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The Daily Practice

Back in October, I did a guest post for shutter sisters and I wanted to put a copy of the text here for posterity.

I’ve had a lot of cameras in my life but most of them were point-and-shoot. Right before my son was born, I decided I wanted the new Canon digital SLR. It was really expensive and I had no photography training at all. I loved taking photos but I didn’t know anything about aperture, lenses, or even the settings on an SLR. After months of pondering, I decided I was going to get it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I knew that was a sign.

Right before I bought the camera, my husband and I went to Venice Beach with his 35mm and he taught me the basics: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I am a computer programmer, so understanding the technical bits wasn’t too hard for me. What I needed to work on is what I call the magic of photography: seeing the light and developing my eye. Over the years, I realized that I was improving but I wasn’t consistent and I couldn’t tell if my better photos were due to luck or because I was getting better at photography.

This is when I started the daily practice.

For the last three years, I’ve been taking photos every single day. Every day. Bar none. Some days it’s photos of my children or backyard and other days it’s more interesting things like views of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge or the redwood trees. I’ll admit that most days it’s flowers. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of flowers. And tens of thousands of photos of my kids. And while the subject matter might be boring to others (and sometimes even for me) it’s done much to improve my photography.

The daily practice means that I can notice subtle changes in light better. I take many of my photos in the same area: my house and its vicinity. So, I am quite familiar with it and I can now notice the slight changes in light due to weather, time of day, or other factors. This has helped me figure out how to pay attention to the light. What different types of light does to the photo. It’s also meant that I can experiment with different shots at the same light and see what happens.

The daily practice means I can focus on the photography more. I am not just grabbing my camera when I am trying to capture an important moment. When you’re trying to “catch” a moment, you don’t always have time to play with the settings in your camera. You are focusing on getting the picture, not optimizing the quality of the photo. Whereas, on many days, I am taking my photos during a perfectly ordinary moment. There’s no butterfly that’s about to fly away. I can slow down and adjust my settings. I can play with the aperture and see the effects of depth of field. I can focus on the photography and not on getting the shot.

The daily practice means I can develop my personal style. I take a lot of photos of my kids. Every night I download these photos and go through them. I notice which shots are technically better than others. But I also notice which shots are more interesting to me. What photo stirs emotions and why. For example, through taking these shots I’ve discovered that I favor closeups. I like photos where my kids are looking down and there’s a hint of a smile or acknowledgment of the photographer but it’s not posed. I favor the right over the left. Small, subtle differences that make my photos mine. Seeing the pictures night after night helps me notice patterns. Notice changes. Improvements.

I know that the idea of taking photos every day might seem overwhelming and too time-consuming but, like most things, the biggest part is showing up. Just getting up and doing it. Starting the habit of carrying your camera around with you. Choosing a special time in the day to snap the photo. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. You can do more focused efforts like choosing a month to specifically address aperture and another month to do portraits only, etc. Or you can just snap something everyday and look and learn from what you get each night. The most important part is to just do it. Grab that camera and take photographs. Again and again and again.

Until it becomes a daily practice.

On a much more personal and practical note, the daily practice has also meant that I’ve captured thousands of our ordinary moments. What makes us who we are and the reality of our daily life. I know that regardless of how great I get at photography, I will cherish this more than all else.

Please share with us one of those ordinary day captures from your own life as we celebrate the daily practice. And if you have any tips, tricks, or insights on keeping up with your own photography practice, let’s hear them!

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