Today I’ll teach you how to become better at what you do with a simple exercise. With me, it worked with photography, but you can apply it to cooking, music, storytelling or any creative art.
A Gracious Encounter
In December 2015 I took a few days off after WordCamp US in Philadelphia and, on my way back to Europe, decided to spend some time in the Big Apple right before Christmas.
It’s where Harry met Sally! Well, not exactly, but the most iconic scene of that movie happened at that diner.
Right after breakfast, Andrea and I were walking when a tall, well dressed, and very charming man joined us.
He introduced himself with a few simple words: “Hi, I’m, Jeff. What are you guys up to?” We told him we were having a walk and exploring the neighborhood. He said he was going to Los Angeles because he plays jazz in a club over there. If we ever happened to be on the West Coast, we were totally invited.
We took a couple of pictures together and parted ways. That is how I met Jeff Goldblum. It was the most gracious celebrity encounter of my life.
I took this portrait in a few seconds, with no setup and with the camera I had with me.
More than 16000 in ten years
I’ve been taking pictures since I was 5 when my father let me snap pics with his camera, and in the last ten years, I published more than 16,000 images on Flickr. I mostly do street photography and always have a camera with me.
I have a carefully defined workflow that keeps my photography consistent and well organized. It starts when my camera shutter clicks and ends when the picture is published online and archived. I shoot raw files, edit them in Lightroom, export the final JPEGs, publish the images on Flickr and archive the raw files in my home storage, which has a regular offsite backup that ensures they’re safe and sound.
When thinking about 16,000 pictures, it feels like “a lot.” But putting them in perspective, it’s only four pictures a day for the last ten years.
I spent two weeks in Ireland this summer and published almost 300 pictures. That’s an average of 20 pictures a day. I’m not always out there shooting, but I travel a lot and love taking pictures.
How to separate the best from the rest?
With 16,000 pictures, I realized that it’s hard to separate the best from the rest. And I wanted to find a way to showcase my best work.
The first thing I tried was a 500Pixel account. It was gorgeous. Pictures looked amazing. There were compelling stats, and the community around my photos was incredibly supportive. It was possible to map my domain, and so I did. I started to publish aggressively on 500Px for a few months. But I was still publishing a lot even though I tried to be strict and select only the best. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes 15 a day.
It quickly became parallel to Flickr, where I published everything. Fail.
I gave Instagram a try. I started a 365 project, pulling and publishing a picture every day from my archive.
Again the results were good, but not great. Instagram only allows publishing from the mobile app, so I had to download a picture, square crop it, and then publish. Every single day. My pictures don’t always work in a square format, so I got frustrated, started missing days, and at some point, I quit.#picoftheday #365 #fail
A couple of years ago, I was experimenting with model photography and did what most fashion photographers do — I started a portfolio on WordPress.
I selected a bunch of pictures from my archive and bundled them in a feature slider. I finally had a portfolio site featuring my best work!
But the site was dead. There was no traffic, no comments no linking to any of my images. I started blogging about photoshoots I did with models, applied all the tricks of the trade, divided big shoots into chunks and posted on a weekly basis. But it was a lot of work, and I felt worn down after a couple of months. wp_fail();
A photography drought
For a few months, I fell into a photography drought. I started leaving my camera at home, and apathy took over.
I’m working for a distributed company that allows me to travel the world, pursue photography or any other of my hobbies with complete flexibility, and I’m knee-deep in online publishing and yet unable to find the right recipe for showcasing my photography.
On my 35th birthday, I began a journey to change everything for good.
A complete accident: my daily photo blog
I’m not going to lie: It was a complete accident, I just happened to start a daily photo blog, and quickly all the dots connected.
I introduce you to photos.luca.blog!
I published one picture straight from my archive. In the first couple weeks I gave myself a few rules:
- one picture a day
- black and white only
- one full year, no matter what
First of all, I was happy to select pictures and publish them again. I found common elements in my photography, for instance, my black and white photos are much better than color. Model photography is not for me, so I totally quit. But most of all, I started a retrospection of the last ten years and could see what works and what doesn’t.
Forcing myself to choose one photo a day for a year, my archive was reduced to 366 pictures (2016 is a leap year). Each time you make decisions on your work, you grow stronger.
Having a photo blog on WordPress allowed me to quickly and automatically share the daily post on Twitter and Facebook, and this gave me great exposure and support from an existing network of friends. Being on WordPress.com, I also had two additional advantages: a brand new following and a daily streak badge.
On WordPress.com, there is a streak notification after the third day if you post daily, and it keeps you motivated. It’s cool, check it out!
There was another advantage to having a project on WordPress. I told you that Instagram was working well until I started missing days. The same happened on WordPress, but as soon as I skipped a day, I could catch up by backdating a post and voila, problem solved.
There’s no point in being rigid and unforgiving with yourself. I allowed myself a few perks, such as scheduling posts and happily updating my photo blog only every couple of weeks. It’s so convenient!
Is this cheating? Who cares! It works for me, and that’s all that matters.
On the last day of May 2016, I hit my target and completed the first year.
A man publishes a picture every day; you would never believe what happened next…
I kept publishing with the same rules. But something else happened.
I realized that my passion for photography was back because I feel the need to have fresh content.
Retrospection helps me to make better photography choices, like dropping model photo shoots and experimenting in landscape photography. Here are a few examples from recent holidays in Ireland: #1, #2, #3.
And yes, I also got better at color photography. When I feel strong enough, I’ll post them. And if you want to be the first to know, follow my blog at photos.luca.blog!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
How to get better at anything
If there is anything you want to get better at, start a daily blog about it.
Give yourself three simple rules:
- one post every day
- one type of content (a picture, a poem, a sentence, a full post, up to you)
- one year
And, of course, do it on WordPress!