The commitment to do anything every day for a whole year is a difficult one. So difficult in fact that the very concept of a New Year's resolution is a joke to most. It's no surprise then that for a photographer to commit to a 365 project takes some serious dedication. Doing so means that you will create and publish something new, every single day. The question is: Is forcing yourself to be newly creative every day really worth it?
Let's start the answer with a quick story. In late 2009 I was finally tired of struggling to keep my blog active. I updated it maybe once or twice a month at the most and it was always unpredictably erratic (not the best thing for developing a following). It was a constant source of frustration because I knew I should have a blog, and I knew it needed to be updated regularly to be of any use. So something had to change and with the growing importance of blogs in branding strategy...the thing that needed to change was very obviously me. While I was searching for some sort of motivation to post more regularly a very close friend suggested that I just make a schedule of posting once a week on a specific day no matter what. It's the simple things right? Well, knowing myself I knew that I would start to make excuses and miss a day or put it off until later in the week so I dismissed the idea. Sort of.
I needed something more…unavoidable.
Thus began "The Daily Photographer," a complete change in direction for me that has had some surprising and profound and unexpected impacts on myself and my business. Originally it was going to be a daily project for one year...It is now over 1,100 images deep (just started it's 4th year I think if math serves) and has been an amazing yet occasionally irritating teacher.
Here's a bit of what I've learned:
1.) You never know who is looking.
Less than a year into the endeavor I received an email from a young photographer in Kenya citing how inspired he had been from following the work that went up each day. He went on to thank me for writing in each post as well because it helped him to see that there was an approachable person behind the images. At the end of his letter he asked me if I would be willing to take some time out to look over his work and offer him any advice I could. I was happy to do it.
Even many of my colleagues have written in saying that seeing me keep the "Daily Photographer" going for so long has inspired them to be more active in their own online presence.
Messages like these are commonplace now, and that kind of impact is hard to overlook.
2.) Syndicated posts are amazing.
When I first started I had to manually post everything on each social network I was a part of…that seriously sucked. Once I started looking at my options I found that there we a lot of services that would help me distribute my content automatically across each account. I still manually post my images into a specific Facebook gallery because I feel like people are more inclined to look at an image than read a post. The actual text still syncs though for people that want to read.
The one downside to this is that collecting the conversations and comments that happen on each site and having them display on your blog is still not easy (as far as I've seen, but if you know better please let me know). So that leads to blogs that may be devoid of comment activity while sites like Facebook are loaded with them.
That to me is a minor issue as the attention and presence it what you're aiming at.
3.) Creativity under fire still sucks.
Coming from the advertising world I'm no stranger to having to be new and fresh everyday without reprieve, but that doesn't mean it's easy. The upside to this challenge is that the more you practice the better you get at it. Taking a photograph can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be and that is definitely a blessing here. In fact, the occasional "I didn't have a lot of time" snapshot is something I encourage whole-heartedly.
Because you're not a camera-god, and it's ok to show that to people. We all want to appear that we've never taken a bad image. We all know better. Snapshots can be taken creatively too. I've posted iPhone photos before and the world didn't end, clients didn't jump ship, life went on. The fact is that your bad images are probably still better than the average so get over it.
4.) You will miss a post.
And you'll find yourself making it up the next day. I never thought I would feel so attached to my readers, but I do and when I'm late or somehow miss a day I feel so terrible that I post twice the next day. I also get plenty of messages asking where the post is for the day, so that helps too.
5.) Your business can't help but grow
When you are putting up new content daily and syndicating it properly people will notice you and many of them will eventually hire you. I would say that somewhere around 20% of the time the studio phone rings it's someone saying "I see your images all the time in my news feed and I love your work, what are your rates?"
Is it always the kind of business I'm after? No, but that doesn't matter because it at least gives me the option if I'm having a slow week. Right? Right.
6.) Perception is reality
I don't know a single photographer that is shooting paid work every single day of the year. Yet when people see constant activity of high-quality images coming from you they naturally assume that you are. The perception of being in demand creates demand. That's where the saying "fake it till you make it" comes from. I'm not saying lie to people, that's completely off the mark. What I'm saying is that you will look busy even in slow times and that is a great thing for you.
The thing to be careful of is creating the perception that you do a type of work that you don't. I rarely post images of weddings because that isn't even close to my market. If one goes up it's because it was a friend's wedding and I take extra steps to make that clear so nobody gets confused. If you aren't conscious of this you will get clients saying "I thought you didn't shoot _______ anymore."
Keep it consistent with the direction of your career unless you specifically use the project for completely random personal images.
7.) You will become a better photographer
I don't think this needs much explanation, but here goes. The more you shoot the better you get. The more you flex your creative muscles, the stronger they get. You will find ways to create images that are completely out of the norm for you. Shooting the same thing every day is boring, so you will experiment and expand your repertoire. You will learn how to talk about your images with people from all walks of life, and as a result you will start to understand your work better yourself. People will connect with what you're doing because there is a reality to it that can't help but come out. There will be days that creativity is nowhere to be found but the commitment is still there, and you will find yourself taking a picture you never would have before.
And people will love it.
Personally I have no idea how much longer I will keep at it (I never imagined that I would still be doing it 4 years later). What was originally a simple 365 day commitment has transformed into something so much more to me. Truth be told, I'm not sure I will ever stop now. Every annoyance, every time I've had to head home early because I forgot to post, every time I'm completely stuck on what to shoot or say....it's all been undeniably worth it.