Many of you will be aware that back in 2007 I started a photoblog. I posted intermittently for a while then, towards the end of 2008, I decided the time had come to make a commitment and I determined to post at least one new photo each day for a year. It didn't matter what I posted but the photo(s) had to have been taken that day and, wherever possible, shared on the day they were created. Inevitably there were times when it wasn't possible, for instance when I was away from home and without an Internet connection, but I stuck to my plan and religiously photographed something new each day.
As a professional musician I am used to the discipline of practising one's skills regularly in order to prepare for performances so getting into the habit of practising my photography every day wasn't so difficult. My peripatetic lifestyle, with music-related work throughout the UK, helped too as I was always visiting new places and finding fresh photographic inspiration. Who knows if I would have coped so well if I'd had a nine to five job in the same place every day?!
A year later I completed my self imposed mission to shoot and post every day and considered where I should go from there. Despite the challenges, I'd enjoyed myself and learnt a lot along the way. I knew deep down that I'd miss it if I stopped shooting so regularly so I made a decision to continue for as long as I enjoyed it. Fast forward to almost six years later and I'm still going! I know some of my friends think I'm crackers and others can't understand why I put myself under this pressure. No doubt some think I could/should be spending my time doing other 'more important' things!
However, the truth is it often doesn't take me long to seek out and take my daily photograph. As the years have gone by I've become better at sniffing out subjects and learning the best way to tackle them. I always have a camera with me, no matter where I go, so if I see something I just have to photograph on the spur of the moment I can do so. When I can I use my digital SLR but if I have too much else to carry I take my little Panasonic 'point and squirt' camera with me instead. If all else fails, I have been known to even use the camera on my iPhone. There are regretful occasions (thankfully infrequent) when I reach the end of the day without having shot a single photo and in that situation I've become more creative at making images from the most unlikely of subjects - for instance, an arty, abstract shot of a kitchen fork! Alternatively, I have a 'bits and pieces' tin, filled with interesting objects I've picked up over the years for just such rainy days.
One thing that has struck me through the years though is the pressure I put on myself to create really worthwhile, beautiful images. When I started this project I was often grateful just to find something that 'will do' for days when I've been busy. However, as the years have gone by I've become much more self-critical about my work and less willing to make do with a substandard image. Of course there are still days when I resort to photographing our cat, Lucy, because she's sitting there looking photogenic and I've had no chance to photograph anything else that day. But even then I'll do my best to make it an artistically worthwhile photo rather than just a grab shot.
The times I'm particularly aware of my increasing self-criticism are when I'm tackling a type of photography I once found really difficult. I went through this process when I first started photographing things that move. I began with cars on a motor racing circuit. Yes, they move quickly but, in general, they take a fairly predictable line on each lap which is moderately easy to track. From there I attempted shooting aircraft in flight. Still a pretty large subject, but moving much more erratically and in three dimensions too. When I first attempted this at the Goodwood Racing Revival in 2008 I found it inordinately difficult and wondered if I'd ever get the hang of it. Practice paid off though and, in time, I began to hone my technique. The next step was to photograph birds in flight. Immediately aircraft felt like a piece of cake to shoot by comparison - at least you have a larger target to aim at! Once again, I've practised hard and, while I don't profess to have the technique complete nailed, I get a lot more hits than misses these days.
You'd think I'd be happy at this stage, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong...
It didn't take me too long to become reasonably proficient at the technical stuff. I've always had a rather mathematical brain so f-stops and the like weren't too hard to get to grips with. However, I never had a particular aptitude for art at school and had no real understanding of the concept of using light to create artistic effects. When I first got into photography I was happy just to get things in focus and composed in a moderately satisfying way. Light wasn't necessarily something I particularly considered, aside from the matter of whether there was enough of the stuff to take my shot! As the years have gone by I've grown to notice the sculptural effect light has on things and the way it can change the photos I make from ordinary to extraordinary. I now find myself noticing the way light falls on buildings, illuminates trees and shapes everyday objects as I go about my travels, often thinking about how I might photograph the scene, even if I can't stop at the time. I also notice the way scenes are lit in TV shows and movies now and the way this can direct the viewer's eye. While I think this newly found awareness of light has had a positive impact on my images the down side the fact that I've become much more picky about the way my photographs look.
I've spent the last couple of days at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, photographing their autumn air show. Whereas a few years ago I would have been content to take a photo of an aircraft in flight that was in the frame and sharply in focus I find myself now looking for that added element of the light. A plane shot against a bright sky can appear as a graphic silhouette if the angle of the wings is right. However, more often than not it just looks underexposed and dull. If the light catches the underside of the wings at the right angle though it can have a magical effect, sculpting the carefully drawn lines its designer created. This weekend the light was far from kind, with never ending pale grey, cloudy skies and very little sun to speak of. A deep blue sky and some sunshine would have made my life easier. A dark, foreboding, stormy sky would have been even more dramatic, especially if we could have persuaded the sun to break through to illuminate the aircraft.
Sadly, for ninety percent of the time this was not to be. Instead I found myself tracking the planes across the sky with my finger poised on the shutter button, waiting for them to cross the one dark piece of sky or to pass through that single elusive ray of sunshine, at which point I would let rip at full speed! There were eureka moments though when the weather gods were kind and I found myself faced with the perfect combination of light and shade, not least of all when the last remaining airworthy Vulcan bomber took to the skies. It's moments like these that make you want to leap in the air, shouting, "Yes!"
So, do I feel I have improved as a photographer? Undoubtedly, yes. When I look back through the photos I took in the early days of my photoblog there are a few little gems that I'm still proud of but they're few and far between. However, I do think my more recent work is better, both technically and artistically. I am, of course, my own worst critic and there are occasions when friends say to me how fabulous a particular image is and I think to myself, "If you think this is good you should see the work of photographer xxx - that's so much better!" I guess this is a very healthy frame of mind though, as seeing the inspiring work of others undoubtedly spurs me on to keep improving my own skills and vision. It'll certainly be interesting to see where the next leg of my photoblog journey takes me....