Photography


Euonymus in ice

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for taking stock. Looking back on the wins and losses of the previous year, folks with a penchant for self-improvement typically use the occasion of the New Year to make resolutions. Although I’m a sucker for self-help books, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen enough New Years come and go to know that well-intentioned resolutions are often broken and forgotten by February, so setting grand goals for the New Year sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disappointment.

Ice-etched

That being said, I’m a big fan of small, attainable goals. This past year, for instance, I set a goal to meditate at least five minutes every day, so although I didn’t go to the Zen Center as often as I would have liked, I am happy to say I meditated at home every single day. I also met my yearly goal to read fifty books in 2017, a goal I reached by reading a little bit every day.

Iced

The other thing I managed to do in 2017 was take and post to Flickr one photo every day. In any given year, I take far more than 365 photos: on days when I go somewhere or do something visually interesting, I might take and post dozens of photos. But on otherwise ordinary, unremarkable days, I need a nudge to take photos, and a 365-day photo challenge provides that motivation. Even in the gray days of February or the busiest days of the semester, I knew I had to snap and post a photo of something, no matter how boring or inane.

Icy aftermath

Over time, a daily photo challenge starts to feel like a personal scavenger hunt or visual gratitude journal: no matter how uninspired or bland a particular day might have felt, you have to find at least one image worth sharing. This year as always, I posted lots of pictures of pets; this year for the first time, I also posted lots of pictures of postcards. Scrolling through my photoset of “365 in 2017” photos, I see a visual time capsule of the entire year.

Icy

Because noticing is contagious, once you push yourself to take at least one picture a day, it becomes easier to take two, three, or more images. Over the course of the year, you hone your eye so it is perpetually on the lookout for Today’s Picture, and you prove to yourself day after day after day that there is always something interesting and share-worthy going on: you just have to capture it when it happens.

Reaching

So on this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to continue into the New Year the three habits I honed over the course of the Old. I’ll keep meditating, reading, and snapping at least one photo a day, everyday. I hope what worked in 2017 will continue to work in 2018.

Click here to see my “2017 Year in Books” on Goodreads, or click here to see my “365 in 2017” photoset. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Robin in redbud

Every year for the past decade, I’ve given friends and family a photo calendar with thirteen of my favorite images from the previous year: twelve months plus a cover.

Snow-laden

Every December, choosing pictures for my calendar gives me an excuse to revisit my photo archives: a way to literally re-view the previous year.

Waterfall

They say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes.

Spring leaves

Since I’ve never died, I don’t know whether that is true, but I can say this: it’s interesting to revisit your life once a year.

Flying

Every December when I finally take time to scroll through my photo archives, I worry I won’t find thirteen photos worthy of sharing, and every December, those worries are unfounded.

Baltimore oriole

Throughout the year, I don’t try to take calendar-worthy photos: most of the photos I take are snapped at offhand moments when I see something that interests my eye.

As above, so below

I guess you could say I’m a collector of images: when I see something interesting, I capture the moment by snapping a photo.

Carter Pond erratic

I see this year-round scavenging of images as akin to my almost-daily journal-keeping: if I want to know what I was doing this time last year or the year before, I can check my blog, journal, or photo archives.

Cattails

This morning I watched a slideshow of images from each of the past ten years’ calendars: a decade’s worth of images.

Cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens)

For each of these pictures, I remembered the circumstances surrounding the shot: I remembered which photos were shot while walking the dog, which were shot in the backyard, which were shot in a parking lot on my way to teach, and which were shot on my way to or from the grocery store.

Tinged

Where anyone else sees a collection of pretty pictures, I see ten years’ worth of otherwise mundane moments.

Outbound

Anyone else sees what it is the photo, but I remember what was happening outside the frame.

Holly

The photos illustrating today’s post come from this year’s photo calendar. You can see past calendar sets here. Enjoy!

Teatime

I often take macro shots when I’m feeling uninspired: the act of zooming in to look closely at something feels like an antidote to ennui. I think this traces back to the quizzes I’d sometimes see in children’s books in the dentist’s waiting room, where ordinary objects were photographed in microscopic detail and you were challenged to guess what you were looking at. These quizzes always pointed to the utterly alien nature of even the most mundane objects, a toothbrush or human hair becoming fascinating when you looked at it closely.

Witch hazel in bloom

My fascination with macro shots is also a carry-over from my days as an amateur botanist, when I spent a lot of time looking closely at wildflowers. Most flowers are prettier up-close than they are from afar, the intricate structure of petal, pistil, and stamen being revealed only upon close examination. Some wildflowers are so delicately detailed, you can accurately identify them only with the assistance of a jeweler’s loupe, the four apparent petals of an enchanter’s nightshade, for example, revealing themselves to be truly two only under magnification.

Wooden coffee stirrers

I like the way macro shots force you to look closely at a single thing, the larger context being cropped away. Instead of an entire forest, you can contemplate a single leaf on a single tree, reality reduced to a solitary thing full of hidden complexities. I tell myself that if I can focus on something small, I can understand larger phenomena through extrapolation; the focusing, after all, is the skill to be honed. William Blake’s suggestion that you can “see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is deeply comforting to those of us who were bookish children, accustomed to traveling the world from the safety of our bedrooms, the pages of a book being larger than life.

This is my contribution to this week’s Photo Friday challenge, Macro.

