It’s not a new idea for a photographer to capture and publish a new photo every day for some period of time. It’s known as a Photo A Day Project and it’s a wonderful exercise that forces one get behind the lens more often and to try things they might normally not. Most photographers take this as a New Year’s resolution, publishing one new photo every day for a year.
I decided to take on a thirty day photographic challenge instead. Thirty day challenges are less cumbersome, more attainable, and don’t have the drudgery of committing an entire year associated with them. Another reason was the fact that in the spring I would be leaving on a six month bicycle tour. While I would certainly get behind the lens every day on that tour it was doubtful that I would be able to give the challenge itself my full attention and publish every day.
I didn’t start this challenge in earnest until the second week of January. After the first month was up I decided I had enjoyed the challenge so much that I would carry it an additional two weeks closer to my departure. I did not hold myself rigidly accountable if I happened to miss a day here or there. That would simply suck the fun out of it. Over the course of the challenge, other events including a family health emergency and a planned bicycle tour in Big Bend Ranch State Park contributed to more missed days. Occasionally, lacking a compelling photograph for that day, I dug one up from the archives.
Having arrived at the six week mark I’d amassed thirty published photographs which are included below. I also wrote sometimes lengthy captions which I have included as well.
One of the first things I did was visit a local playground to play with perspective and depth of field on rusty playground equipment.
Then I decided to do some macro work with the local flora, which bloom here even in January.
This time I just shot whatever was close at hand in the apartment. This ended up turning into a study of light and reflections on glass.
Another day I hopped on my bicycle and ended up in a local park with some wonderful live oak trees dripping with character and dramatic light.
This day I decided to shoot nothing but reflections. I chose this shot of my reflection in the rusting window of a disused State of Texas building. I loved the colors and mood of this one.
My next choice was one of the more interesting things you’ll find in the local graffiti park. It’s a very interesting area where residents go to spray paint anything within reach and is a constantly evolving spectacle of urban art.
I played with mood and storytelling this day. A macro shot of my passport on a topographical map did the job nicely.
I spent some time at a friends ranch in rural Texas and came away with a shot of one of the horses they keep.
Another shot from Rhelaxed Ranch. Shot on the same day as the horse so I technically broke the rules here, but oh well. I’m making up the rules as I go anyway.
This day I dug one up from the archives. A pedestrian bridge I crossed in Boulder, Colorado while riding the TransAmerica Trail in 2014.
Next I tried some out-of-focus work at night with downtown Austin as the subject. This one was a long exposure on a tripod from the top of a parking ramp.
Another one from the archives. This was also from the TransAmerica Trail, shot somewhere in Kansas in 2014.
“In the Japanese art of Kintsugi, broken items are repaired without concealing their prior damage. By filling cracks with gold and silver, for example, the repair is incorporated into the aesthetic of the item making it part of the objects history. These items are thus considered to be more beautiful than the original.
Embrace your past rather than trying to hide it. Acknowledge your flaws and move on. Fill your scars with gold and be more perfect for it.”
Next I decided to try shooting just shadows. I captured this compelling image of shadows on an overhead trellis.
Another from the plains of Kansas in 2014.
“The nature of happiness is self abandonment. Not clinging. The termination of the desire to change what is and never being completely satisfied with the result. When one abandons gratification in external things, and ceases to attempt to grasp and control them, true happiness is found.
Simply be. Just live. Love. Neither expect nor require anything in return. Therein lies true peace.”
I also tried my hand at so called “lifestyle” photography. This is a shot of the tools I use while home and abroad to make my daily cup.
Another archive shot from the second time I rode the Oregon Outback with David and Sanjiv. Such a wonderful route that I might do it a third time.
“To live a life that is guarded and planned and completely under control is to stop living before you die. There is no joy to be had in predictable outcomes. Thus we Adventure. Throwing ourselves out, further and further, with no certainty when or how we might return.”
A trip to Dripping Spring Distillery offered some great textures and manufacturing equipment to photograph.
A stunning shot of Multnomah Falls, taken after I finished the TransAmerica Trail in 2014. My good friend Hal took us up to Mount Hood and I grabbed this shot on the way there.
“I sometimes consider how radically different my life would be without bicycling and a love of the outdoors. If it weren’t for an incredible series of events I wouldn’t have ridden the DALMAC in Michigan, wouldn’t have decided to ride my bicycle from Virginia to Oregon, wouldn’t have met Hal who remains a friend to this day, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit these incredible falls with him in the Pacific Northwest. Every one of those choices set even more events in motion that led to other wonderful adventures and friendships.
Virtually every one of these events were the direct result of taking risks and doing things that felt pretty uncomfortable at the time. How easy would it have been to talk myself into waiting until next year? To watch a movie or have a beer instead? To choose the easy and comfortable instead of the difficult and rewarding? How diminished would my life be for it?
If you have always wanted to do a thing and the chance presents itself, do not pass it up. Always do the thing. It might be uncomfortable. It usually represents real work and an investment of time to make it happen. You almost always have to give up something in exchange but I promise you this, you will never regret the decision.”
This day I decided to try photographing around the many holding ponds in Austin, Texas. They offer good choices of reflections, plant life, wildlife, and dramatic colors.
“What does it mean to live an intentional life?
I realized several years ago that I was living a life that I hadn’t actually decided I wanted to live. I was doing what I was supposed to do. Big house full of all the things you fill big houses with. Demanding job. Multiple cars. Debt. The odd hobby here or there. It finally dawned on me that I had never actually decided that I wanted any of those things in my life. I was doing them because, well, thats what you were supposed to do, right? I was not living intentionally.
