Earlier this week I announced that I was embarking on a photo series of smoke trails. I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but I knew that I had just barely tapped the surface of my potential in exploring this type of photography. I also knew that if I just continued to try it haphazardly, when I felt like it, or was inspired, that I would never really master it. With that, I announced that I’d do a series, without knowing how long it would last or if I (and you) would get bored with the images.
To my delight and surprise, the opposite happened. Not only was I forced to see things differently, but I had to find new ways to keep the images and the shooting fresh for myself and my viewers. And isn’t that what we all need and want? Whether we are wedding and event photographers or senior portrait photographers, or aspiring mom photographers taking pictures of our kids for fun, or even engineers moonlighting as photographers by night… we all want to get better, to create and produce images that move and inspire us and those who see them. Am I right?
After taking on this photo series of smoke trails, I’m convinced that if you’ll get serious about a photo series, you will grow as a photographer. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even matter what you choose as the topic or focus of your series. It’s not about the content, it’s about the process and the method. It’s about the discipline of shooting the same thing, with different eyes, different lighting, different locations. Whatever you change, even if it’s just your perspective, it will change the output. And changing the output changes the image, which teaches you lessons you wouldn’t have learned if you didn’t pursue the same topic or focus for more than a moment as brief as the click of the shutter.
It’s similar to the value of undertaking a photo challenge like tasra365. Instead of going through life so quickly that you never stop long enough to realize what you’re doing or where you’re going, you stop and make some clear commitments about where you are, where you’re going, and the steps it will take to get there.
If you’re an aspiring photographer (or even a professional) chances are you’ve wanted to improve, went out and taken tons of images, but perhaps without a clear focus or direction. But when you join a 365 project and challenge yourself to get serious, you begin to see massive change. Even though it may seem small – one image a day, one page in a camera manual, one professional image to view – the small changes add up to more improvement than you’ve seen in the previous ten years of hoping, wishing, and trying.
That’s how the series works. Instead of trying a shot of candlelight one day, then a shot of splashing water the next, then a leaf on the ground the following day, you choose a series. Don’t limit yourself to the amount of days, just let it flow. If you shoot it for 3 or 4 days and feel like you mastered it, move on. If you feel like there is more you could do and learn, then keep going.
Keep going until you’ve tried everything that you have in your mind to try. Keep going until you’ve worked those creative muscles to the point of exhaustion and need to give them a rest. Because I am convinced that until you stretch yourself creatively and have reached the end of yourself, you will never really know what you’re made of.
But if you do, you will come out on the other side a changed photographer, with a more clear perspective than you’ve ever had. And you can’t tell me that perspective won’t serve you well in your future as a photographer – aspiring or professional – in portraits, weddings, landscapes, architecture, anything.
Try it. You won’t be disappointed.
Here are my results from the last day of my smoke trails series. Compare them to the previous days and I think you’ll see the clear progression. I left many of them as they were shot, with slight editing in Lightroom to increase blacks and sharpness. Others I pulled into Photoshop to invert and adjust the color. If you missed the other posts in the series or want to know how I set up the shoot, check out Learning to Photograph Smoke Trails, Leaving a Trail of Smoke, Project Smoke: The Series Continues, and Beyond the Smoke & Haze: Do You See What I See?
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