Celtics' Big Three with random Bruins fans

Yesterday, J and I went to an afternoon Bruins game, but instead of taking scores of photos of the action on the ice, I took one photo in the concourse during intermission. Ever since the TD Garden added larger-than-life murals to its concourse walls, I’ve wanted to photograph the one that shows Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in their glory days as the Celtics’ Big Three.  Yesterday, I walked by that mural right when the passing crowds parted, and I was able to snap a quick shot of a half dozen Bruins fans standing in front of the Big Three. With one photo, I captured a memory of yesterday’s Bruins game even though that photo doesn’t show any hockey: score.

Self portrait with discarded mirror

This year I’ve decided to pursue another 365-day photo challenge. In 2017, I’m setting a goal of taking and posting to Flickr at least one photo every day–365 photos in 365 days–just as I did in 2013 and 2015. I’m already in the habit of taking lots of photos, but I tend to take those photos in spurts: some days I take lots, and some days I take none. When I challenge myself to take and share a photo a day for an entire year, though, I can’t zone out for days and then make up for lost time when I feel inspired. Instead, I have to be on-the-lookout for interesting images every single day.

Newton Centre menorah

The 365-day photo challenge provides an interesting nudge to take lots of pictures: whether you feel inspired or not, you have to photograph and share something, which means you start treating your mundane life as a kind of visual scavenger hunt. But even more interesting is the way the 365-day photo challenge forces you to encapsulate a single day into a single, quintessential picture. Given all the things you did (and all the photos you took) on a given day, which one will you select as That Day’s photo?

Conspiring mannequins

When anyone else looks at one of my finished 365-day challenges, they see a bunch of random, unrelated photos. When I look at a year’s worth of photos I’ve taken, however, I’m reminded of the story behind each one. There are photos I love, photos I think are adequate but a bit boring, and photos I took out of sheer desperation. Viewed en masse, these images capture the incremental and random nature of our lives. Some days are interesting and others boring, but all days pass just the same.

Chocolate penguins

Ultimately, the 365-day photo challenge is a kind of spiritual practice, as it forces me to make an intentional commitment pay attention to the world around me every single day. Last year, I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do, and I also spent less time than usual writing and blogging. This year, I want to kick these creative pursuits into gear, and I know from past experience that the 365-day photo challenge is a gimmick so silly, it somehow works.

Of the photos illustrating today’s post, I took the first two yesterday and the rest today. The final photo of two L.A. Burdick chocolate penguins is today’s photo, and over the course of the year, I’ll be posting 364 more to this photo set. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Keep it clear

Our beagle, Melony, didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, burrowing into the blankets after the alarm went off in the hope that I might miss her, leaving her to snuggle rather than taking her out to do her business in a cold and snow-filled dog pen.

Snowed in

Our white German shepherd, Cassie, has trampled some paths in the dog-pen snow that Melony gladly follows on warm days, sometimes refusing to come when I call, leaving me to stomp through the snow after her. But that happens only on warm days when the air is humid and the snow squishy. On frigid days when the snow squeaks underfoot and the air is dry and razor-sharp, Melony is waiting for me at the dog-pen gate, jumping and whimpering in anticipation.

Snow on trees

We’re supposed to get more snow this weekend: a storm that’s going to stall right over us, pumping out snow for four straight days. But before the storm, the chill: this morning was below zero, and now it’s warmed to the single digits: at the moment, too cold for snow.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Weather. Although I did snap a photo of Melony burrowing in blankets this morning, the photos I show you here come from Framingham State yesterday.

New year, new camera

After years of using nothing but point-and-shoot cameras, this Christmas I took the plunge and got a digital SLR. Although I’ve long resisted the switch to a “real camera,” this one (a Nikon D7000) has been supplanted by a newer model and thus was deeply discounted, and J had several lenses he hasn’t used since upgrading his own camera. If I was ever going to try a fancier, more “serious” camera, in other words, now would be a good time, especially since I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted for Christmas. So, what does any Serious Photographer do to get acquainted with her brand-new Real Camera? She takes reflective self-portraits in the bathroom, of course.

Snow on oak trees

Last night I (finally) ordered the 2015 photo calendars I give to friends and family for Christmas. Although I typically don’t get around to mailing out calendars until after Christmas, I enjoy putting them together each year, as it gives me an excuse to review the photos I’ve taken over the previous twelve months.

Rowboats

This year, I chose my calendar photos by scrolling through my Flickr photostream while watching TV, bookmarking my favorite photos and then going back and choosing the thirteen I liked best: one photo for each month, plus a cover. Some years I go with a theme–in 2013, for instance, all my calendar photos came from a single visit to Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens–but most years I try to include a variety of seasonal images: snow in winter, changing leaves in fall, and plenty of flowers in spring and summer.

Sunny idyll

The past few years, I’ve struggled to find eye-popping snow shots for December, January, and February: this year, we’ve barely had any snow in December, and when we did get snow this past January and February, I didn’t take many calendar-worthy photos, just the requisite cellphone shots of our buried backyard. But I did ultimately choose a shot of snowy oak trees for January, a snow-frosted blue spruce for February, and the Quincy Market Christmas tree for December: a three-month nod to winter that makes you feel like you’ve earned the riot of spring color I chose for the cover:

Multicolored tulips

Click here to see the full set of photos from my 2015 calendar, or click any of the following links to see calendar sets from previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Enjoy!

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