All things must change....

Think about your life over the last decade for a moment. Is there something you’ve done every single day, without fail? I’m not talking about mundane tasks, like cleaning your teeth or doing the washing up, but genuinely creative activities. I bet most people would be hard pushed to think of anything, unless they work in a creative industry or perhaps play a musical instrument.

This November will mark a significant anniversary in my photographic life. Back in 2008 I started a year long photo a day project. Ten years on, I’m still at it. That means for 3652 consecutive days I’ve taken at least one fresh photo and posted it on my blog!

Where did it all start?

I started my Photoblog in December 2007, initially posting sporadically. Over the months that followed I began to share photos more regularly, although not daily.

The first photo I ever posted to my Photoblog, taken at Marwell Zoo. Not great art, but you’ve got to start somewhere!

As a musician I’m used to the concept of practising regularly. To hone your technical and musical skills it’s important to play your instrument as often as possible, and I figured there was no reason why that shouldn’t apply to photography too.

Eventually I slipped into the habit of shooting and posting every day and 8th November 2008 was the the last time I didn’t share a daily photo. I never intended to do a 365 project (shooting every day for a year) but it was something I slipped into, almost by accident!

One year in...

During that first year I learnt a lot of photographic survival skills. Inevitably there were times when I lost motivation, but somehow I always found something to photograph, no matter how mundane. I reached November 2009 and considered whether to stop there. Despite the inevitable ups and downs I figured I’d miss the regular shooting so I simply kept going, with no finish line in mind.

So what did I learn?

As I suspected, my skills did indeed improve with daily practice.

Looking back through my blog, there are plenty of shots from 2008 I wouldn’t dream of sharing now. Today I like to think my photos have more polish thanks to improvements in both my technical and creative skills. Shooting regularly has also led me to try new genres of photography, sometimes with surprising results. Who’d have thought I’d get into street photography, but it’s now one of my favourite genres!

A few years ago I’d never have had the courage to get this close to strangers on the street - now I love street photography!

Along the way I’ve learnt lots of useful practical skills, many of which are useful to all photographers, regardless of whether you’re trying to maintain a 365 habit like me.

Always carry a camera

This one’s obvious when you think about it. Many people do this in any case, with a camera on their smartphone. Despite this convenience I still prefer to use a camera if possible, so I’ve got into the habit of always carrying at least a camera body and one lens. Over the years my camera kit has changed quite substantially, from a Canon DSLR to a much smaller mirrorless setup. This certainly helps when it comes to portability and I no longer have to lug around a huge bag!

I would never have been able to take this photo of Bosham Harbour if it weren’t for my habit of always carrying a camera. Quite by chance I was in the right place at the right time and had my little mirrorless camera with me.

Shooting every day doesn’t need to be time consuming

People often assume that taking and sharing a photo every day consumes a large part of my day. Yes, there are days when I choose to take more time, but it doesn’t have to. For instance, today I took a quick snap of a cosmos flower in our garden, spent a couple of minutes tweaking it in Lightroom. Combine that with writing a little text and posting to Photoblog - all done in no more than 15 minutes. I probably spend longer drinking coffee each day!

Photos can be found anywhere

I’ve been known to photograph all sorts of unlikely subjects to fulfil my daily picture remit, from forks to manhole covers! If you try hard enough, there’s a photo to be found in anything and everything.

There are days when I find myself travelling home from work, pondering the fact that I haven’t yet touched my camera, and something will jump out at me. For instance, on Sunday I noticed the moon as I drove home from a rehearsal, so I stopped to take a photo. A little local knowledge meant I knew of a suitable lone tree nearby so I stopped again further down the road to shoot that. A few minutes spent in Photoshop to combine the two when I got home, and I had a moonrise picture which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t opened my mind to the possibilities as I was driving.

The art of editing

And I don’t mean editing in Photoshop!

Some days I’ll go out for the whole day to take photos, coming home with perhaps hundreds of images on my memory card. As the years have passed I’ve become much more efficient, and ruthless too, when it comes to selecting which of those pictures will be shared on my blog.

When you start out, every picture seems valuable and you’re reluctant to bin anything. As my photographic eye has developed I’ve come to recognise what makes one photo more successful than another. Yes, there will be some pictures that make the cut simply because of the emotional relationship I have with the circumstances surrounding the moment I shot them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you really want to develop you have to learn to be ruthless.

You only have to search Flickr to see people who share fifty incredibly similar photos, all telling the same story. I like to think I’ve moved away from that type of sharing now. Yes, I’ll come back from a shoot with several near-duplicate shots, but I’ll whittle them down to the very best one or two. This stops my audience getting bored and ensures I show just my very best work. I won’t necessarily delete all the rejects, but the world really doesn’t need to see dozens of almost identical meerkat photos!

A pair of courting fulmars from my trip to Orkney in March. I have lots of fulmar pictures, but this one made the cut because of the sense of tenderness between the two birds.

