Quick, name the top five things you like to spend your time on. How much time did you spend doing those things in 2017? Are you satisfied? Or did they take a back seat to other activities and life in general?
My favorites are motorcycling, travel, photography, hiking, and knitting. There are a handful of runners-up but those are my core five. I consider them life values. Looking back at 2017, I didn’t do nearly as much of those things as I wanted or intended. Compared to 2016, my motorcycling mileage was slightly down. My hiking mileage was abysmal. I only completed one knitting project. My travels were disjointed and exhausting, with fewer travel days on which I was truly exploring. My time spent behind the camera plummeted.
To look at my Instagram feed, you’d probably call bullshit on me. I’m looking at the trajectory from one year to the next, though. In my personal review of 2017, what I see is a frenetic year. One in which the energy put into the things I love most wasn’t as purposeful as I’d like. Of those five core values, the backslide that bothers me the most is photography.
What brought on this existential crisis? The annual challenge from my Tremont photography family. Every year we share our top five photographs with each other. It’s a tremendous source of inspiration from people I admire.
In reviewing my images from 2017, I’m not satisfied. In fact, I’m kind of pissed off at myself. I have no notions of being a virtuoso photographer but I do believe in competing with yourself to achieve personal growth. I know I’m better that what I produced last year. Not that I don’t have images I’m happy with. I have some I really love. But in relation to everything I did in 2017, the photographic results don’t match up.
Obviously, I can’t go back and have a do-over of 2017. I can, however, look at why I struggled and fix the obstacles. I can make certain I don’t stay on a trajectory that isn’t working.
What went wrong
Big picture: I got lazy. Unlike my riding, I didn’t train or practice much. On a daily basis, I was inconsistent at keeping my skills sharp. I only engaged in photography in fits and spurts. I used to carry a camera everywhere. Just in case. I learned long ago that there are opportunities to capture moments everywhere, whether traveling, near home, or even at home.
I didn’t honor that in 2017. I realized that failing towards the end of the year so I started carrying a camera more. But I found myself doing stupid things like forgetting to put in a battery or a memory card when going out for short jaunts without a full kit. At one point, I realized my sensor was so dirty on my main camera that there were close to two dozen spots on my images. And it still took me three months to get around to cleaning it. In the most egregious offense of inattention, I actually shot a bunch of images of Mount Rainier only to realize after the fact that I’d been shooting with a giant smudge of some unidentifiable substance on my lens. Seriously, a big lump of sticky goo across the entire lens!
It’s all silly, really. And simple enough to fix. Those missteps made me realize I simply need to get organized and set myself up for having my gear at the ready when I need it. I also need to pay more attention to the little details of maintenance so I’m not wasting my time when I do shoot.
Another aspect of the lazy was not taking the time to shoot. With an iPhone in hand or even when I had a “real” camera with me, I failed to take the time to grab compelling images. I made excuses about the shot not being worth stopping for or that I didn’t have time. Oftentimes when I did pull out the camera, I did it half-heartedly. Throw in struggles to manage photography from the bike in challenging conditions, and that makes for a downward spiral.
Tier Number Three of lazy photographer syndrome? Often when I did shoot, I whipped off a couple of shots without taking the care to review my camera settings and make certain I captured what I envisioned. So many images from this year fell into the “close but no cigar” category. They’re shots that had one (if not more) technical elements out of whack in an otherwise nicely composed image.
In the end, I didn’t make photography a priority. I didn’t take the time. The opportunities were there. And I blew it on most of them. It’s clear now that the photography foundation I used to be able to count on crumbled in 2017.
What went right
The year wasn’t a complete bust, though. In the few surges when I did make photography a priority I came away with some nice images. And I did break into people photography, which is a huge leap for me. I’m getting past feeling intrusive. That’s really hard for me.
Another realization I made towards the end of the year was that I had a mental obstacle with the weight, bulk, and complexity of my photography gear, particularly when on the bike. So I made changes to streamline my kit to make it easier to manage while riding. I’m still getting that system dialed in but it’s more realistic for how I travel most often. I’m optimistic that a simpler system will make embracing photography more appealing, especially when I’m fatigued or battling challenging conditions.
Here are some of the other contenders for my 2017 favorites. There wasn’t much more to choose from, though. My goal is to turn that around in 2018. I hope next year’s challenge finds me agonizing about which are my top five because I’ve put my heart back into my photography. In other words, I need to photograph like I mean it. Thank you to my Tremont friends who have lit a fire under my photographic ass!
All of these are available on my Zenfolio site. Check them out!
Adventure on, friends!