0630: Finding Inspiration Through the Simple Act of Taking Pictures

by Jerry Monkman | September 27, 2012

© Jerry MonkmanI’ve been making pictures professionally for almost 20 years now. After my family, this is the greatest blessing in my life, and every day I wake up and feel grateful to have turned this passion of mine into a career. Even though I’m still learning after all these years, in reality most photo situations don’t provide much of a technical challenge anymore—the real test is finding the inspiration to create something new out of the familiar, and there are definitely days when that challenge seems insurmountable to me. I all too often just feel like I’ve been there and done that.

Last November, I was reviewing my image archive, and I realized that most of the photos I shot during the last few years were made on assignment, as part of a book project, or during a workshop I was leading. While I’m grateful to have the opportunity to shoot often while getting paid, there is a certain joy that comes from shooting with no strings attached. There’s no pressure to perform and experiments that fail are no big deal. I decided I needed more pressure-free shooting in my life and came up with a plan to shoot every day for a year which I call 0630.

The internet abounds with blogs devoted to individual and group 52/365 projects, where photographers post a new image every day or week, with or without self-imposed parameters. I’ve resisted embarking on a similar project, mostly because I felt that imposing artificial “rules” on when or why to make photos would restrict my creativity or become a slog that I resented having to conform to. But I was desperate for a new challenge, and now that I’m ten months into 0630 I can say that it has been a great experience.

Rye, NH © Jerry Monkman

My goal with this project was to shoot every day, as easily as possible, just to get me out and seeing things through my camera. The one “rule” I imposed on myself is that any image I shoot must be made at 6:30 a.m., and even that rule has some wiggle room—I’ll count anything shot between 6:15 and 6:45. Other than that, I’m allowing myself to shoot any subject and in any style or format I want. I’m using my iPhone about half the time, and instead of this becoming a daily slog, I’m finding it’s a part of the day I very much look forward to. It’s getting me out and shooting in my home area of New Hampshire’s Seacoast more than I’ve done in years, and by the time I get to my studio, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something for the day.

Why 6:30? First, there are several months of the year, where the light can be just fantastic at that time of day around here. Second, (and probably more importantly!) with two kids at home, my wife Marcy expects me to be around and helping out in the morning to get the kids ready for school, which means I need to be home by 7:00. It’s a little against my nature to pack up my gear and head home when the light is still good, but it just focuses my attention a little more during the half hour when I have the opportunity to make a picture. In the past, this restriction kept me home altogether, but now I feel like I’m using it to my advantage and finding the challenge to be a lot of fun. And it’s pretty cool when the kids ask to see my new picture every morning at breakfast.

So am I inspired? Admittedly, some days I curse the fact I have to get out of bed, especially after getting home late from a road trip, but those days are the exception. What this project has really taught me is that inspiration comes from being out and shooting, not from sitting in my studio trying to think of new ideas. 0630 forces me to get up and shoot in light I normally wouldn’t bother in (think overcast skies in winter when the sun won’t be up for another 45 minutes) and in places that usually hold no interest for me (like a hotel parking lot in suburban St. Louis). The simple act of being out and shooting when conditions and subject matter are less than ideal has really caused me to think differently and try new or little used techniques (for me anyway).

Portsmouth, NH © Jerry Monkman

I can easily count 40 or 50 photos from 0630 that I really like and that I know I wouldn’t have shot without embarking on this project. And of course, these experiences inform my shooting when I’m out on assignment, and I find it takes me less time to get into “prime” shooting mode because I’m already there from having being shooting on such a consistent basis. For this reason I really encourage other photographers to devise a similar project that gets them out shooting most days. The key to a successful project like this is keeping things simple and making it something that can be done wherever you happen to be. To simplify my process, I’ve set up a Tumblr blog for posting my 0630 photos, which you can see: ecophotography.tumblr.com. It’s especially easy when I shoot with my iPhone as I can post right from the field with the Tumblr app.

November 15th will mark the one-year anniversary of when I started 0630, and I think I’ll consider the project done at that point. I’m already trying devise to my next 365 project and hopefully further inspiration. Any ideas?

About the Author

Jerry Monkman is a nature and adventure photographer based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He specializes in photographing land conservation projects in the northeastern U.S. and has completed more than 100 commissioned conservation photography projects since 2000. With his wife Marcy, he has co-authored eight books about New England, including Wild Acadia, which was named a top photo book of 2007 by Shutterbug Magazine. His most recent book is The AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography. He is a former board member for the North American Nature Photography Association. You can see more of his work at www.ecophotography.com.

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