informal learning,  photos

10 things I learnt from Flickr Photo a day

This time last year I was feeling a bit down, and thought I needed a bit of a challenge to motivate myself. So I started the Flickr photo a day thing. If you haven't seen this, the clue is in the title – you aim to take a photo a day for a year. You don't have to upload one a day (I didn't always have connectivity), but you have to take one a day and you have to take it. That's all. 

So what did I learn from the process?

1) I'm not a very good photographer

2) I didn't really improve as a photographer much in terms of technical ability, but it forces you to start looking for photographs in the everyday objects and scenes, so I developed more of a photographer's mindset.

3) I need to get out more. Often I was either working at home or in the office in Milton Keynes. You soon run out of things to photograph in these settings. I would like to offer this up as a contender for 'Most Boring Photograph in the World'

Day #158 Milk Bottle 100objects

On the other hand, I do quite like this one:

Day #215 Mr Smiley will knock you out

4) It introduces you to new tools and ideas. Just being around Flickr and other people (particularly good photographers such as Sarah Horrigan and Juliette Culver) makes you try new things. I played around with some iPhone apps and also used DailyShoot for inspiration.

5) Usage is unpredictable. Our old friend unpredicatbility raises its head again. I can't tell you why some images gained more views than others (the milk bottle one above was strangely popular, maybe as an example of boring photography). 

6) Creating your own presentation archive. I did a presentation recently using only images from my own Flickr set. It was interesting how I could put them to different uses, which I hadn't intended when I took them. This one I probably knew I would use in an OER talk:

Day #93 OER

But I didn't really have the changing nature of higher ed in mind when I took this:

Day #165 woody posts bail for Jessie

7) It's the whole that counts. Individual photos are usually not up to much, but as I got past 200 I knew I'd have to finish it, just to have the set. This is not unlike running or studying. Then the overall set becomes a mildly interesting record of a year.

8) A little cheating is ok. Well, I'm not going to be kicked off the course am I? So I used one photo that my wife took:

Day #285 crashed plane on the Beacons

And on a couple of occasions I took two photos in one day and used them across two. I'm sorry. Note: I'm not saying a little cheating is ok in other realms, here I'm only cheating myself, and only a little bit.

9) The best camera is the one you have with you. I started carrying my Olympus E-450 with me a lot, but even so many of my photos are done with the iPhone because that's what I had when I was out.

10) There is a relationship with formal learning. I like these semi-structured autonomous tasks. They provide a structure and commitment to doing something you are interested in. I've argued elsewhere (and in my forthcoming book) that higher ed shouldn't see itself as being in competition with informal learning. I think exploring and being open to these synergies will be a good model for higher education to follow.

That's it. Here's the photoset in all its glorious banality:



    (1) How do you know you are not a good photographer? Where did that assessment occur? You choose and frame your subjects well, and that to be says “Good photographer”
    (2) That is the true outcome- its not about improving technically, but seeing your world differently, looking at things you might not see before. And I bet despite your assertion, that you start doing things automatically with the camera that before required conscious choice (cropping, angles, aimign for good light, avoiding badly lit subjects)
    (3) You do not get to decide what is boring, it is in the eyes of the beholder. The milk picture evokes some mystery- why is it out? who’s bottle is it? is the milk bad?
    I’ve being doing the bulk of 4 years of daily photo on my 1/3 acre property and small home, and I am amazed I can still find new things. And when I am stumped for a subject, I try to fill it in my a creative title or caption.

    (10) This is key for me. The task you took on was under your own direction, it was not for a certificate or a mark, but because you set a goal. The thing you left out which was indicated in the other points, is the influence of others on your process- the social acts of commenting and being in a shared space is important in learning too. Why not daily challenges for math, history, science?
    And putting in my own… (11) Why stop now?

  • Sarah Horrigan

    Y’know what I’ve also learned with a 365 project (other than I am massively tenacious when I want to be!), is that taking a photo a day is also a way of building in a point of reflection into my days. Rather than going relentlessly forwards, the act of taking an image – and then deliberately choosing one, processing it ready for upload etc – makes me stop and think. It’s having to do something with an image which forces this onto you – though ‘force’ isn’t what really happens. It’s a consequence of making a choice rather than the usual forced act of reflection that you so often see in education. It’s that gentle and habitual reflection which is unintended but powerful – and it’s the bit I find most addictive!
    PS Don’t underestimate your photography – you see more than you realise.

  • Juliette

    Congratulations on finishing! Knowing how many times I was tempted to give up, I certainly respect anybody who sees a 365 through.
    I also remember mine really making me realise that I needed to get out more too – though definitely not helped by being pregnant for 9 of the 12 months of mine!
    I found it good to be forced not to be too perfectionist and to just get out there and take photos, but sometimes a bit too of a chore that I stopped putting enough effort into trying to improve my photography and sometimes ended up just trying to get a ‘good enough’ shot which I’m not sure was really worthwhile.
    It’s nice looking back and having a photographic diary of the year too I find now.

  • Terry Freedman

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve carried a camera around with me everyday for yonks: it really does make u look at the world ina different way. I also happen to think documenting “boring” things is good, and necessary — because most people photograph only the interesting stuff!
    I haven’t used only my own pics in presentations, but I do tend to use mainly my own ones to illustrate my articles: I love the idea of being able to just have a rummage through to see which ones might fit the topic being discussed.
    I also wrote an article you may be interested in, thought it concerns video more than still pics. It’s called In Praise of Tedium:

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