7 Lessons Learned from Taking a Photo a Day for 366 Days

My Instagram #2016BestNine (click any image to enlarge).

A few years ago a photographer friend of mine told me about something called the 365 photo challenge. She explained it quite simply. You take a photo a day for 365 days and post the photo on the same day you took it. At the time I remember being intrigued, and thinking it sounded both exciting and daunting. I mentally filed it away not really considering whether it was something I would ever do.

The concept came back to me at the end of 2015 as I was looking to add more creativity into my day, experiment with visual storytelling and also tryout Instagram. I realized that if I embarked on a 365 challenge it would tie all three things together and so I made the commitment and plunged in.

A year later, I can tell you it was hard. Harder than I thought. But I can also tell you that it was well worth it.

In the end, due to leap year, I captured 366 images, which can be found @mindyrpics. Today they visually tell the story of my year including people lost and reconnections made; the sun coming up and the sun going back down; the places I visited and the place I once called and also the place I now call, my home.

All told I took photos in three different countries, eight different states and countless cities and towns. About one-fifth of them are in black and white. Approximately a quarter have people in them, nearly 70 of them feature nature, while 40 are of cityscapes. There are oceans and street art and even a glimpse at a brush with royalty. Some places reappear like Central Park, the Queensboro Bridge, the subway, Rockefeller Center and One World Trade. Others have their moment and fade away.

Now being on the other side of the project, I can honestly say it met all three of my goals but it also did so much more. Beyond having a visual journal of 2016 that I will enjoy looking back at, there were a lot of unexpected benefits and learnings about communications and life. I’ve captured seven of them here…

1. The best way to learn is to do.
It may be a whole lot easier to observe but if you really want to learn a new skill, you need to practice it. So whether you want to be more creative, learn how to interact online or improve your writing, do more of it. On being asked why in his eighties, he still devoted hours a day to practicing, the famous cellist Pablo Casals once said, “Because I think I am making progress.”

2. You can find creative inspiration anywhere.
Most days I work in our New York office and walk to and from work. While I vary my route slightly, it really isn’t all that different. This pushed me to find something new in the familiar and tell a better story. It might have been the light shining down, a person passing by, a store window newly redone or just some architectural detail I had never noticed. Look up, look down, look all around. I promise, you’ll be inspired.

3. Edit with discipline.
Some days I only took one shot while on others I took many, and often found it challenging to narrow them down especially since I had to snap and post in the same day. A photographer friend of mine gave me the following advice that is useful for any editing task: “I usually go through many passes, low-hanging fruit first, get rid of the junk right away. Then look things over again – mark the ones that hit you first, give that some time and go back and see if they still resonate. Be ruthless. It hurts but only for a second.”

4. The better the content, the more likely it will break through.
While I may not always have agreed with which photo attracted the most attention, I will say that, in general, the photos that got the most likes were in fact the better shots. And the attention would come from various parts of the world including Asia, Australia and Europe. It underscored for me that content we produce needs to meet a very high bar.

5. There is value in making and keeping a commitment.img_7198

It isn’t easy keeping a daily commitment, but doing so helps you progress in expected and unexpected ways.

6. The power of engagement.
While taking a photo every day can be a solitary activity, it invited conversation both online and in person. Seeking a friend’s opinion before deciding on my daily picture opened the door to interesting conversations. I enjoyed engaging with others who were doing the same challenge online and reading and responding to comments on my posts.

7. Whatever you do, be yourself.
There has been a lot of focus the last couple of years on authentic communication, which for me has always been at its heart, about being human – say it like you would actually say it and share your unique perspective. If you follow this basic principle it will make whatever communication you are working on richer and, as a result, help you to grow and help your unique perspective earn even broader attention.