Not every photo has to be great art

Much as I’d love to share a piece of fine art every day, sometimes life just gets in the way. On those occasions I’ll find something that interests me, or perhaps document a little of what I’ve been doing that day.

This has got harder as the years have gone by and I’ve become pickier about the quality of my pictures. Some days I’ll come to the conclusion that I’m hopeless and my pictures are complete tosh. Then I look back to 2008 and see how far I’ve come and realise it doesn’t matter if I have the occasional off day! People often still find quite mundane photos interesting if there’s a story behind them, and sharing your failures can be helpful to others too.

I shared this picture recently to show how I digitise my film negatives. Not great art, but others found it helpful and it sparked quite a discussion on Facebook!

To continue or not....

This has been a difficult decision. At the end of year one I instinctively knew I’d miss it if I stopped there. Each time I reached an anniversary I thought long and hard as to whether to keep going. Five years might have been a sensible time to stop, but I was still enjoying myself so I kept going....

More recently the pressure of shooting every single day has begun to take its toll a little. My working life now consists of many more different elements (music, photography, writing and working for the National Trust to name a few) so I find myself juggling many more deadlines. I still enjoy photography enormously, but there are days, usually when I get home after a whole day of conducting somewhere far away, without a single photo in my camera when my heart sinks. I always find something to shoot though, even if I’d rather flop on the sofa with a cuppa!

Ten years seems a natural time to call a halt on shooting and posting every single day - after all, there are many crimes for which you’d do less time!

Why stop now?

Over the last few years I’ve been working on a long term project, photographing the dozens of churches in the City of London. I’ve really enjoyed this and would like to have more time to devote to projects. Freeing myself from the constraints of shooting something fresh every day will help with this.

The geometric staircase at St. Paul’s Cathedral - part of my City Churches project

I’d also like to work towards my LRPS qualification. For that I need to have a group of ten really strong images to display. Yes, I could dive into my sizeable archive for these, but they wouldn’t necessarily make up a coherent collection. By giving myself a little more free time I can really plan these images and make sure I achieve a better quality than I would if I shot things in a hurry, as I so often do.

Another recent enthusiasm is shooting on film again after a gap of fifteen years. I’ve got a small collection of film cameras I use and I’m really enjoying the results. However, film isn’t as instantaneous as digital. That means if I’m shooting on film I also have to carry a digital camera to take extra photos to share that day. I’m relishing the idea of having the occasional day when I shoot just with a film camera. Don’t worry - I’ll still share the photos (if they’re any good) but it may take a week or two before I get them developed!

A photo from a recent foray into film, taken on an old Olympus Trip 35 from the 1970s

What next?

Fear not, I won’t be disappearing from my Photoblog entirely!

Once I reach the ten year mark, on 9th November, I’ll still be posting new pictures very regularly. I may miss the odd day, and it may be that I don’t necessarily publish images the day they were taken.

I will still carry a camera with me everywhere I go as you never know when a photo opportunity will arise. After all, fortune favours the prepared mind, as Louis Pasteur once said!

Will I ever go back to my 365 project? Never say never - but I think it’s time for a break for now. Nothing in life should remain the same forever, especially not photography!

Half way there...

It's a little over two years since I started my project to visit and photograph all the churches in the square mile of the City of London.  There were once as many as 75 active churches in the city but many were destroyed, either by the Great Fire in 1666 or during the Blitz in World War II.  Today there are some fifty six church buildings left, although some of those are just shells (often used as gardens) or solitary towers.  

St. Etheldreda's Chapel, in the heart of Hatton Garden

During the course of my project so far I've visited twenty eight of them so I'm exactly half way there.  It's been fun getting to know the City of London better and it's been so inspiring seeing the huge variety of architecture among the churches.  

Today I've updated the gallery over on my Personal Projects page with the churches I've visited in recent months.  Please do pop by and take a look and do pass the info on to anyone you think might find it interesting.  I'm planning to create a book once the project is finished, although that may take another year or two!

City of London Churches: St. Margaret Pattens

It's always a pleasure when you rediscover photos you'd forgotten about and today's post is one such rediscovery.  Back in February I spent a day in London continuing my City Churches project, focusing on churches in the south-eastern corner of the city.  Some of the photos from that day remain unpublished so I thought I'd share them here in a couple more posts over the coming days.

St Margaret's is rather dominated by the 'walkie talkie' building from certain angles

St. Margaret Pattens is tucked away, like many city churches, among much more modern buildings.  There has been a church on this site for around 900 years, dedicated to St. Margaret of Antioch but, in common with so many others, its fourth incarnation was burnt down during the Great Fire in 1666.  The current building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1684 and 1687.

Inside I found a remarkably light and airy space, with lots of plain glass and rich, chestnut coloured pews.  The church warden was very helpful and encouraged me to spend as long as I wished there, even suggesting a few interesting details I had failed to spot on my own.