Put simply, living intentionally means knowing why you do the things that you do and perhaps more importantly why you don’t do the other things. I’m talking about everything here. From what you do with the first hour of your day to what clothes you choose to wear, what media you consume and what you eat every day. Did you decide to go to bed at two AM last night or did it just happen that way? It means living life with your eyes wide open. It means being able to answer, at any given moment, exactly why you are doing what you are doing and how it fits into your plans for your own happiness.
Whether you choose to eat fast food every day or grow all your own produce in your back yard isn’t the point. Big house, small, or no house at all. It doesn’t actually matter. What does matter is that you engaged in the process of actively choosing those things for reasons that are well thought out and wholly your own. That you made them actively rather than passively. That you are living intentionally.”
Next I decided to take full advantage of the golden hour and woke before sunrise, wandering around and capturing sunlight on and through various objects.
“I do my best thinking in the morning. Usually over a cup of coffee. Perhaps it’s the light or the fact that everything is waking up in the world. It’s a stimulative time of day.
Today I consider old things. Incomplete maps and dusty, cracking books. Cavernous barns fallen into disuse. Rusty locks and wooden boxes with shining secrets.
I feel like the older I become, the more I appreciate old things. They have rich history and slow character. They have a story to tell that isn’t always made of words. Sometimes when I visit an abandoned house I think of someone who lived there laughing. Just laughing on a sunny day. That’s a story of a sort, I think.
Perhaps it’s the increasing transience of nearly everything we create today. Maybe I’m fond of old things because impermanence is the modern paradigm. Before the first disposable razor was released in 1901 the idea of buying something, using it, then throwing it away to buy a replacement was unheard of. A good straight razor was something to be passed on to your children. Today, planned obsolescence is everywhere.
Something inside me rails against that. Old things are more than the sum of their parts. They teach us lessons. They connect us to the past and inform our present. They have meaning and the feeling of permanence even if nothing is ever truly permanent.”
On another day, during the golden hour, I finally captured a shot I’d been considering for over a week. The sweeping curves and subtle shading of this band shell in a local park struck me as incredibly beautiful.
Another early morning shoot allowed me to capture this gorgeous image of birds in flight, with a lovely sunrise shading the sky from grayish blue to burnt orange.
Dipping into the archives again, I found this shot of Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.
More playing with light and shadow produced this image that I can only describe as ‘cold’. Winter light through tree branches.
I snapped this one on the way out of the building inside a stairwell. I loved the sterile, cold quality of the light from this fluorescent fixture.
“You know those people who tip up the hose at the gasoline pump to get every last drop out? I sometimes wonder if they live their whole lives that way.
We each have an estimated 30,000 days in our lives. Think about that for a minute.
That might seem like a lot. The reality is that the first 7,500 days are spent basically just growing up. The last 2,500 days at least are, well, let’s just say you probably won’t be backpacking Europe in those years. If you’re like most people you are going to work about 11,000 of those days at a full time job.
The days that are left, just 9,000, are the ones you get to actually decide what to do with. They are the weekends. The vacations. The ‘down time’ if there is such a thing.
Another way to look at it is that if you are reading this and you are over 25 years old, you have less years of actual living ahead of you than you have been alive so far.
So what will it be? Will you drift carelessly toward the end, burning precious days, or will you use every drop of life that you can, knowing that the well eventually dries up?”
While attending a party at a friends house I started shooting a few things around his home. That night produced this image of an antique sitar which I loved.
On yet another excursion around Austin on my bicycle, I snapped this photo of a handlebar bell on someone elses bicycle. I loved the story told by the reflection of myself taking the shot.
“They say you can’t go home again. No one steps in the same river twice.
Idiomatically, this is stated with a sense of loss. That attempts to relive youthful memories are never as fulfilling as during their initial creation. There is truth to that but I prefer to interpret the axiom differently. I think revisiting past experiences and relationships can actually be better than the original given a new frame of reference.
Time, joy, loss and perspective. These are the forces that mold us into better human beings. It is entirely possible to reconnect with a part of your past and not only enjoy it again, but see it as a superior experience to the original. An improved version of a premature past.
I think that as we learn and grow, past relationships, good or bad, have the opportunity to be redefined. Simply put, people change. Do not turn away from past successes or failures. If you embrace who and what you were with the understanding that it doesn’t define who you are today, joy can be found in going home again.”
More macro work while bicycling around town produced this image of a flowering tree.
“Spring stirs and I prepare my departure.
In two weeks I pedal away from this place. The beginning of an intrepid journey that will see me up the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevadas, into Canada, and back down the Rocky Mountains. I am enthusiastic and optimistic. I relish these moments. These auspicious beginnings.
The world of adventure cycling has done nothing but expose me to all that is good and humble. It seems there are new friendships around every corner. The opportunity to Listen and to See. The basic goodness of human beings is made apparent again and again and I delight in the prospect of my return to The Road.
I have only a vague idea what lies ahead or when I might return but that, of course, is the heart of the matter. It is why we do this. We throw ourselves out, further and further, to taste the pith of life and return with new eyes and new ears.”
On this day I decided to shoot mostly architecture and man made objects. A few hours later I had this great image of some decorations on a patio at a local restaurant.
And finally, a trip to the Nevada desert produced this compelling image of the sunrise over the mountains.
My goal with this project was simply to become a better photographer. I felt I was rewarded greatly for the effort I put in. Not only through the resulting photographs but by the feedback of my peers and the refinement of my creative process.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.