by Leah Cook
This might sound dramatic, but the CMpro Daily Project has changed my life! For the better. Oh, and it’s done wonders for my photography! I can literally look back to the date I started shooting every. single. day and see little epiphanies here and there. Not to mention, that I have a record of my baby boys’ growth and giggles (and sometimes tears.) It’s something I’m really proud of…because it’s hard to commit to a project this overwhelming. I want to share with you my struggles, the joy, and a few tips that I’ve learned these last 8 months.
I’ve said it before but I could kick myself for not joining Clickin Moms in the beginning of my photo journey, and I’m so incredibly thankful for this community of photographers. Even just viewing images on the Daily Project has been eye opening…seeing new perspectives, watching how others use light and angles has been huge for me. Observing daily snippets from amazing artists really opens your eyes. We all get stuck in our own photo rut – whether personal or professional, but when surrounded by creativity you just can’t help but be inspired.
I will admit that shooting daily is something I totally fell into. Sara Seeton and I were chatting and she started telling me about the buzz surrounding the Daily Project…sadly I had been absent from CMpro and immediately hopped online and looked it all up. Shooting everyday!!? No way…could I do that? Why not! In the beginning I tried too hard. I put some unneeded pressure on myself to get that ‘perfect’ shot and then it just seemed like too much. I kept thinking – why am I doing this? Who is this for? That’s something to ask yourself…not everyone has the opportunity to share their work publicly, but maybe that’s a good thing. If you’re shooting for you, then it’s okay to keep it private. But that’s not me…I like to share! It’s a personal choice for sure. Back to why…when I started it was to be a part of a project with photographers I looked up to and not wanting to give up or back out…but it quickly turned into something for my family. For me! I won’t lie – with the expectation that an image will be up everyday it’s kept me accountable.
In the beginning it helps to have a list. I honestly just took one. day. at. a. time. I didn’t look forward to tomorrow or stress about yesterday’s image. I had to focus on today – what are we doing? What little things can I capture that I haven’t taken a picture yet? Make a list of things you do as a family…or if this is another type of project – macro images, black/white conversions, or if you work daily…client shots! Ask yourself what the big picture of this project is for you and then micro manage yourself. It’s so helpful to have notes to come back to when you need an idea. The great thing for me was that I started to take pictures inside our home. Which is TERRIBLY outdated. There are a couple rooms that I can handle, but mostly I have the ‘when can we change this’ bug…and taking pictures inside has helped me appreciate our home more and forced me to be creative as well. I won’t bore you with a long list of ideas but think basic to start with: brushing teeth, eating, playing games, getting the mail, watching the iPad…build on those! Even if you’ve been at this for awhile, it’s always great to go back and revisit something you’ve missed. Also, don’t be afraid to overshoot in the beginning – I’m a chronic CF-card waster…go through those things like nothing but I have gotten better…my hard drive has made me!
If it gets you started shooting daily, come up with a theme. I have a friend that tried out verbs as her titles (jump, hug, smile, etc)…another just uses one word to describe her image. Sometimes a label can help you take pictures – like an author writing an entire book based on a chosen title. Pick a color theme, use only one room in your place, or choose a mood to portray. Anything goes if it gets you in the habit of trying to accomplish that goal. I didn’t have a theme when I started…except that I just knew it only had to be about my life, and my boys – for the most part that’s been true. There have been a few images that aren’t of them, but that’s okay…it’s still my life and I’m still snapping everyday! I did decide to shoot only landscape sized images – which has worked, except for a couple and I combined them with another image to keep my 4×6 ratio. Something really tricky for me would be to shoot mostly vertical. Next year?
Shooting daily is a part of my day. I know it will happen. Just like the kids will get fed and changed…at some point =) Plan for it, but don’t stress about it. If you have an idea when you wake up – awesome. If you couldn’t come up with anything until 10pm, so be it. About 2% of my daily images are shot before 10am…I am so not a morning person. But maybe you are! Take advantage of what time you are ‘on’ and love. Maybe I have dinner plans out of the house one evening (um, okay maybe ONCE there were dinner plans, but whatever) I needed to make sure to get my daily in (and hopefully posted) before leaving. Or one night I even took the camera out to a fancy restaurant where our supper club met! Oh I have no shame.
The other part of it becoming your routine is how it affects your kids. The frustration level was HIGH in the beginning…”ugh, that’s not what I wanted!!” I had to breathe very deeply. 9 times out of 10, I wasn’t getting the picture that was in my head…little ones have their own agendas. I’ve given out my fair share of fruit snacks as well. It’s fun to think back to the baby just sitting for me – I could have put him anywhere…he stayed. Why didn’t I use that more? Cause now, running is hard to get. And my three year old (2 when I started) has become accustomed to asking ‘mama when are you gonna take my picture? You should take Mae’s (our dog) instead.’ He’s a stinker.
