A Photo a Day Keeps the Photographer at Play

Bubbles and ice on Lefferts Pond, Vermont

Dear Bubbles:
I hear people talking about a 365 project.  My understanding is that you take a picture a day and post it. Do you just go out a snap a shot or are you picking a technique or particular type of subject like say flowers or birds etc.?  Can it be something that just made you happy that day?  They say it’s a learning experience but it seems like a lot of pressure!  Any thoughts?

Dear Cathy:
Some people refer to this as “A Photo a Day,” “Daily Photo Challenge” or “The 365 Photo Challenge.” There is a formal initiative called The 365 project: This online program is free to join. Some choose to participate in this forum to encourage accountability and build community. BUT, you don’t have to. You can make up your own daily project outside of this program.

No matter what you call it, the premise is that you make and upload at least one photograph per day for 365 days a year. There aren’t many other constraints. You can make any image of anything, anytime, anywhere. The photo can be meaningful. It can suck. It can be something that made you happy that day. Or sad. Or intrigued. It could be on a single or multiple themes. It could be made with your big girl camera or your iPhone or someone else’s camera. It could take you hours to compose or be a quick snap in a restaurant. The only requirement to fulfill is you create one image a day for an entire year.

Committing to photographing every day comes with structure—and yes, if you let it, pressure and expectations. Forcing yourself to get results every single day could lead to frustration and disappointment, especially if you chastise yourself for missing a day or two or twelve. Feeling stressed or anxious does not contribute to creativity and growth. (And let’s be honest, most of us have enough stress in our lives…)

The point with a project like this isn’t to religiously check the boxes. It’s to help you stay engaged with a craft you enjoy; to carve out time for yourself to practice in the midst of your crazy schedule; to slow down in life and notice and the world around you; to appreciate moments that might otherwise get overlooked; to detect changes in our environment over time; to press new buttons on your camera; to press familiar ones in new ways; to figure out your menu; to build muscle memory into your approach; to become more comfortable, confident, and self-reliant in your personal expression; to push through creative ruts; to remind you that the magic is all around you and within you no matter where you are; and most importantly, to have fun! So if you go into this effort with the right mindset and allow yourself grace and fluidity with low or no expectations, it can be a magnificent way to grow, learn and enrich your life through photography.

But even if dedicating time every day to photography isn’t of interest or reality for you, know that you can achieve all of these things photographing on 364 days or 30 days or 3 days a year. For whatever it’s worth, I do not make a photograph every single day. And I’m a professional photographer. If I don’t make images, I don’t make the mortgage payment. I am visualizing and thinking about photography and image making and filling my brain with new ideas almost every waking hour of every waking day. And scientific research has shown that this visualization approach is almost as effective as practicing every single day. (For a taste, read “Visualization: What the Science Says” at There are many ways to become a better photographer—and this is certainly one way, but not the only way.

For those who feel hesitant about dedicating this much time, maybe modify it to making one “good” image a month. As Ansel Adams said, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” OR stay committed to your personal growth whatever that looks like. Remember: this photography thing is supposed to be fun!

Should you do decide to embark on this 365 project journey, consider the following before you get started:

Define a goal: What’s your purpose for taking this on? What do you hope to achieve from this project? Be specific. Write it down and review on a regular basis throughout the project.

Pick a good day to start: While some decide to start on January 1—usually in conjunction with committing to new year’s resolutions (and we all know how those go sometimes…)—you can start the timer any day of the year you wish. You could decide on start your project on your birthday. Or after an inspirational workshop or class. Or August 19, which is National Photography Day. If you are serious about pursuing this endeavor, however, don’t fall into procrastination. Don’t wait for someday. Make today someday. It doesn’t matter when you start, just that you do. You’re better off starting and stopping than never starting at all.

Decide how much structure you want: Will anything go or will you have a set scope for this project? For example, do you want to photograph water-based subjects exclusively? Only with a macro lens? Will you photograph flowers every Monday because you work at a garden? Will you take a thousand photos a day and pick one? Or will you just shoot one and done? Are any and all subjects fair game? Will you avoid certain subjects? As a part of a visualization practice, you might develop a list of possible topics, themes, and/or subjects to refer back to when your time is short or when you run out of spontaneous inspiration. You might also find it helpful to break the challenge down into months or quarters (where you focus on a single theme or skill or subject). What happens if you miss a day? Will you skip the day? Take two the next day? (Whatever you do, don’t cry and don’t give up!) Once you have made an image, what will you edit the photographs after you create them—what constitutes a photograph? Where will you store your collection?

Choose whether how, when, and where you’ll share your images, if you share at all: Will you post the pictures to social media, your personal website, a blog, a digital frame in your house? Every day? Once a week? Not at all? All of the photos you make or just some of them? Will you publish a book at the end? Or will you delete them? For some great ideas and direction on building a portfolio out of your images, check out William Neill’s book, “The Portfolio Development Workshop.” (Get 40% off with the discount code WNEILL40 at

Keep a camera with you all the time: In your pocket, purse, backpack, or your hand. It doesn’t matter what brand or model or type of camera you use. Murphy’s law says that if you leave the house without your camera, you’re bound to see all sorts of photographic possibilities. (I could argue, in this case, that making a mental picture on your brain’s memory card could qualify…but I’m not the judge in your project.)

Critique your work: Avoid “spray-and-pray.” If you make aimless, thoughtless photographs, that’s what you’re going to train your brain to do. You won’t see improvement in your work over time. You’ll only be reinforcing bad habits. If your purpose for this challenge is to improve your craft, perception, and creativity, take a few minutes to ask yourself what you like and don’t like about your daily photograph. What might you try tomorrow or on a future date as a result of what you photographed today? Learn from each frame. Just be sure to manage your expectations appropriately. While you can certainly aim for excellence, be mindful of your inner perfectionist. (Ugh, she can be so judgy!) Know that whatever you create in this spirit of this exercise is “good enough.” Aim for growth, not perfection.

Reward yourself occasionally to stay motivated: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, learning and growth and fun are the best rewards. But let’s face it, a 365 project is no small undertaking. I find I stay more motivated with smaller incremental rewards along the way. As an example, you might buy yourself some pie at the end of every 30 days. Or 7 days. Or 1 day. Think about it—you could photograph the pie. Boom, day done! Hey, it’s your project, your terms. Make it worth your while.

Remind yourself, no pressure, no stress: Make daily photos because you want to, not because you should or have to. As you get into the challenge, abide by one of my life’s motto: if you’re having fun keep doing it. If you’re not having fun, stop and doing something else. Absolutely no one will judge you for not completing precisely 365 photos. And absolutely no one will judge you for photographs you deem aren’t “good enough.” Honestly, few will even notice. Everyone is too busy caught up in their own lives to care that much about yours. I don’t mean that to sound depressing. I mean it to be freeing. So go create. Have a blast. Don’t criticize yourself too harshly. To bastardize the common saying, “Photograph like no one’s watching—because no one actually is.”

If you decide to proceed, go forth and conquer! While setting parameters can help get you started, don’t be afraid to change them as you go. This is your challenge, your rules. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Better yet, I can’t wait to see you grow as a photographer and person. Good luck!

Be well, be wild,