Building visual muscle

BitDepth#974 originally published on February 03, 2015

Woodbrook park swing. Day 20 of the 2015365 photography project. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
Woodbrook park swing. Day 20 of the 2015365 photography project. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The biggest challenge for anyone involved in creating work is not coming up with ideas; it’s thinking inventively about the process.

Commercial considerations, daily routines and most lethally, success, all contrive to kill adventuring by encouraging replication.

Iteration is often confused with innovation as the whole i2i grant funding initiative so amply demonstrates, and the joy of discovery, so tightly bound into the prospect of dismal failure is often the first casualty of that error.

Thinking creatively without embracing the potential for humiliating disaster is not thinking creatively at all.

Of late, I’ve been reconsidering my approach to my work, the commercial assignments, the editorial work, even my personal projects.

The one thing that they all have in common, regardless of how I rethink and reengineer the techniques I use, is that they are a driven by purpose.

They are images with a destination, a final use and an intended audience that I hope to please, or at the least, interest.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Pointless photographs are pervasive these days, with an overabundance available on social media channels, so getting someone’s attention with an image really should begin with an idea that’s suitably limned by robust technique and attention to craft.

But is that all a photograph should be? What if an image is unharnessed from specific purpose and examined on its own, a picture for photography’s own sake, an image that justifies itself with the details of its content.

By mid-December last year, those were the questions I wanted to answer when I began putting pedal to the metal for the 2015365 project, which began quietly on January 01 with an image captured in the first hour of the new year.

From the start, I’d set myself some specific guidelines for the images. Each day, I’d take five photographs specifically for the project, selecting one for posting.

At first, I imagined that I would shoot with any camera I happened to be using, but as it turned out, I’ve shot all the photographs with my phone, a Samsung S4 and that too has become a part of the experience.

The S4 is never far away when a picture possibility presents itself and the restrictions of the medium itself present their own opportunities and liabilities.

I normally shoot in manual mode; a habit formed in the first 20 years of my career when I didn’t own a camera with any other option.

Now I’m learning what camera phones do in full auto and how to photograph with that in mind.

I normally shoot with a zoom or a very wide prime lens, so a fixed focal length lens gives me a very specific window for my images, the equivalent of 31mm on a full-frame digital camera. It’s close to my preferred focal lengths of either 20mm or 40mm, but not quite the way I tend to see things normally.

In full sunlight, I can only see the rough outlines of what I’m photographing, so getting a feel of how the camera sees the world when I’m guessing at framing is also something that I’m getting used to.

Even posting the images called for their own strategy. I was yea close to making a debut on Instagram with the project, but I don’t like the idea of having a format for an image thrust on me. I may have shot square format film for years, but the idea of doing that digitally just felt wrong.

The work is being posted to a subsite of my main domain on a WordPress gallery and pushed out to social media from there.

It’s not the best or even the smartest way to court public opinion on a project, more like throwing a dart than discharging a shotgun, but the measured approach suits the slow evolution of the imagery and the growth of the collection.

Daily photography exercises aren’t new by any means, and the web is littered with other photo 365 projects. Most are efforts by new photographers who are keen to get into a rhythm with their hobby.

Like many of the resources available to everyone with a camera today, there are ideas among them that experienced photographers can explore to their benefit.

It just demands a willingness to set aside regular rhythms and key into a new beat.