Project 365 – My Journey

I’d taken my first photography class in December of 2010 (Katrina Kennedy’s Capture Your Holidays Through the Lens), which is when I first heard about the idea of a Project 365. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Project 365 (in the world of photography) refers to taking one photo a day for a year. But, in this day and age of digital photography, most of us take several photos a day, and must choose one of many each day of the year. Some photographers stick to a theme, some follow prompts from one source or another, some simply photograph the everyday details of their lives, and some (like me) do a combination of all of those and then some.

I love the idea of Project 365, but I wasn’t sure if a photo a day was a commitment I could make. I had many sources for inspiration (Flickr groups, Katrina’s online forums, Twitter feeds, and more) and plenty of technical skills to hone, but I just didn’t know if I could add that to the juggling act of being a SAHM (and if you think being a SAHM with a preschooler is a cake walk, you’ve obviously never had the pleasure).

Before I could say cheese, it was January 2nd. I decided I wanted to do it. But, I needed a photo for January 1st! If you know me, you know I like things neat and tidy (to my own quirky, wacked-out-standards), and starting on January 2nd just wouldn’t do. I knew I hadn’t picked up my camera (at the time, a Sony DSC-H9 – a hybrid between a point and shoot and a DSLR) the previous day. This was eating me. Then, a lightbulb went off (perhaps a flash – ha ha). I remembered I’d taken a pic of the girl as she slept later than anyone on New Year’s morning. It was blurry and grainy and poorly composed, but it was a photo. I was good to go!

And, so my journey began. Some days I used my iPhone camera. Some days I used my Sony. Not too long after I started my project, I had the opportunity to buy a used Canon XS from a college roommate. It was in great condition, a great bargain (especially for a beginner), and it opened up a whole new world for me. I was able to do the all of the things from my December class that I couldn’t with my Sony (it was a great camera, but for “real” photography, it had its limitations). I bought a second lens – a Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3. I just LOVE the zoom. Eventually, I added a prime to my arsenal as well – a “nifty fifty” – Canon’s 50mm f/1.8.

Along with becoming a bit gear obsessed, I took a couple more of Katrina’s classes (Capture Your Life Through the Lens and Capture Your Kids Through the Lens). Throughout the course of the year, my photography skills grew, as did my arsenal. I added a new Sony DSC-S2100 point and shoot, plus odds and ends from Santa, like a BlackRapid strap and a wireless remote for the Canon. And, last but not least, as an early 40th birthday present, I upgraded my Canon to the 60D. In addition to all I gained for myself, I even found myself being the go-to gal for photography and camera questions from the other moms at preschool. I never dreamed I could learn so much in such a short time. And yet, I know I still have plenty to master. And so, to paraphrase Brian Peterson, I kept shooting.

Shortly after the year ended, I began work on piecing together my Project 365 photos from the year into a poster-sized composite. Figuring out the dimensions and a smooth workflow turned out to be more challenging than taking a photo a day. I asked a few fellow Flickr users who’d done this how they came to figure out their layouts, but no one had a good explanation. I think it was just trial and error for most. I finally put the question to the masses on Facebook, and though no one person gave me my final answer, a few helped me wrap my mathematically challenged brain around what I needed. For those of you interested, here are the steps I followed:

  1. I researched the poster sizes I could print from various sources. I settled on 20”x30” and pose my math questions to the Facebook crowd based on that.
  2. From what my friends gave me, I realized that I would need to create a blank image file at 300ppi that would print out at 20”x30” with 16 rows and 24 columns to accommodate 384 square images of 375×375 pixels each. I knew there would be about 19 squares left over, and this is what I would use for the title block(s) of my poster (one was 13 squares and one was 6). I used Photoshop elements for this part of the project because I like the ease of layer manipulation that PSE affords over big brother Photoshop.
  3. Next, I created a new catalog in Lightroom to accommodate each of my P365 photos. I imported most from the original catalog, plus had to retrieve several from my iPhone that never made it to the PC. Nearly all of my iPhone photos had my watermark on them, added in an app called Impression. I processed many of those in Instagram as well as other apps after watermarking, so I needed to re-process some of those images before importing them to Lightroom. Whenever possible, I used Photoshop’s content-awareness tool to remove the watermark. But, in some instances, the image was too complex and, I couldn’t remember what I’d done, so I did my best to approximate the originally posted look.
  4. Once in Lightroom, I cropped each photo to 1:1 (square), reframing as needed to maintain the composition integrity as much as I could from those that were created/finalized as other than square.
  5. As I completed Lightroom editing each photo, I exported at the pre-determined 375×375 pixels, naming the images with their corresponding P365 number.
  6. Once all the images were exported from Lightroom, it was time to put them into the PSD file I created in PSE. But, first I had to put the title blocks in there. I created them as separate layers of the size I’d need… one in the top left corner, and one in the bottom right (see final image, below). Then, I began the task of placing the individual square photos. There are many ways to place a photo in a PSD document. I found the most effective way (because it maintains proper dimensions) was to open the photo, Select All, Copy, then switch to my composite file and paste.
  7. Each photo would paste to the center of the file, so I had to manually move it to the spot where I wanted it.
  8. After filling each row, I’d go through and make any alignment adjustments that were needed.
  9. Once all of the photos were in place, I zoomed in to about 200% and fine tuned the alignment of each photo/row.
  10. Finally, I saved the file as a JPG for uploading for printing. I also saved a smaller version of the file for posting online.

Here’s the final composite image:

I must say, there were plenty of times during that 365 days that I couldn’t wait for it to end, and I had absolutely no intention of doing another in 2012. I figured a Project 52 (photo a week) would be good enough for me. But, apparently, I go the bug, and I’m at it again. This time, I’m photographing every one of Katrina’s prompts for Capture Your 365+1 (it is leap  year, after all). The nice thing this time around is that I’m ok with it if I miss a day. I can follow the prompts out of order. I just catch up later and make sure I get each prompt photographed and posted by the end of the month. It’s been much more relaxing, and lots of fun.

Will I do it in 2013? Probably. I do know this… each Project 365 that I do, I will make my own. I’ll create my own rules, and make sure I enjoy myself as well as polish my craft.

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