Life Lessons Learned From Taking a Picture Every Day for a Year

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  • February 19, 2016
  • Joey Held

It was about this time last year that I was sitting at Halcyon, an Austin restaurant that specializes in s’mores and hot chocolate. I was griping about the “fresh” s’mores being nothing more than a handful of marshmallows, pre-wrapped Hershey’s chocolate bars and graham crackers still in the packaging. Then my hot chocolate was delivered, and I marveled at how delightful it looked–the whipped cream was spiraling out of the enormous mug, a ghost-like mist of steam was emitting from the delicious confection below, and to top it all off, chocolate had been drizzled so perfectly over the whipped cream. Perhaps I was subconsciously allowing it to cool a bit so I didn’t burn my tongue and ruin my taste buds before the main event, but I was compelled to take a picture of the chocolate masterpiece before me.

After I took the photo, I told my s’more companions, “You know what? I’m going to take a picture every day for a year.” They were skeptical at first, but here I am, 365 days later, with an incredible scrapbook to show for my iPhoneography. I kept myself accountable by posting everything on my Instagram; what started as a random, half-baked idea turned into something really fun that I looked forward to every day. And as any good yearlong project should provide, it was full of life lessons.

Know your audience

One of my favorite photos from “365 Days of Pictures” features my dog solemnly staring out the window, her reflection gazing back at her. I know my dog loves to lie by the window, but I also know she freaks out over sudden movements (and sometimes over nothing at all, but that’s less frequent). For this photo, I had to delicately slide a hand in between two of the window blinds to blindly snap the picture. Had I just crashed through the blinds like a child bashing a piñata, my dog would have gotten riled up, and I wouldn’t have one of my favorite pictures. Since I understand what sets her off, I ended up with a terrific shot.

Whether you’re interviewing a source, pitching a reporter, writing content, or even performing in front of a live audience at a concert, it’s important to really know the folks you’re speaking with. Learn as much as you can—not only will you fine tune your writing, you can avoid the pitfalls of asking a question someone’s heard a million times before, or doing something that might irritate whoever you’re reaching out to. The extra legwork will pay off in spades.

Look at things in a new light

Do you think a picture of a hat or sleet accumulating on a window would make for a particularly noteworthy photograph? Not likely, but this project forced me to take a second look at things I’d normally pass by. Of course, that’s translated to my work ethic as well. Now, more than ever, when I’m pitching a story, I’ll find the angle that hasn’t yet been told, or further develop the unique perspective. By utilizing a different approach, you can really stand out from the crowd.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

We all know that hard work pays off, and one can easily spending hours obsessing over minute details a pitch, or tweaking a sentence in a blog post for so long that the words are exhausted from being moved around too much. If your core foundation is solid, people will respond favorably. I’ve seen success even if I made a typo. Sure, I’ll later see that typo and think to myself, “Man, what a silly mistake!” but everyone else? They’re thinking, “Wow, what a great idea.”

Along the same lines, don’t get upset if someone isn’t a fan of your work. As the old adage goes, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Sometimes you’ll put a lot of effort into a pitch, and the response is a curt “no.” It’s certainly not out of line to ask for a reason or inquire what they’d be more interested in, but sometimes that one word is all you’ll get. You just have to move on to the next task.

When in doubt, document

It’s been a blast looking back at all I’ve done over the past year, and I’m incredibly pleased with how this project turned out and the subsequent lessons I’ve learned as a result of it. It’s also a great reminder to keep track of all that you can, and get everything in writing whenever possible. Contracts, business expenses, time spent working on a project, or even just to note what a client is looking for, if you have it written down, your life will be more organized and a lot easier.

I encourage you to document your own 365 days of pictures. You don’t have to start on January 1 (I certainly didn’t), and it’s an awesome scrapbook of what you’ve accomplished in just a year. Who knows? Maybe one of your pictures will brighten someone’s day or inspire an adventure of their own. And that’s really the best reward of all.

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