small girl holds american flag at parade

Picture This: 366-Day Photography Challenge


I’d like to apologize to anyone who follows me on Instagram — it’s been nothing but crickets on there since the first of the year. My smartphone camera hasn’t gotten much use lately because I’ve been busy clicking away on my fancy — that is absolutely the technical jargon — camera that I got as a gift a few years back.

I’ve used the camera for blog pictures here and there, and I even managed to take newborn pictures of my daughter — gasp — three years ago, but adjusting the settings on manual mode took me an embarrassingly long time. My best photography subjects were inanimate objects because any living, breathing thing was long gone by the time I got my white balance, aperture, ISO and shutter speed balanced.

April Photo Challenge

Anyone who’s ever tried to document the precious, fleeting moments of their kid’s childhood knows that time for adjustment and do-over shots is not an actual option. So, it’s no wonder the masses are OK with smartphone photographer status:

  • The viewfinder is huge.
  • It’s a one-button operation.
  • We can kick any picture up a notch by masking it in sepia.
  • It takes only seconds to upload our prized works of art or hilarious kid videos to social media.

But I wanted to challenge myself and capture more than dust with that DSLR camera. Never underestimate a blogger with a little extra time and a case of writer’s block — I came up with 366 photography assignments (2016 is a leap year, after all). I would take one photo of a different theme each day for a year in hopes of wrapping up 2016 a better photographer than I was on the first of the year. To keep myself honest and on track, I started posting photos in a special album on Facebook, and I even talked some fellow moms with cameras into participating in the challenge right along with me.

105223081984884.gy8yOU0SYHtVVWeZHjaC_height640By the end of the year, I hope to have 366 photos that will help me and my family remember little details that made 2016 special to us:

  • Favorite spots in our (current) city
  • Favorite pieces of our (current) home
  • Major accomplishments for the year — no shortage there between a promotion, graduate-school acceptance and a soon-to-be kindergartener
  • Vacations
  • Friends and family
  • Holidays and birthdays
  • Day-to-day details

I have big plans for printing all of these photos in a coffee-table photo book. And, if I get really ambitious, I could do this every year…forever.

Whoa, slow down. One day at a time, Kristi.

Getting back to this year, I planned out a year’s worth of daily assignments before the first of the year, and I tried to pick themes relevant to the time of year and ones that were open to interpretation, like:

  • Something fluffy
  • Something cold
  • A photo I’ve been meaning to take
  • A mess
  • Something red

105223081984888.NMWej7rAt7CItDv652xM_height640To stay on track, I like to look ahead a couple of days to start brainstorming ideas for upcoming themes. Sometimes the plans play out, and other times something just presents itself at the right time. Challenges like this are all over the Internet, so you won’t have trouble finding themes if you want them. You could do a yearly challenge, a monthly challenge or your own interpretation of the challenge, like one photo a week or one photo per day without the pressure of a theme.

Now four months into the photography challenge, I can see a difference in the quality of my pictures, and I am definitely faster behind the camera — it takes me just seconds to adjust settings. And the challenge is, so far, producing the kinds of pictures I was looking for: significant details about my family at the moment and our time in California.

But I’m also discovering that I’m connecting more with my kids — quite possibly the best side effect of any challenge, ever. Any good child photographer will tell you that it’s important to get down to the child’s level. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and it’s gotten this busy mom back in the habit of getting down on the floor to play trains or climbing through playground equipment to catch the joy on my kids’ faces. My kids are getting into the challenge as well. They know that mommy has homework every day, and they are always asking what it is and what we get to do for the day to get the perfect shot. So far, we’ve:

  • Hiked, hiked and hiked some more
  • Whipped up homemade milkshakes
  • Painted outside
  • Hidden in the library
  • Popped in a candy store for cotton candy
  • Covered daddy in stickers
  • Played dress up
  • Spent countless hours on the beach
  • Had an ice cream date
  • Had a picnic (or five)
  • Gone for a walk (or 20)
  • Gone tidal pooling
  • Done impromptu science experiments in the back yard

Enthusiasm from the kids is motivating me to keep pressing forward with this challenge even though real life sometimes puts me behind. I’ve played catch up a few times which — if we’re being honest — technically means that I’m not sticking to the one photo per day rules, but the point to me is to have 366 meaningful photos at the end of the challenge. I don’t want to take a picture just for the sake of taking a picture. I want pictures that my entire family can glance back at fondly. I want my kids to see the highlights of this window in their childhood and recall what a fun year we spent together.

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