

These examples are based on attempting to get specific shots, of course, but in a more general sense, I’ve always found it to be true that doing anything at all is better than doing nothing, and that—whether shooting or writing—the more I create without inspiration, the more often I’m able to create with inspiration. Experimentation and practice, even in an area you’re not expecting to get particularly good results, tend to be a great workout for that part of your brain, and you’ll find it easier and easier as time goes on, as long as you don’t sit around waiting for the perfect photo to find you.

TL;DR? You can’t rely on inspiration to sneak up on you! Get shooting!

I’ve talked before about the benefits, generally, of setting a goal for your creative endeavors. Now, I’d like to suggest a specific goal: take 20 great pictures this month. They don’t have to all be the best photo of all time, but shoot until you can grade yourself at least a B+. If you can’t get one photo you like per business day over the course of a whole month, you might want to evaluate whether you really enjoy doing it or not!

I’ve done the “take one photo per day for a year” thing before and found it to be incredibly helpful. Days that might have been lost to the mists of time instead left me with cool memories, unexpectedly cool pictures, and more quality time with my wife, family, and friends. Instead of scrolling through memes or otherwise trying to kill time—it just won’t die!—I found myself creating something. Just by setting totally consequence-free obligations for myself, I ended up embarking on elaborate photo quests that simply wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Funnily enough, I never got around to posting the album anywhere to share, but the benefit was more for me than for other people. I have printed some of the photos, and the joy from having a physical creation certainly outweighs any theoretical likes I could have gotten.

Back to the challenge at hand, the way you enjoy the results is entirely up to you. Having a digital audience, I’ll be sharing mine on the Mike’s Camera Instagram, tagged with #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework, and I hope to see some of you do the same. An even better option, since the challenge is to take 20 great photos? Print them!

As I often say, it’s not a real photo ’til you can hold it in your hand. Printing will do a few things for you.

  • Beautify your life.
  • Create a long-term record of your memories (especially if you keep it up—see below).
  • Help you refine your craft. What you like on a screen might not have the same effect in the analogue world, and certain aspects that might not have caught your eye digitally will pop physically.
  • Make you more aware of aspect ratio and how to tell a story using several images arranged in a real-world space.
  • Printing enlargements will show you the weaknesses a photo can have which are not immediately apparent. Many images look great on small, vivid screens but fall apart when enlarged.
  • More rare are those that work in the opposite direction. One of my favorite photos by my wife, Macey, consists entirely of a band of sky, a band of sea, and a band of sand, with nothing obvious as a “subject.” It’s boring small, but printed larger it’s bewitching.

Fortunately for you all, we’re also celebrating National Photography Month with some discounts to get the country printing again! If the idea of making a larger print sounded enticing, we’re offering 16″ × 20″ express inkjet prints for a mere $9.99. Especially if you’ve never made a large print of your work, give it a try. Swamp our lab techs!

An even more special concept is the new Project 240. If you like what making yourself take 20 good photos this month does for you and your creativity, you might want to consider keeping it up for a whole year. We can help keep you on track with your official Project 240 kit. For the price of 240 4″ × 6″ prints (minus 35% if you’re a Smile Club member, of course!), you will receive a punch card for 240 prints (broken up into 12 batches of 20) and a photo album. Each month, stop in and have us print your 20 photos. At the end of the year, you’ll have an album that I can practically guarantee will exceed your expectations. Plus, it’s pretty cool to be able to answer questions like “What were we doing in June 2019?” with instant access to your favorite photos from that month.

So, print, share, or even hoard on your hard drive as a pure self-improvement exercise, but whatever you choose—get those photos!

Happy Photography Month. 😎

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