The best way to grow your photography skills is to practice. To hone your skills, having a constant push to see a different perspective will not only keep your vision fresh, but will aid in preventing creative habits which turn into creative ruts. I mean think about it, how often have you approached a familiar scene (your living room, for example) and you realize you are standing in the same place you shot this scene… the last 4 times? Then, you hop on the internet and you see another photographer’s similar scene and you think, “wow, they’re a genius!” We develop shooting habits over time. Utilizing the thoughts of another photographer, listening to what they see in your photos and also learning about their perspective, will expand your vision…. and break down those creative habits you’ve created.
Finding this relationship can honestly be an essential part of your growth. Remember, it’s a two way street. For all of the time they give you, you need to be just as giving of yourself for them. This is different than going onto a Facebook Page and joining in a weekly challenge. Being on such a smaller scale, as a dedicated team or group, it is more personal and effective.
When Danielle MacInnes told me about the Two by Fifty-Two Project she is doing with another photographer, I saw the wealth of value this type of project could bring photographers and has already brought for them. I invited them to tell the story of their project and how it’s affected them. Keep reading and see for yourself how powerful it can be to challenge yourself regularly alongside another photographer.
Guest post images and writing from Danielle MacInnes and Pete Nowicki:
We invited our project followers to ask us questions about what it’s like to participate in Two by Fifty-Two. We picked some questions to answer in an interview format. So this is basically a fake interview based on real questions. We like to do things differently.
How did you come up with this idea?
Pete: This was 100% Danielle’s idea. I’m just here for the ride.
Danielle: I always try to take on a personal project every year to ensure that I will shoot for myself and push the limits of my creativity. A few years ago I came across a book that showcased two photographer friends living on opposite coasts who would take a photo every morning (for a year) and share their images with one another on a blog. I loved everything about what they were doing, and was so intrigued by how similar some of their images were. Photography (art) is all about perspective and I thought it would be fun to highlight that in a project with another photographer. The idea took off from there.
How did you decide on the words?
D: We both contributed to the word list, and came up with over 100 different ones. In retrospect I wish we had put more thought into some of them. There are some words on the list that I am terrified to try and shoot if they are chosen.
P: And after we had our list of words, I created this randomizer function in google docs that picks a word from our list. We take turns using it. Sometimes we hate the word that is picked, or maybe we find it daunting or annoying. So I had to add a disclaimer that cheating is not allowed. I can tell you that I have never cheated! Not once!
D: I never cheated either! However, I did ask Pete to pick a new word for “Mystery” and he called me a baby and shot me down.
P: Naturally, I won that week.
Do you discuss images with your partner after each submission and decide who “wins” each week?
P: I win every week. I kid! Actually, Danielle’s daughter sometimes likes to declare a winner. Would you care to elaborate, Danielle?
D: Sure. I think we’re usually in agreement each week about whose image was stronger. We’ve both had weeks where we know we submitted something that wasn’t awesome, yet other times we’re fighting over who won, which is when my daughter has to decide. She’s brutally honest about it.
Do you have a routine you go through to decide what you want to shoot or is it different every time?
P: This is a very personal question. Mostly I wait until the last possible second and then panic. I work best under pressure, apparently.
D: I will brainstorm for a few minutes and usually I write the word ‘word’ down somewhere on my desk as a visual reminder during the week. The funny thing is, I almost never end up choosing what my initial idea was as my submission.
How many photos do you typically shoot for each subject?
P: For me this varies. I have shot as little as 10 and as many as 200. Sometimes creativity comes easily, sometimes it feels forced. And sometimes the shot I want is technically challenging. “Wisp” was one of those shots. Trying to capture smoke requires persistence.
D: Nerd. It varies each week and usually depends on how much I like the word, or how busy I am (obviously never as busy as Pete). I’ve shot between 5-50 some weeks?
P: What’s interesting about this question is that I’ve never thought to ask Danielle how she manages to “win” every week. Naturally, we have our own processes and I would not have guessed our ranges to be so different.
D: I think because I shoot more often (for clients), I am more disciplined when it comes to overshooting.
P: Basically, Danielle is awesome.
Do you decide on weekly rules to challenge yourselves, before you get your word. Like no filter, or not editing, or just cropping?
P: This project is a marathon. No need to drop and do 50 pushups at mile 18.
D: No added challenges because this project is hard enough as it is! Also, I think we’re both prone to clean edits anyway- meaning we try to get it right in camera and then only do the most basic adjustments in post processing.
Your pictures are often very similar, would you consider yourselves of similar mindset or “cut from the same cloth” or completely different?
P: This is probably the coolest thing about this project. On weeks 6 through 10 it’s like we were communicating telepathically. None of that was planned or collaborated.
D: As generic as this sounds, I think we’re somewhere in the middle! We’re both creative individuals and I’ve noticed that our shooting style is pretty similar in that we’re minimalists, but in real life we’re very different in a lot of ways. For example, I don’t have a beard.
P: Well, I am glad you do not. Mostly because my beard makes me a better photographer, and I need to be better than you.
D: Good luck with that.
What was the hardest word to shoot? Easiest?
P: I don’t think there were any easy ones for me, and some were kind of hard and others were really hard. A lot of it has to do with what else is going on that week. The weeks I work long hours at work I feel mentally drained, and those are the hardest.
D: If you didn’t know already, Pete is REALLY busy.
P: I’m also pretty narcissistic.
D: The hardest word for me was “self portrait” because unlike Pete, I don’t love being in front of the camera. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to shoot this, and I knew I didn’t want it to be anything traditional (like gazing into the camera a la Pete’s “Magnetic” photo). My final shot ended up being out of focus but I love that I was caught putting my hair up because anyone who spends time with me will see me doing that at least a dozen times.
P: Some 2×52 trivia: in “Magnetic” I actually had a magnet in my pocket. In retrospect I see that this may not be obvious.
What is your favorite image so far? Of your partners?
P: My favorite Pete image is Week 25 (“Tired”). Mostly because I got it right technically. It wasn’t my most creative shot by any means, but creativity is much harder to control. You can always work on your technical skills. My favorite Danielle image is Week 19 (“Friend”). She really captured her dog, Otis. He is such a rascal, but look at that face! It’s also a technically perfect shot, which I admire.
D: My favorite Danielle image is Week 16 (“Lights”). It was the only picture I shot immediately after the word was chosen, and I am a sucker for delicious bokeh (the blur produced in out of focus shots). I love the way the lens rendered the lights. My favorite Pete image is Week 5 (“Through the Window”). I can actually picture myself right there on that boat. I think it’s a really powerful image, one that I would love to hang on my wall.
What is your least favorite image?
D: “Warm.” It was the only image I shot with my iPhone so maybe that’s why- but when I look at it, I don’t think it conveys warmth at all. Also, I remember that it wasn’t actually a very good cup of cappuccino. Nor was it very warm.
P: Mine is “Fruit.” I am embarrassed every time I look at that photo.
D: I’m embarrassed for you.
To check out Danielle and Pete’s project, go to http://2×52.com. It will be running through August 2015. The last 10 weeks of the project will consist of guest-submitted words. If you would like to submit a word for consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1.