Have you ever thought about documenting your life for a whole year?

I’ve done it.

I took a photo every day, starting on my birthday in November 2019 and finishing one year later. And what I’ve realised is that my boring, ordinary life is the most amazing thing ever. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities I had and the chances I got to take. But looking at these photos makes me appreciate every day I’ve lived through in the past 12 months – even the dull/sad/scary/frustrating ones. And belive me, I can hear how cheesy that sounds!

This year has not been more eventful than others – if anything, less exciting things happened and I stayed home a lot more (due to obvious reasons). I honestly think, I could not have picked a better year to document everything!

This is what my past year looked like…

It was my birthday last week. Yay me. Except I’m not a fan of celebrating my birthday – I don’t like being the centre of attention. And getting older and all that.

Anyway, the day before my birthday marked day 366 of taking at least one photo every day without missing a single one. That’s quite an achievement – I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when I started this project 365 (which in leap year 2020 turned into project 366), I had the ambition to not just take any photo but use one of my Fuji cameras for the project. Every single day. That means shooting RAW files and editing photos daily.

It sounds like a massive task but the more you do a certain thing, the easier it gets. Quicker too. We all know that… So even when I went away with my friends for a week in summer, I still kept the daily editing up, despite taking lots more photos than during any ordinary day back home.

During this task, amazing things happened in my brain. I started finding photo opportunities in my everyday life that I would have never noticed before. The way my street looks when I come home from a day away, the way the light hits my wall through the window, the raindrops on the window on a rainy day, the way my plants grow (or die because I’m a terrible plant  mum). Meaningful photos didn’t have to show off my amazing life or even my camera skills, they only had to be a part of what I experienced. Because in the end, nobody had to approve of any of my work. That’s the best thing about any personal project – if you do it purely for yourself, no outside comment really matters.

So the question is, what have I learnt from this exercise? Have I even learnt anything at all?

Well, first of all, on the technical side of things – I got faster in editing photos. I was already relatively fast to begin with (German efficiency, you know?!). But with this project, I started to let go of perfectionism when it came to my personal images. There’s (almost) no retouching on the images because who’s got the time?

I made it a routine to edit my photos that same evening. That meant my computer stayed on until midnight or even longer some days which I know for many people is a no-go. But I’m a night owl anyway so I really didn’t mind.

I stopped being scared of taking photos after the sun had set. That was one of my main worries in the past when I thought about attempting a project 365. I wouldn’t know what to shoot in the dark. The images would be too noisy. The best light is during daytime, how would I make it work?
Turns out, my cameras are good enough to deal with very little light. And when in doubt, grainy photos are fine too. A good photo doesn’t have to be technically perfect, it’s got to mean something. So grain or no grain really doesn’t matter that much.

I let go of the expectation to take an amazing shot every day. That’s not possible. There are days where I’ve got a collection of very mediocre shots. I don’t love every single image I took. And that’s totally fine.

But most importantly, it made me a better documentary photographer (I think so anyway). And it taught me to appreciate the little things in my life, all the moments that only in hindsight really grow in importance. I documented my life during a pandemic – nothing was like I was used to or what I had planned and nothing will ever be how it used to be. I have photos that show me, my friends and my family, how 2020 and all its craziness unfolded right in front of me.

Taking a photo every day is quite a commitment though. How did I make it work?

When I started my project 365, I had thought about it for a couple weeks and then jumped straight in. Most people start this in January – new year, new beginnings, new life. I decided to not put the new-year-pressure on myself (how many New Year’s resolutions has anybody ever really kept?!) so my birthday in November seemed like a good start.

There are many support groups online for these yearly projects, which is great to keep each other accountable. I’m part of a few of them on facebook but naturally, over the year, the enthusiasm decreases and people stop sharing photos or talking to each other about it.

Some groups that tackle this as a collective (for support and accountability reasons) suggest weekly or monthly prompts to help keep photographers on track and inspired. I was thinking about that but I felt that using prompts would actually hinder me taking photos of my life because I would try to work within the suggested topic – and then potentially miss a good photo while trying to hunt for something I might just not find on the day. So I instead observed my surroundings, took photos of things that happened in my life. And if nothing happened, I looked at details, nature or turned the camera around. With this, I believe I created a collection of images that are so unique to my own life and how I lived not just through this year of getting older but also through the pandemic and a crazy 2020.

What next?

I was thinking about whether I should continue taking daily photos. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work at times – especially when I’ve got some actual work and projects going on that need my full attention. But the positives from documenting my life daily outweigh any stress or pressure. I decided to continue for another year. Or for however long I can and want to keep it up.

I’m also going to create a photo album with my photos from this year. It’ll be a nice thing to browse through in the future. And in the meantime, I’ll keep shooting.

Would you like to try doing a projetc 365? Here are my tips for you:

Committing to a whole year of taking photos every day is a big deal. It can be intimidating and daunting. Believe me, I know. It’s taken me years of toying with the idea to finally give in to the temptation and do it! But it’s all relative – because you can make your own rules. It’ll only be as hard as you’ll make it for yourself.

Here are my top tips:

    • Make your own rules: Do your photos need to be taken with a “real” camera or are you happy with your phone? Make it as easy as possible for yourself.
    • Commit to a month rather than a year. Then see how it goes. Are you enjoying it? If yes, keep going. If you hate it, stop. It’s not worth your energy fighting something you don’t enjoy.
    • If you miss a day, so what? Don’t beat yourself up over missing a day or even a week. Don’t let that stop you from continuing. Because life happens…
    • Be aware of the winter months. With less light, inspiration and motivation can easily go out the window. Be prepared for that and work with it.
    • Create a list of things to photograph for the days when you feel like nothing exciting is happening. Refer back to them when you’re out of ideas or too busy to photograph what’s really going on around you. That list could include things like your morning coffee, your plants, your pet, light, a self-portrait, a favourite place in your house, the view from your window etc.
    • Create a monthly theme if you feel like that’ll help you get a good shot. The themes could be a mood, a colour, a place, a perspective…
    • Play with photography techniques that are new to you or you’re uncomfortable with, like freelensing, double exposure, backlight, midday sunshine ect.
    • Stick to one lens for a week, preferably one you usually don’t use much and see how that affects your work.
    • Go through your calendar and seek out photo opportunities for what you’ve already planned anyway – a road trip, coffee with a friend, a networking meeting, visiting the parents, a birthday, first day of school…
    • Don’t forget to include yourself in some images. Set up a tripod and play with self-portraits – alone or with your family/friends. Use the mirror to take photos of yourself. Whatever way you do it, make sure you appear in the photos at least occasionally.
    • Enjoy the process. Look back at your images after a month, 3 months, 6 months. See how your photography might have evolved. And most importantly. enjoy looking back at your life this way. I guarantee you, you’ll get a new appreciation for everything you do.

 

I honestly believe that this is the best personal project I could have done for myself – and I’ve done loads over the years. I encourage you to try it. And let me know how you get on!

You can find me on Instagram at @by_anjap and specifically at @thedaysofmyyear for my project 365. Come and join me there!

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