AJFS Photography

365 Challenge: A Year In My View

The Idea

2015 was an impressive year in my life. I graduated from university with a first class degree in Computer Science, travelled to 9 different countries (and one stop-over) on 3 different continents, and began working for a FTSE 50 company. Over that 40000 or so miles travelled (that's 1.6 times around the equator) I've always had a camera close at hand, and that has resulted in me taking a few photos.

Admittedly, a few photos is possibly the understatement of the year. Knowing there was an interesting year ahead of me, I decided to undertake in a 365 photo challenge at the start of 2015; a daily mission to capture my day and build my photography skills. Other than the 365 photos I published for the challenge, I've shot weddings, sports events, a May Ball, shows, and just about any landscape, cityscape and portrait you could think of. According to the EXIF from Day 1 compared to Day 364 there have been 13000 photos taken, and with each RAW file being somewhere around 20MB each, thats 260GB of image data, equivalent to over 10 BlueRay discs worth of data. Around 5000 of those have made it to Adobe Lightroom to be processed, and over 2500 have been published on social media. Rather more than "quite a few", all in all!

The Gear

My primary camera in 2015 has been the Nikon D7100, modelled above. However, I am nothing if not a tech nerd and a hoarder, so it has been far from the only camera used. My old-timer Nikon D5000 toured with me through Asia, an SJCAM action camera joined over the summer, and a handful of mobile phones have also helped along the way, plus a borrowed camera once or twice.

The D7100 was most often paired with the Sigma 17-50 F2.8, a lens I consider to be one the best choices for any Nikon DX camera. It is simply excellent value for money, a sharp and fast lens that can be had for under £300. At 50mm on a DX camera it makes for a great choice for portraits, while at the wide end it's been a strong contender for landscapes. When the Sigma  couldn't offer enough reach for a shot, I swapped it out for a Tamron 70-300 VC USD. The Tamron is another device well regarded for it's value for money, if a little slow. The Nikon 35mm F1.8 and standard kit lens have also made appearances over the year.
Day 88: My Favourite LensAwful lot of love for this lens.

Of the other devices, it has been the LG G4 smartphone that has impressed the most. With the option to take full manual control (ISO, Shutter Speed and focus) and shoot to RAW - plus frankly insane image stabilisation - I have finally reached a point where I can rely solely on my phone for many shots. With the right setup, you will struggle to tell whether it was an SLR or a phone that took the picture, best seen in this earphones shot.


The Highlights

Photography is my passion, and it has led to some of my favourite moments of the year. Living in West Wales, the challenge immediately led me to the go out and see the natural wonders I had available on my doorstep. From sunsets to starlings, birds to bays, I found beauty in my locale as often as I could. Even with all the miles travelled, Aberystwyth and it's surroundings will always hold a special place in my heart, and some of the photos from this year will be snapshot that holds that memory. 
MurmerationsThe starlings roost under the pier in Aberystwyth during winter, but not without a dance to the sundown each evening

2015 was also a year of untold opportunities photographically, shooting many things I would rarely have the opportunity to. The solar eclipse in March and 'Super blood moon' in September were both rare astrological happenings, and both required going the extra mile to have a setup in the right place and the right time to capture it. The Varsity sporting event in Bangor, Aber Cycle Fest, The Glengower raft race, and the university May ball also stood out as experiences I probably would not have had if I had not been so involved in photography this year.

Super Blood Moon

My travels were certainly a highlight of the year, but were also a highlight of my photographic journey. Each new country and place I visit offers me an image I have never been able to capture before, an experience I have never partaken in. I have stood beneath towering sky scrapers, rowed and walked through ancient landscapes, pondered politics and art, and found a thousand faces to capture emotions from. Photography opens up so much when I travel, as it leads me to find a different angle at a busy monument, to look down a side street, and to give just a little more than a fleeting glance to what is around me. It doesn't even need a 3000 mile plane journey to be true; it is the need to take another photo that has had me travel locally too, finding and exploring nearby attractions I might otherwise ignore. 

