I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve said to myself,

“I should have stood over there.”

“Why didn’t I bring my ISO down?! That could have been a canvas worthy shot!”

“Hello, crooked! Now if I crop it, I will cut off her head. What, was this my first day on the job?”

“I wish my photos looked like…”

When I started my photo project of my daughter in 2011, my goal was to take a “good” photo of her once a day for a year. I simply wanted to create a personal photo book so I could relive the days: the firsts, the lasts, the moments that go by in a flash. It would also make a great Christmas present for her Grandparents!

I “ooooh’d” and “ahhhh’d” over photos I saw on Pinterest and yes… in 2012, I would try to replicate poses or similar scenes with my daughter (on a bed with holiday lights in the background, anyone?). I thought I had to mimic the cute set ups to make my photos perfect. I bought baskets and cute outfits just for my set ups and all of my effort and excitement were squashed with disappointment when I viewed the final photos.

Why weren’t my photos as beautiful as the ones I was seeing online?

I dived into reading tutorial after tutorial found on Pinterest about photography — even during those 3 a.m. nursing sessions. I chose to read articles to keep me from falling asleep over the t.v.

lifestyle photo of girl in her carseat by Marie Masse

Fast forward a year and I reached my goal!! I had picked up the camera once a day to photograph her. Additionally, the growth and confidence that came through this journey was something unexpected. I was comfortable shooting in full Manual and found some editing actions that worked for me. My photos looked like they were taken by another photographer by the end of the first year.

In the beginning, I posted the photos in an album on Facebook with a little caption in a “Dear Kendall” fashion. As the photos added up, I started a blog entitled 365 Days of Kendall. This wasn’t a business blog, but a place for me to continue posting the photos for friends and family to see in an organized way.

While I don’t post to this site any longer, it is incredible to look through and observe the growth. Don’t laugh if you go and browse those from 2011! Some are bad.. really bad. But we all start somewhere, right? The important part is that this project pushed me to improve.

I was thrilled over achieving my one year goal and decided I couldn’t stop. So, here we are, 3 years later and still going strong!

girl checking the mail photo by Marie Masse

As the months went on, I stopped buying prop supplies. Aside from not being able to afford it, I learned that I was drawn to the everyday life photos over the posed set ups. There isn’t anything wrong with posing or set ups; it’s just a matter of taste.

Through this project, I learned what my driving force behind the camera is: life. I really struggled with this at first. When I started to adventure into photographing other families, I didn’t know how to translate. I will fully admit that I jumped into this whole business thing kind of blind. Meaning, how could I shoot clients like I do my own family?

Not putting much thought into it, my first instinct was to try to create photos like the ones I was seeing on the internet. Not copy, but go through the motions I believe happened to create the beautiful, traditional portraiture I was imagining.

We had to scout for a pretty location. I needed to understand posing and have an arsenal of poses etched in my brain. I needed to learn to to give matchy wardrobe tips (says the girl that lives in yoga pants and flip flops). Everything I was doing was not me and it showed! I would walk away from a session never feeling 100% happy with the final images. My poses were stiff, expressions were off, and I felt like I couldn’t do it.

In fact, I would be in mid-session and the clients would be waiting on me to direct them into a pose. They’d look to me for reassurance. The problem was, my mind was blank. I just winged it time and time again. I mean, they weren’t like family photo horror-story-terrible, because I did get the exposure and technical side down. The families were happy with the results.

I just wasn’t loving them myself and they weren’t the images I strived to create.

photo of young girl in black and white by Michigan photographer Marie Masse

In the meantime, I kept up with my personal daily photo project. This is where I am a happy shooter. We added a son in 2013 and it’s been so much fun documenting our family life.

Slowly, I came to realize that my audience was recognizing me for the photos of my children, not for my portfolio of beautiful client photos. I know when you post a personal photo on Facebook, it tends to get more “like love.” At least, that’s what I’ve learned in my own marketing research.

However, I believe it is more than the personal connection to me that people click “like” on my children’s photos. It is the nature of the photos that people are drawn to. It’s the photos of my daughter sneaking into my son’s crib every morning. It’s the photo of her emptying the refrigerator in the middle of the night. It’s the photo of my son learning his army crawl for the first time.

I come alive behind the camera shooting our life. The interaction between my babies, the things we do on our Sundays when my husband is home, you know, what will soon be memories for me. I think that the photos of my children draw out a bit of nostalgia with my audience.

These are the images I want to deliver, but ironically enough, I had no idea until recently… and it is entirely attributed to keeping up with this personal photo project.

black and white backlit picture by Marie Masse

Through this crazy photography project, I have learned a wealth of knowledge that is unmatched by any other teaching that you can just click “Pay Now” for. Yes, there are tons of workshops and guides that will give you valuable tools to grow. However, it is up to you to put in the time, effort, and practice. Here are three things I have learned through my own challenge:

The Obvious

Picking up the camera for just 10 minutes a day will inevitably grow your technical skill. Within 6 months of beginning this project, I understood my camera controls and what they did. Now after 3 years, I can mindlessly work that thing like I am playing a video game!

Vision

There are great artists that come up with brilliant ideas and create art out of those ideas. I envy them! Through this project, I have learned how to master the opposite and so can you.

When I shoot, I am inspired by the beauty that unfolds in front of me. All of that practice has been my biggest asset in learning how to anticipate a moment or reaction. I’ve thrown out my posing guides and shoot from my heart. I don’t believe this would be possible going days on end without picking my camera.

Who I am

My photos were initially created for the wrong reasons. I was creating images that somehow were planted in my head as how they “had” to be. Over time and thousands of photos of my daughter, I was able to understand the difference in a photo I am drawn to and the photos I just think are pretty.

Everyone will learn something unique to themselves and be drawn to different elements of a photo. For me, I am inspired by childhood memories and everyday life. I like the raw, lifestyle type of images with my own photo-journalistic twist.

Without this project, I wouldn’t have discovered this very powerful piece of information yet. Once you know why you love an image and you start shooting from your heart, you will become a stronger photographer.

baby drinking bottle picture by Michigan photographer Marie Masse

I believe to the core in doing some kind of a personal project. Whether you participate in challenges with industry vendors or go all in with a 365 daily photo project, DO SOMETHING. Make the commitment to hold yourself accountable for your own growth.

Believe me, there are many days where the camera feels like 1,000 pounds and I’m not ashamed to snap a few photos with my iPhone instead. If you browse through my project, it is very apparent to the days I feel like shooting and the days that I pick up the camera just to say that I did.

It’s totally fine to have a lazy day as our brains need a break. As we all know, especially in photographing children, that when you try to force the shot to happen, it often ends in frustration. It’s okay to walk away and take a break.

The point is to regularly dedicate some time to try in the first place to gain a stronger vision. You will slowly stop relying on setting up a scene and directing to actually seeing an organic moment to shoot all on its own.

I still beat myself up over what I could have done differently to achieve a better photo. I get butterflies when I send galleries to clients. I believe that will never go away. The confidence alone I’ve gained through this project has been amazing. Picking up your camera for just 10 minutes a day is more powerful than you can imagine.

You don’t have to run to your computer, transfer the images, and spend all night editing or blogging. It’s just about making that effort to shoot!

This force of habit has trained my brain to unconsciously be on the prowl for the next incredible photo. How often have you been driving and you see a beautiful spot and think of how great it would be to put your child there and snap a photo?! It happens all the time.

Now, with a photo project, you can push yourself to dig deeper and truly see the beauty right in front of you in any situation.

bath water photograph by Marie Masse

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