The name of this church may seem curious to those unfamiliar with the history of this part of London.  At the time there were numerous churches dedicated to St. Margaret so 'Pattens' was added to distinguish this one from the rest.  The church is positioned on Eastcheap, an area that was the centre of the pattenmaking trade in the centuries before the streets were paved.  To avoid getting dirty shoes one would wear a pair of wooden undershoes strapped to your soles, thereby lifting you above the mud on the roads.  The tradition largely ceased in the nineteenth century as the roads became cleaner but, to this day, there is still a sign in the church requesting that "women leave their Pattens before entering".

City of London Churches: St. Magnus the Martyr

During my last trip into London to photograph the churches in the Square Mile I worked my way around no less than six churches.  The church I''m featuring here from that day, St. Magnus the Martyr, lay the furthest south, just north of the Thames, on Lower Thames Street.  

Looking up through the foliage at the tower

Although St. Magnus the Martyr is close to London Bridge it once had an altogether closer connection, with its churchyard once forming part of the approach to old London Bridge.

The original church on this site had a lucky escape in 1633 when a careless servant in a nearby house spilled some hot coal ashes, causing a fire which destroyed no less than forty two houses.  Despite the fact that water was scarce, because the Thames was frozen at the time, the church survived unscathed.  Sadly it didn't survive the Great Fire in 1666 and was one of the first buildings to be destroyed, as it stood less than three hundred yards from the bakery in Pudding Lane where the conflagration started.

The clock, a later addition, was presented to the church by Sir Charles Duncombe, then Lord Mayor of London, in 1709.  According to tradition  it is said that "it was erected in consequence of a vow made by the donor, who, in the earlier part of his life, had once to wait a considerable time in a cart upon London Bridge, without being able to learn the hour, when he made a promise, that if he ever became successful in the world, he would give to that Church a public clock ... that all passengers might see the time of day."

Reconstruction of St Magnus' started in 1671, under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren and was largely complete within five years.  The resulting church is really quite ornate and I was torn as to what to photograph when I walked inside, with so many interesting and eye catching details.  I arrived shortly after the Thursday service finished and the aroma of incense was all pervading, adding to the atmosphere created by period shafts of sunlight falling through the windows.

City of London Churches: All Hallows Staining and St. Dunstan-in-the-East

My odyssey to visit and photograph all the remaining churches within the square mile of the City of London has taken a bit of a back seat in recent months.  However, I got started again in earnest last week, with an afternoon spent visiting no less than six churches.  

With help from the Friends of the City Churches website I planned a route around seven churches in the south east corner of the City, carefully avoiding clashes with services and lunchtime concerts.  On the whole my plan worked perfectly, although my visit to the final church, All Hallows-by-the-Tower, will have to wait for another day as the church closed an hour earlier than advertised on their website and was already locked by the time I got there.

My first two destinations were two churches which are somewhat incomplete these days, thanks to parishes combining together and damage caused during the Blitz in 1941.

All that remains of All Hallows Staining

All that remains of All Hallows Staining these days is a tower, although it has evidently been lovingly restored in recent years.  Tucked away, just off Fenchurch Street, it is surrounded by more modern buildings, like many of the city churches, and it's something of a challenge to get a good angle on it.  Its name comes from the church's 12th century origins when the word staining meant it was built of stone, in contrast with the other All Hallows churches in the city which were wooden.

The original church survived the Great Fire in 1666 only to collapse in 1671 because its foundations had been weakened by too many burials nearby.  The church was rebuilt in 1674 but only continued as a place of worship until 1870 when it combined with St. Olave Hart Street.  The rest of All Hallows was then demolished, leaving just the tower which is now maintained by the Worshipful Company of Clothmakers.

From All Hallows I headed south to the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-East which lies about half way between Monument and Tower Hill tube stations. 

The tower of St. Dunstan-in-the-East

St. Dunstan's is another church with medieval roots and, like so many in the city, it was badly damaged during the Great Fire in 1666.  Unusually, what was left after the fire wasn't demolished and rebuilt from scratch but instead it was patched up and a new steeple, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was added between 1668 and 1671.  Unfortunately, by 1817 it was discovered that the walls had been pushed out of alignment so badly by the weight of the nave roof that the entire church was rebuilt once again to make it safe, although Wren's tower was retained.  

The final insult came in 1941 when the church was severely damaged during the Blitz.  On this occasion only the tower and north and south walls survived and it was finally decided that it should not be rebuilt yet again.  Instead the church has been turned into a community garden which is maintained by the City of London Corporation.  The result is a wonderfully peaceful space, with seats to sit and enjoy the architecture or simply to contemplate the world.  In the four decades since the garden was opened in 1971 the planting has matured beautifully and some of the windows are gracefully entwined with creepers and other plants.  There is even a magnificent fig tree inside what was once the nave which I would imagine must be quite productive in the summer months.  

Click on the pictures below to open them in a lightbox and see them larger.

I will share my photos from the other churches I visited in the coming days.  They include a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the church for the parish of Billingsgate and the final resting place of diarist Samuel Pepys.