Teatime on the Teifi

Most of all, it is the people that keep me in love with photography. I have had the honour to meet, talk to and work with a wide variety of talented photographers in the last year alone, with particular credit needing to be paid to Paul Sanders. His presentation in February proved to be a poignant one in a year that was wrapped in many moments of self doubt and depression, with a message to find your own happiness in your photos. 

It is not only photographers who give me the power to take more photos though. Each time I get a positive review of a photo, it makes me happy to know that someone out there is appreciating my art. Every time I capture a special moment, I am capturing the emotions and thoughts of those in frame at the moment that shutter clicked. It is a smiling bride at a wedding, laughing friends at an event, the strain on a sports person's face, but when they see the photo it is so much more. It is sombre evidence that I was able to capture my uncle at his wedding this summer, he and his bride grinning and happy, before he sadly passed only a few short months later. This photo will mean a lot to my family and I for many years, with powers that would be hard to convey through any other medium.

Smiling Bride

The Lows and The Lessons

Within the first couple of weeks of this challenge, photographic tragedy had struck. My Tamron took a tumble that damaged it's focus motor, leaving me with next to useless vibration reduction and no autofocus. But with so many photos to take, I never got around to fixing it. This could have been the end of my 365 challenge, but it instead proved to be one of the most obvious lessons of the year. Having a manual focusing and shake prone telezoom taught me how to manually focus properly and account for my lens's length. In a way it's made me even prouder of some of the photos I've captured (especially birds in flight), if still angry at myself for being so clumsy! 

Sometimes, photography has been the answer to my troubles this year. When I have felt down, lonely, confused or anxious, the peace of creating a composition had been my escape. It is at these times I often turned to abstract or simpler shots, or gave myself a few hours to walk by myself in the search for something other than what boils over in my mind. At other times though, it is photography that proves to be the trouble maker. After a busy day, it can be hard to find the enthusiasm to pick up a camera, let alone create an image worth publishing. Sometimes the images have been chod awful because of it, but others have ended up being some of my most popular; perhaps because that frustration subconsciously encourages me to do a good job. Either way, it has given me a much greater respect for how my mind and emotions handle photography. Occasionally, there simply wasn't enough time to capture a photo in a day. Besides being a lesson in poor time management, this was often used most as an opportunity to crawl back through my Lightroom catalogue and find a forgotten photo.

Day 127: SimplicityI'm behind schedule on the challenge...oops

Hopefully, the year has had a positive result on my photographic skill. I will let the audience be the true judge, but I can say for sure that I have learnt more about taking photos in the past year than I had in any year previous. My camera moved from aperture priority to manual far more frequently, I became much more adept at being able to guess settings prior to a shot, and my mind began searching for compositional elements like leading lines at a rate far beyond what it had done previous. I learnt that it was the tiniest elements of a shot that make the difference between a good image and a great one, and most of all I learnt that sometimes I wont take good photos, and that's still okay.

Day 54: Sheltered?Last year, the seaside shelter in Aberystwyth collapsed in to the sea. Having been rebuilt, the current high tides and strong winds mean its being battered all over again!

The Conclusion

2015 has drawn to an end. A turbulent year that has seen all manner of changes and adventures. The challenge in it's entirety can be found in my Flickr 365 Challenge Album, and I will be gifting one person a print of their favourite photo through the AJFS Photography Facebook page. There are points where I thought I'd have given up with the whole challenge, but it looks like I made it! I will be looking forward to booting up my computer on the 1st of January and not having to start up Lightroom habitually, but I am far from putting the camera away. 2016 will offer a new round of photographic challenges, and no doubt dozens of opportunities to further my skills.

With all that said and done, all that is left is to thank everyone who's been involved in my photography (and my life!) over the past 12 months, and to wish each and every one of you a prosperous 2016.

Happy new year, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, Feliz año nuevo, Bonne année and all the rest!