Oh and my husband? I can’t leave him out. Even though he doesn’t appear in lots of my ‘published’ daily pictures, he’s been nothing but supportive. Sure, annoyed in the beginning but now I think he gets it. He’s excited for people to see shots of his kids that his own wife took. Really thinking about that makes me want to cry a little!
I’ve heard time and time again that daily shooting helps keep your house clean. Oh I wish that were the case for me. Yes, temporarily I’ll pick up but I’m not the neatest. I did clean out my fridge the other day for the CMglimpse project on Instagram! This is a fantastic benefit though…and one that your family will love you for (unless you’re making your kids clean their rooms)! What if you’re fed up and can’t stand the mess!? Leave! Take your camera outside…or down the street, to the store! Give yourself an excuse to bring it somewhere. Remember before photography became your job and you carried your DSLR everywhere? Try it again for fun! Nowadays I always have my iPhone on hand, but I do find myself wishing that my big-girl camera was in the bag too…especially if it’s the coveted golden hour.
I initially thought that there was no way I could shoot personal images after a session…let alone editing a session. We all get sucked into our work. Lots of days we love it, but some days it’s really hard and drains our creativity. The cold hard truth is that taking pictures of your own kids after you’ve just been at a 4 hour newborn session is near impossible! Maybe pull an image that you’ve recently taken but didn’t edit. If you have a model release I don’t see anything wrong with sharing a client image that you love…as long as that fits into your personal project. Also I have to tell you that shooting daily has improved my client work – especially when I’m in new homes. I pull from my recent experiences of shooting in low light, using interesting shadows or looking for different ways to tell a story that I would have never seen before. I didn’t realize it was happening until one day ‘poof’ it just came to me and I was so excited…”sure we can shoot in this room with one tiny window and dark walls – no problem!” I’m so thankful that this project has benefited both my professional and personal photography.
I’d consider myself a perfectionist in certain areas (NOT when it comes to cooking) but with photography, I need to get it right. My standards (for my personal work) are most of the time unattainable. I’m very rarely 100% pleased with images I take. Whatever my ‘issues’ are (ahem) I’ve had to let it go. Everyday in fact! See, it’s like therapy! There is a balance that comes with being okay with your work, but not settling…accepting your image for that day, and still striving to push yourself the next. So much goes into something so subjective! Did your kids behave, did you achieve the lighting conditions you were after, was your composition and exposure on? What did you do well (celebrate it!) and what needs improvement? In the end, even if it was an off day, you’ve documented a part of your life.
Oh it happens. It totally happens. All too often! You get stuck. Finally you got in a rhythm…shooting daily had become routine, ideas were coming at you from left and right, your kids were being absolutely adorable and willing little models and then ACK!!! brain freeze. camera block. time out. What now? Well, here is a list that you are welcome to save and pull out if you need it. Things you might not have thought about in the beginning – or ways to approach them.
- Self Portraits…do you dare? Need inspiration? Megan Cieloha comes to mind – simply amazing.
- Look at your images as a whole, what lenses/focal lengths are you using…switch it up from one day to the next… macro on Monday, wide on Tuesday, etc.
- Are you favoring one child? Don’t feel bad, sometimes it’s necessary! School, schedules, teething, moodiness…but try a new baby, your significant other, pet – a neighbor even!
- Low light! Wait for it to get dark and turn all the lights off but one….ooooh yes, wait and crank up that ISO. I read Sarah Wilkerson’s Shooting from the Shadows and had lots of ah-ha moments.
- Have fun with editing…use a new preset or create your own action – sometimes shooting with post processing in mind actually works!
- Observe. Again, I know you have the time to just sit around and look at what’s happening… but try it!! One day when both of my kids were sick, my son and I stood out front and watched the bees and butterflies for a good hour, since we couldn’t leave the house. That’s what I shot! (just a macro of the bee …nothing fantastic but it reminds me of that day)
- What’s your favorite place (Target?) – go there and take a picture of it! (I’m just talking locally, but a vacay does sound nice!)
- Shoot the season – what does the time of year remind you of? When you look back at your pictures will it tell a complete story? Trying to be creative with a holiday or season will really get you thinking. I have one with Santa and it’s so bad technically, but magical at the same time!
- Work those angles…try something new…but,
- If you’re really stuck? Go back to something comfortable. Mine is backlight, low sun, the 85mm opened really wide. That feels like home to me and if I’m stuck, I can shoot that and know I’ll be happy. Who cares if Wednesday wasn’t creative as Tuesday. No one will know and maybe you’ll surprise yourself!
