How the Miraculous Power of Spite Can Improve Your Photography

How the Miraculous Power of Spite Can Improve Your Photography

When someone asks me how long I’ve been doing photography, it’s a complicated question. I worked in the film industry for years and still do. Many of those concepts and techniques are directly translatable — composition, exposure, color, etc. I fooled around with photos, but I didn’t really start photography, putting my life on a whole new path, until someone told me not to.

My personal story of being drawn into photography started almost three years ago when I was working as a colorist at a production house. Something to know about this company is that we were strongly discouraged from taking overtime. This is generally good for the culture of the office, since you know when you'll be home, getting to spend time with family, etc. We were all getting ready for a big crunch time to hit our deadlines and we were all pulled into a meeting to be told two things: as little overtime as possible (even though we had three months to do six month's of work), as well as a "suggestion" to not have any creative endeavors outside of the job. I disagreed with this. Strongly. Instead of doing what my gut told me to do (telling the boss off in the middle of the meeting), I decided to use tha energy on something positive: a new creative project made purely out of spite. Don’t get me wrong, spite is a negative emotion, something I’d generally recommend avoiding, but under the right context, it can really push you forward by giving you a reason to follow through with an idea that you might abandon otherwise.

Collage of all 100 portraits in 100 days

All 100 photos that were taken for the self-portrait project

As my own personal vendetta against this rule, I decided to finally do what I had wanted to for a long time and take photography seriously by undertaking a project of 100 self portraits in 100 days as a way to learn the ins and outs of photography. I grabbed my trusty Fuji X-T1, my old vintage lenses, and I gave myself a few rules, the most important of which was that I would not allow myself to take multiple photos in one day and then drip-feed them online. I would take a photo and then post it the same day. This held me responsible every single day to slot out at least an hour of my time to take a shot; even if the shoot took me less than an hour, I allotted at least 60 minutes a day for this project.

Through this project, I attempted techniques with gels, long exposures, double exposures, more gels, shallow focus, deep focus, bokeh panoramas, etc. I tried almost every technique I could think of, and I really feel as though it helped me hone in and discover the sort of work I enjoy creating now. I didn't have a sketchbook of ideas; generally, an idea was either in my head for a few days or come up with at the last second, except for the last photo of the series. From day one, I wanted to recreate the first photo with the 100th to show how much I had grown in both technical and artistic skill. Below, you can see the first and 100th photo together.

The last photo of the 100 portrait photo series
Photo number one of a 100 portrait photo series

By looking at these two photos, you can see a lot is different. The exposure is better on the 100th photo, the retouching is better, and even my posing is better! While I do like the camera flare in the first photo, I think that the final photo of the set is an overall better shot thanks to all of the fresh experience under my belt to the point where it is currently on the about page on my website. 

As you can see, the idea of spiting someone who told me to not pursue any creative endeavors, sent me on a brand new life path. I learned that undertaking a medium-to-large scale photo project can help you improve your photography in a dramatic way. The discipline of creating something every day or trying to create a series of images all following strict guidelines or what have you can really push your work up to another level. Trying something new is the only way to grow as both a person and an artist. We humans are very goal-oriented creatures, so being able to set a goal and accomplish it can give you a real dopamine rush. Needing to come up with a new idea every day and testing weird techniques and problem-solving really pushed me to a place I wanted to be with my work, and some of the techniques I learned during these 100 self portraits I still use to this day.

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Alex Cooke's picture

Totally know what you mean. Maybe it's just my personality, but so much of what I've accomplished in life was done because someone told me I couldn't and I said "watch me."

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Same, it motivates me a ton when people don't believe in me. This is also a great way to learn techniques, love the project!

Simon Patterson's picture

The most amazing thing about this is that you were able to add, to every day, an activity that took 60 straight minutes! Oh to have that much flexibility in life!

But ain't competition a grand thing to incentivise us to improve our skills. Your before/after slider demonstrates the improvement very well, I think.

David J. Fulde's picture

I tried! there are some days where I had far far less (I think the least amount of time was about ten minutes which actually ended up being one of my fave shots of the set)

Dana Goldstein's picture

I love that you created something so positive out of your frustration! And it’s very true that trying a little of everything gives you just as clear a sense of what is NOT you as what IS you.

user-146450's picture

I know this is off topic but what right has an employer to tell u what u should do in your spare time. WHy shoukd they care? Its weird

I hate to admit I have done more than a few things because someone told me it couldn't be done... so I went out and did it. there are much worse motivations to learn, grow, and create. nice article.