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Dustin Diaz's Daily Dose

A number of people have pointed me to Dustin Diaz's 365 Project. And while this is certainly not the first of its kind to come down the pike, Dustin has inserted a couple of twists that make his project right up our alley.

Get your One-A-Day shot, inside.


Light and Steady

First of all, Dustin is using much of his photo marathon to explore what he can do with flash. And while that sounds all laudable and romantic and stuff, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing like a long-term project to expose your "camera expertise" as nothing more than a bag of tricks -- and a shallow bag of tricks at that.

At least that's been my experience when doing long-term projects. Which is exactly why you do them, of course -- to grow, practice, discover your limits and then expand them out of sheer necessity.

But Dustin has added another Strobist-friendly aspect to his daily grind: Lighting diagrams for many of his photos. That's right, not only is he shooting a lit photo a day, but he is also spelling out his techniques for anyone following along.

If Only I Had that Kind of Time...

So, what kind of loser has enough free time on his hands to light, shoot, diagram and publish to the web non-stop? (aside from the obvious, of course.)

Well, if you are a Gmail user, you have Dustin to partially thank for it. Dustin was an engineer on that team at Google. As for myself, I am not sure how that Gmail tech stuff works. But you can get a basic idea with this video.

Dustin worked at Yahoo before that, and recently moved over to Twitter. In fact, he announced his resignation from Google with a tweet. The guy's got flair, I'll give him that much.

But suffice to say, he is a plenty busy guy to be tackling a significant project like this. And if you are interested in trying a 365 yourself, I got a chance to shoot some Q's at him about his year-long journey thus far. So I'll just shut up and let him do the talking.

(As always, click on any of the pix to get to the Flickr page, which in turn will point you to his lighting diagrams.)

Dustin Diaz on the 365

Q: Talk a little about the framework for the project. Has this been harder than you expected, or has your lighting grown easier and more intuitive because of the repetitive nature of it?

Doing a "365 project" is of course, not uncommon among photographers. To give some brief history, I had already been taking pictures several months prior to even beginning the project. In regards to daily shooting, I have been a photographer for four years.

You know the old saying -- "you need a camera to take pictures". So I carried mine everywhere. However, moving into the 365, the point was not to see if I can push the shutter every 24 hours (that's easy) but rather to invoke the challenge of being a creative editor. Choosing just one image from a bunch is hard -- really hard. And then starting that process all over again the next day, well, that's just exhausting.

I have, however, found it easier over time in deciding what photo I want to take each day by simply focusing on single-themed photos. This is as opposed to going out and taking a variety of photos and then having to decide between having "too many" photos at the end of the night.

In regards to being "harder than I expected," it has been. But that's only because expectations continually change, and the level of expected quality grows and having an audience that gives constant feedback is terrifying! But once you have an audience, you can't stop. Or at least, I can't.

As far as "lighting" goes (since this is the Strobist blog, after all) it's a double-edged sword. It's easy to fall into the trap of taking the same photo using the same light settings, but in different locations. But part of the goal of the 365 is to try new things, make mistakes, and do things out of the ordinary.

For example I never thought I'd be running in the middle of traffic, leaving a tripoded camera in a windy suicide lane, clamping lights to people's garages, or paying homeless teenagers to trigger the shutter. But to quote a friend, it's like "taking crack, responsibly." Being a daily strobist is hard, yet addicting, but one must be responsible enough to put the gear down for a day, and then let your next idea wait another day.

Q: Speaking of that, has the project revealed the limitations of your bag of lighting tricks? Are hitting a wall, or are you growing as a result of those exposed boundaries?

Yes, there are limitations, but first, a quote from Michael Freeman from his book The Photographer's Eye:
"The important decisions in photography are those concerned with the image itself: the reasons for taking it, and the way it looks. The Technology, of course, is vital, but the best it can do is to help realize ideas and perception"

Thus, in one sense, to say one is only as good as their equipment is a bad outlook. I am, however, at a point in my photography career where I've set myself up to mostly "not worry" about gear. Between my wife Erin and I, we have six speedlights and six PocketWizards. Needless to say, I don't feel hard done by when it comes to lack of light. The only real limitation is my imagination (for lack of a cheesier expression). And no amount of gear is going to solve the problem of making a good photograph with meaning. So yes, this is difficult.

From an Engineers perspective, one would think there's only so many combinations of lighting setups before you're doing the same tricks over. And nobody wants to be a one-trick pony — at least I don't.

But to this point, there are only three things that have gotten easier:

1) leaving the house
2) setting up
3) tearing down

Therefore, the biggest stumbling block each day is the "what" and "where"-- and the occasional "how much time do I have before midnight," which has happened on several accounts.

Q: You famously swapped horses from Google to Twitter. At Google, there is a decent-sized community of photographers, and even a pretty tight group of guys into small-flash lighting. Is there a similar cadré at Twitter? If not, have you seen any interest from others due to your project?

Google is an Engineering company. They have a photography mailing list. Most of the subjects that popped into the list were related to pixel density, f/stops and lenses with an infrequent link to someone's personal photos requesting a critique.

None of these are bad things, as they represent the culture quite well. And as far as I remember, very few were into strobist photography. I had helped organically grow one small group within the Gmail team, and it became quite fun for a lot of us.

On the flipside of the coin, I am more interested in the art of photography. For example, learning the inverse square law was fun for a few days. But in the end, it's only a mean to an end. Taking photographs that actually evoke emotion is what I am after, and light plays a major factor into creating that feeling.

Nevertheless and to the point, Twitter is a much smaller company (in regards to employees). And there is no photography community. If anything, there is a strong coffee cadré, which I will happily embrace. The goal was to lead the Frontend Engineering team, not seek camera friends.

Q: What advice would you have to anyone considering a 365 project? I.e., in retrospect, would you deliberately choose a broad or narrow visual framework, and why?

For anyone crazy enough to do anything out of the ordinary for 365 days, you WILL get tired. But specifically for photographers, find inspiration in other places besides photo websites.

Watch an episode of LOST or Heroes, then perhaps go buy a comic book. (Hey, I'm not even into comics, but there is some good strobist inspiration in those things). Or better yet, just leave the house knowing you can't come back without taking at least ONE good photo that you're happy with.

And lastly, reflect often. Notice your own improvement and try to out-do yourself — not others. It does not take a 365 to do this. I mainly chose my custom 365 framework to bring forth challenges that were appropriate to what I wanted to get out of it. Therefore broad or narrow, whichever framework someone chooses, I believe self-challenges are always a great way to better oneself.

Oh, and Speaking of Twitter

Back at Strobist International HQ, we know we have been extremely neglectful of late in the Twitter department. It started off on it last summer, with more enthusiasm than long-term strategy. Then the upstream conversation quickly got to take up far too much time in the workday. It was kinda like trying to take a sip out of a fire hose.

Right now, it is still dormant. But I am finally off of my travel merry-go-round and trying to work out a system that will be sustainable. If you want to be onboard for whatever ends up happening, you can click to follow here.

The only thing I can promise is that, for a little while at least, it'll basically be the sound of crickets chirping (tweeting?) in the distance. But when I decide how to light it up again, you'll be the first to know.


:: Dustin's 365 Site ::
:: Dustin's Lighting Diagrams ::
:: Follow Dustin from the Heart of the Twitterverse ::


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