It’s now three months since I completed my ten year long photo-a-day project, over on Photoblog. Since then I’ve unashamedly taken some time off, although it was a little while before I could do so without feeling guilty! I’m still taking plenty of photos, but it’s very liberating to know that if I have a particularly hectic day, or I’m simply running low on energy, I don’t have to find something to shoot.
Having had a little time to take stock, I’ve enjoyed the process of looking back through a decade of daily photos to see what I’ve learnt. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to share a selection of my favourite photos from the last ten years.
I shared a mere 429 images during 2008 - just a fifth of the number I’ve published in 2018. Of course, I didn’t actually begin shooting something fresh every day until November 2008, but I thought I’d pick a selection from the whole year in any case.
2009 saw me properly into the swing of shooting and posting every day. I’d shoot anything and everything, although wildlife and motorsport were already definite favourites.
So, what’s changed in a decade?
One thing that struck me was the change in the cameras I use. When I started my blog I shot with a Canon EOS 400D - an entry level DSLR. It did what I required of it then, but over the years I gradually upgraded, through faster, more powerful, DSLRs, culminating in a full frame Canon 5DIII in 2013.
Early in 2015 I bought my first mirrorless camera, a Panasonic GX7, and I quickly learned that bigger wasn’t always better. The smaller form factor was liberating and I gradually found myself using the smaller camera more than the bulky DSLR. As of early 2018 I’d ditched all my Canon gear and I now shoot with a duo of Panasonic cameras. They do different things well, so I choose my camera according to what I’ll be shooting on a given day.
Looking through my photos, I suspect most people would be hard pressed to tell which camera was used when - and that’s as it should be. After all photography should always primarily be about the photographer, not the gear used. However, there are photographic genres which demand a particular type of gear and I find the cameras I use now are the best tools for me.
Of course, the biggest change in ten years has been the quality of my pictures. Practising every day has had a very beneficial effect on my skills and eye. Yes, there’s plenty more still to learn, but I would like to think there’s been a distinct improvement in the quality of my pictures.
This was the year where I began to challenge myself a little more. In August I went on a course, with photographer Richard Cannon, focusing on people photography - something I’d always shied away from. Even today I don’t count myself as a portrait photographer, but I do a lot more candid people photography, some of which still stems from that course.
I also made my first forays into airborne action photography, be it aircraft or birds. Both hold their difficulties, but I still feel that birds in flight are one of the greatest technical challenges for any photographer.
2011 saw me take my first real steps in street photography, a genre I enjoy more and more as the years go by. I love people watching and it’s a wonderful challenge to try and capture that extraordinary moment in an ordinary scene. Looking back I can see I still had a lot to learn about candid people photography but I’d made a start!
By 2012 I’m beginning to see more architecture creeping into my output, alongside a whole host of other genres. In the summer I went to two events at the London Paralympics, including the track and field events at the Olympic Stadium, and I loved being able to capture some of the action.
A change of scenery
2013 brought a big change in my working life, as we relocated from Sussex to Essex. Losing most of my school teaching gave me time to explore, and for a long while it felt like one big holiday! Over the years since our big move I’ve gradually built up my freelance work, so I now travel around the country much more than I used to. This has proved very beneficial to my photography as I’m fortunate enough to have a never ending supply of new places to photograph.
This was something of a eureka year for me. I attended a workshop with wildlife photographer Andy Rouse at the British Wildlife Centre, where the main focus of the day was our autofocus skills. As a result of that day I changed my technique, which I feel has had a long term beneficial effect on my work. I also came away from the day with one of my all time favourite images - Frodo the fox giving me a very knowing look!
I also started a new personal project in 2014, which continues to this day. A friend shared some photos of a church in the City of London and this spurred me to do some reading. I learnt that there used to be as many as 75 churches within the square mile of the City of London, although many were destroyed or damaged during both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. Even so, over fifty remain today and I decided to photograph all of them. It’s been a fascinating experience and I still have a dozen or so to photograph before I complete my project. I hope to create a self-published book once I’ve finished, so watch this space for more information when I get that far!
2015 was the year where I started to downsize my gear - mostly thanks to the National Trust! In 2014 I started a new job with the National Trust at Hatfield Forest. Having free access to all the National Trust’s beautiful places offered lots of photographic inspiration, resulting in many photos. Late that year I won the NT Staff and Volunteers photo competition, with prizes supplied by Panasonic. This led to me shooting with a Panasonic GX7 mirrorless camera, particularly when travelling, and I got hooked on the ‘less is more’ ethos of mirrorless cameras. Yes, a large DSLR camera will offer the ultimate image quality, but having the option of using a smaller, lighter camera made me more likely to be ready for unexpected photo opportunities and this is very liberating.
By 2017 I’d been working for the National Trust for three years, alongside my freelance music work. During my travels I’ve visited dozens of NT properties, from nature reserves to stately homes, taking photos along the way. I’ve gradually come to love the challenge of telling the story of places I visit through the pictures I take, and 2017 saw a big increase in the quantity of architecture in my annual output.
This was the year when I finally ditched my Canon DSLRs entirely. January saw the release of the Panasonic G9. I could see this was the camera I’d been waiting for, which would allow me to shoot action - previously the Canon DSLR I’d kept alongside my mirrorless camera had had the edge when it came to speed.
Once I’d bought a G9, there was no need to run two different systems, so my old Canon 7DII went to a new home - with my Dad! I now shoot with a brace of Panasonic bodies (the G9 and a smaller GX8), both of which use the same lenses. This smaller set up is perfect for when I’m travelling and I swap between them, depending on the subject I’m photographing.
Since finishing my prolonged 365 project, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in Amateur Photographer magazine, which was a wonderful way to start the new year!
I’m still taking photos regularly, although the pace has slowed considerably since the start of 2019. Rather than pressuring myself to take photos every day, I aim to have at least one day a week when I take some high quality images. I’ve been focusing more on architecture photography and have plenty of plans for the coming months.
Would I do it again?
Never say never! However, I’m quite happy concentrating on quality rather than quantity for the moment. I think the slower pace has already resulted in an improvement in my photography and I hope this will continue. There are days when I miss using my camera so much, but it’s still always in my bag so there will continue to be unexpected photo opportunities that I grab spontaneously! Here’s to the next ten years….