Something that (I’m not sure why) didn’t click in the beginning was the unexpected benefit of having THOUSANDS of images of my kids – bad, poorly exposed, crappy color, crazy expression SNAPSHOTS that are so imperfectly great. I’ll be honest and tell you that I strive to be creative and post work that I can stand behind…maybe not jaw dropping, but something about it is maybe ‘different’ or out of the norm for me (not all of course, but you get the gist.) Honestly though when you look back on albums that your family has you don’t notice the angle it was shot from, that it’s ‘art’ or the color balance…right? You see those relationships that live in your heart, your mom’s poor taste in kitchen wallpaper, and the time you dressed up as Miss Piggy for Halloween (heck yes I did!) I mean – this is the unexpected GIFT that we are giving our kids when we take pictures of them almost daily…memories that they will flip through forever and make fun of their little brother over.
On that note – I do need some tips on organization + printing…going back through all these pictures is not my strong suite!
Wherever you’re posting and sharing your pictures…on the CMpro daily project, Clickin Moms’ picture shares or workshops…even your blog or facebook, there is something to be said about a community that accepts your work…and ultimately YOU. I’ve made friends through this adventure and I really feel that in my heart. I look forward to seeing others’ work, reading comments on pictures I admire, or my own shots and it just feels good that someone else can appreciate what we’re doing. Yes we are all busy, yes we have a million+1 things to do, but with support and encouragement, shooting daily is absolutely possible. On that note – thanks to all my DP friends…especially Susan, what an amazing person you are!!
What will you do with your images when you’re finished? I’m super excited to make a book of mine – it’s not going to be fancy (who has the time…ha!) but it will have everything I shot in there for an entire year. I might curl up with it at night I’ll be so happy. I’ve already printed 5x7s from half a year – which are just sitting on the desk and we flip through them. Love that though! Maybe think bigger and save up for an upgraded lens!! (yes, please!) or take some time off – but personally that scares me, I’m afraid to stop shooting!
So you skipped a day, two days…a week. You haven’t taken a personal picture in over a month. It’s like anything – what you eat, if you exercise…um, both of which I need help with…but enough about dieting. My point is that it’s a choice. If you want to shoot daily then you’ve got to set yourself up for success. Stop beating yourself up for skipping a day, editing an image from earlier in the week, or quitting all together. This isn’t a race or a competition. Remember that we’ve established that this is about YOU – your project. Write out your goals and take baby steps. Take the weekends off, do a project 52, or decide that it’s okay to not even have a pattern! Whatever works for you because there really are no rules. I’m all over the place on this topic – even though I’ve committed to the DP, my upload times are sporadic and these last few weeks I’ve added images and had to post date a few. Not for anyone else, but for me. I wanted them in there as a record that I did indeed shoot daily. Who says that you can’t make a come back? I love that the daily project started in September…the 11th to be exact and I joined on the 12th. This has fostered a laid back approach with the goal to post daily, but no resolutions hanging over your head. Our babies get sick, then we might get it (no!) or you take a trip, have a tragic event happen, or just get in a rut. It doesn’t help to get down on yourself but rather do what you can do.
Maybe shooting everyday (or week) isn’t your thing – that’s fine. My entire point (probably of this post…bless you for reading it!) is to LOVE photography…learn and try new things with this craft that you enjoy, develop your style, make memories for your family, find that creative voice inside you, and be proud of what you can do with a camera + light – no matter if you’re shooting film, using a DSLR, an iPhone, point ‘n shoot…if you’re an experienced pro or total newbie. Find why you love photography…create your own personal project and be excited to shoot. How about tomorrow?…you don’t have to wait until a new year, a new anything…you just have to start.
Thank you for sharing with us Leah! Do you have a daily, weekly, monthly photography project? Tell us a little about your project, even give us a link to it, in the comments below. We’d love to hear about it!
Leah Cook, Texas
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Leah has always had an interest in photography and art but that interest increased when her dad, who has a great eye for photography, gave her her first digital camera. That interest skyrocketed after she quit teaching when her first son was born. When asked about her style Leah says, “my style definitely has a mix of lifestyle + classic elements…I hope to keep things modern but still timeless and I love adding a sense of humor! It took me a while to figure out what I loved and I think that’s part of my style…being all over the place and loving lots of different ‘types’ of photography.” Her style has continued to evolve, especially after the birth of her second son and photographing and posing him daily gave her a great amount of experience and knowledge. Leah currently uses a Canon 5d mark ii and a variety of lenses. She shares a home in Dallas with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. Spending time playing in the yard, taking a long walk, watching a good game, or eating a yummy meal with her family is the recipe for a good day in Leah’s world. She also loves her iMac, iPhone, the DVR, goldfish crackers, wine, dark chocolate, and ranch dressing.