Seize the Day – One Photo at a Time

When did I lose control of my life? It happened subtly. Perhaps it was the overwhelming busyness of life—work and family obligations coupled with ongoing education and volunteer commitments. Somewhere along the way, my life began to run me. Opportunities got deferred to some magic future time when I wouldn’t be so busy. That time never arrived. The problem came to my attention with my repeated use of the phrase “some time.” As in, “that would be interesting to do, some time.” Some time, of course, never arrived and opportunities were lost.

Once I realized this, I took action. If I caught myself saying “some time,” I would answer back, “if not now, when?” This simple phrase, attributed to Hillel the Elder (60 BC – 10 AD) among others, reminded me to give priority to the things I wanted to do now. I didn’t want to keep putting the joys of life on the back burner.

In September 2012, an opportunity arrived quietly in our local newspaper. If I had flipped the page, I would have forgotten about it. In his editorial, Steve Warburton wrote about his daily photo project. Inspired by the late filmmaker Jamie Livingston, who had taken a photo a day for over 20 years, Warburton began his own project in 2008 by taking one photo each day. He challenged his readers to begin their own photo-a-day project. “What a brilliant idea,” I thought. “I’m going to do this!” And I did. Before turning the page of the paper, I grabbed my camera and took a photo of the editor’s column. That photo became my first photo of the day.

I didn’t have any grand expectations for the project. I thought it would be fun and would help me remember to take my camera with me wherever I went. The only rules for the project were that each photo had to be taken by me, or of me; the content of the photos was my choice. I decided each daily photo would represent something of note that happened that day—an event or a sight that distinguished that day from all others. Since most days I can’t be sure of which photo will be THE photo, I often end up with dozens of potential candidates.

Each morning, I select which of the previous day’s photos will be photo-of-the-day. From the beginning, I posted my daily photos on Facebook along with a short description. Since many of my family and friends live at a distance, the photos became a fun way of keeping people up to date. When I stopped posting them for a few weeks, I got complaints—people missed them.

At the beginning of 2013, I began posting my photos on Tens of thousands of people worldwide use this free site daily, each doing their own photo-a-day project. It’s a community of photographers who support each other in their quest to become better photographers, and who share ideas and techniques.

The project has prompted me to become more observant. I am more aware of the rhythms of the seasons and life unfolding around me. I keep an eye out for the colourful, unusual, or whimsical shot. I stretch my imagination. Along the way, I became a better photographer. I relied less on the camera’s automatic settings and improved my skill with the manual ones. I developed a keener eye and practiced more thoughtful composition. The project has imposed a daily discipline and prompted greater creativity—important attributes for a student to have.

There have been unexpected but rewarding benefits. Two of my photos have been published in two different newspapers. One photo of a Hungarian Partridge appears on Bird Studies Canada’s 2014 calendar. A shot of my neighbour’s snow-covered barn graced their Christmas cards last year. Several photos have appeared in The Voice. The photos I take also double as a pictorial journal—a visual diary of what I did that day.

Sixteen months ago, instead of thinking a good idea would be good “some time,” I seized the day. I acted on an opportunity, stepped boldly, and brought joy to my life. Today marks my 500th photo in this project.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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