What I’ve learned about life from photographing the last 894 days straight

As of today, I’ve taken a photo every day for 894 days in a row. Eight hundred ninety four days!!! At the end of 2019, when I committed to my first ever 365 challenge, I was quite skeptical in my ability (and interest) to see it through. I never would have guessed that I would end up moving on to year two and year three without even thinking twice about it.

It was my dear friend and colleague Kristyn Miller that asked me if I’d join her in this challenge. She’d already done it once before and said it changed her life. Changed her life. I was skeptical but intrigued.

Prior to being committed to daily photo taking, my personal photos were strictly a highlight reel. They were primarily a collection of camping photos, hiking photos, and lots and lots of dog photos. I rarely took photos of our life indoors and I rarely took photos with people in them.

How I would find inspiration or subject matter to keep picking up my camera day after day for an entire year was beyond me. And little did I know that the year I attempted a 365 project would be the same year as a global pandemic, making the challenge even more difficult.

I never could have predicted everything I would learn and gain from a daily photo-taking practice. And it’s become so routine, as routine as brushing my teeth, that I’m not sure when I’ll stop.

894 days in and I thought it might be fun to reflect on what I’ve learned about life from my daily photo-taking practice…

Life is full of delight, if we’re paying attention.

I notice so many things now that I never noticed before. My daily photo is usually of something that delights me, something that tells a story of my life in that moment, or something I want to remember. With that, I’m constantly noticing things that fit in to one of these categories. The tiniest moment of delight, like spotting the very first sign of fall, will stop me in my tracks. At first it was effort to notice. Now it’s second nature and has caused me to generally be more aware and appreciative of the world around me.

Surrounded by green leaves in every direction, I found the very first sign of fall at my feet.

It’s not possible to make magic every single day and that’s totally okay.

At first I looked at this project like homework. I thought I had to make something worthy of an A+ day after day after day. Not only is that not sustainable but, to me, totally unrealistic. More and more I realized I wanted to document my life as it is, not as I think it “should” look. And as cliche as it may sound, the more I documented my life in an honest and raw way, the more I came to realize that it’s enough, just as it is.

A very accurate representation of how I like to spend warm, sunny winter days.

Showing up for yourself, even in the tiniest, most lackluster kind of way, is still showing up.

There have been plenty of days when I have not wanted to take a photo and decided to anyways. Some days I wonder why I care so much, I wonder why it matters. It matters because at the end of the year, when I am holding an album that is a complete record of my life, I can say that I showed up every day, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if a photo is good or bad, it matters that I fulfilled a commitment I made to myself. That simple act has given me confidence and shown me how big goals are simply the culmination of many small, consecutive actions.

The messiness of life often tells the best story.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist and a bit OCD. Years ago I would have been appalled at the idea of photographing any part of my life that was dirty or messy or disorganized. Now I take those photos all the time. I take them because they’re a far more accurate representation of real life and they often say so much. Moving out of a house, breaking down on the side of the road, long work days, cooking a huge meal, home and vehicle repairs, mud season…the list goes on. This is life. I may not always love the photo in the moment, still slightly cringing at the disarray of it all, but not much time has to pass and I look back fondly and with gratitude for having preserved the story that I see in each one of those photos.

Drying out our books after a major water spill in our truck camper.

“Sometimes you don’t know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”

This is a favorite quote of mine and one that seems to feel more true with every passing year. I have taken so many photos that I never would have otherwise taken if it wasn’t for this project. And so many of those photos didn’t feel important at the time. But now, looking back, I see how much changes when we don’t even realize change is happening (or about to happen). I’m so grateful that I had a reason to pick up a camera and preserve the moments I had no idea would mean so much to me later.

I had no idea when I took this photo that a pandemic was about to begin and we’d end up selling this house and moving a few months later.

Everything has an ebb and flow

Inspiration, motivation, optimism, creativity…for me, they all wax and wane. Had I quit this project at the first sign of disinterest I wouldn’t have made it very far. Curiosity of what I might make when I didn’t want to make anything at all drove me to keep going. What has happened is I’ve learned to ride the wave. When I’m feeling creative and inspired, I make sure to embrace it and enjoy it. When I feel discouraged and disconnected I try to not beat myself up over it and remember that it will pass. And sometimes the act of creating anyways, no matter how I feel about it, is exactly what I needed to snap me out of my funk.

Making it easy makes it more possible

I always, always have a camera within arm’s reach. I also have a very streamlined workflow that allows me to download, edit, and backup my images quickly. Without creating this ease for myself, this daily practice would be so much more difficult to stick with. I feel like that is such a crucial lesson for any other goal I may want to pursue in the future.

Many of my daily photos don’t look like much standing on their own but they’re all a piece of the puzzle that is the annual picture of my life. When I see them all collected inside one album, I see a reflection of my life looking back at me. I see and appreciate what’s steady in my life and I acknowledge and give thanks for what’s fleeting. 894 days later and every photo, no matter how magical or mundane, feels like a gift that I’m so grateful to have.

A few more of the many moments I’ve documented over the last 2.5 years…

If you’re a creative (photographer or otherwise) looking for a way to strengthen your creative muscle, I highly recommend checking out The Documented Heart. TDH is a guided 365 practice led by my friend Kristyn Miller. It’s a year of coaching packed with value. I can’t recommend it enough.

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