I took a picture every day this year, and your favorite was …

I have a friend who likes to challenge herself with impossible tasks. I don’t know why she does this. I also don’t know how she talks me into joining her.

Taking a picture every day and posting it to Facebook sounded much less crazy than another challenge of hers that I accepted a few years ago — to write, perform and record an entire album of completely original music in 28 days together, even though we lived 3,000 miles away. That was truly crazy.

But with that challenge, and this one, I came out on the other side having accomplished something pretty cool, even if it’s not perfect in all of its parts.

June 27; that’s Missy Maltby enjoying a lethal Martharita. One of my favorites of the year — but NOT your favorite. Read on to find out which image got the most likes.

The best part of this challenge was that so many of YOU took part. The comments you left, the likes —and occasional absence of likes —subtly guided me and encouraged me along.

So I thought I’d walk you through the year in pictures—some of your favorites, some of my favorites that you didn’t much care for, and discuss the process of making and editing the images.

The Rules

The rules were simple: Post a picture every day.

I broke that rule repeatedly. And the implied rule that the picture I posted was also taken on that day — well, I bent that rule too. I did pretty good at posting something daily, but only about 90 percent of the images were actually shot on the day they were posted. Some I banked for a few days in case I needed one on a dry day.

All of these were shot on my iPhone 5s. Most have some post-processing; I used the Camera+ app for most of them (lovely tool, that Camera+).

The Numbers

May 7; From the “Here’s another boring flower” period

I noticed as I went along that I definitely gravitated to certain subjects (you probably noticed too). Despite my disdain for the obvious, I found myself suckered into colors. Flowers, sunsets, whatever. If it was bright and shiny and had lots of primaries, I leapt at it.

I made a little dataviz (that’s what I do) of the pictures I posted. Here are the results:

Dataviz, Pictures of the Day

I have them divided by main compositional element. So, for example, the picture of the flower up there would fall into the “near or in home” category. If it were in b&w, it would *also* appear in that category.

You can play with the viz yourself here: https://public.tableausoftware.com/views/PoD/Dashboard1?:embed=y&:toolbar=no&:display_count=no

The upshot: Judging by the pictures you liked on Facebook, the foliage shots I made in October were your favorites. But the ones that I identified as my own favorites were generally yours too — they had a higher “like-per-picture” ratio than any others. That made me happy.

The goal

The goal I set out with was not to make beautiful photographs (obviously I succeeded in not making beautiful photographs, on many days). The goal was to *see* beautiful things and record them. And that means achieving, or at least being attuned to, a state of mind.

I am a sucker for beautiful things. Nature is so full of grace and awe, and I am much more inclined to take pictures of the natural world than I am of people. Taking pictures of people actually makes me feel a little weird (good thing I didn’t decide to be a photojournalist).

My favorite pictures

On some days, finding beauty was easy. And some of the most beautiful things in my life are my babies, Thomas (11) and Julia (turned 9 in June).

January 12, Thomas songwriting in the living room.

Thomas, songwriting. I made a handful of images of this moment, but this angle showed best what he was actually doing. In some, he appeared to have passed out at the keyboard. He largely ignores me.

Photography is storytelling. One of the most important parts of making a good photograph is eliminating the elements that don’t contribute to the story. In this case, that was color. So we went with black and white.

January 15, at the mechanic’s junkyard.

I worked the hell out of this in post-processing. I was feeling a little cold and raw emotionally that day; this picture was more a story about me than about the junkyard that lies beyond.

January 20

The winter was a long and heartbreaking spell of cold. I’m not sure what the physics were that caused the snow on the driveway to melt around the twig here, but a story jumped out at me: not everything has to freeze.

I used the “clarity” filter (a little miracle, that thing, when used judiciously) but decided to leave the color in, as it helped the twig stand out from the snow.

February 7

I love this picture, largely because it’s hard to figure out what the hell it is. We had a few days without precipitation ahead of us, so I decided to duck into the car wash on my way to work. This was shot from inside the car as the blue brushes slapped away the grime on the car—and a little bit of grime on the soul. Clean things please me. Also, I dig the complementary colors.

March 17; from the “I’m shooting pictures while I’m driving” series

Work is 20 miles away from home, and I spend up to an hour and a half every day driving back and forth. On some days, the only time I saw anything “beautiful,” if you will, was while driving. So, as in this picture, I’d sometimes stick my phone out the sunroof and take a picture of a particularly cool cloud formation.

March 21, San Francisco Bay

In late March, my job at the newspaper changed. I’d spent the last five years as the breaking news editor — an exhausting and emotionally draining job. So when the editor of the paper said he wanted me to return to being the “data editor”—a job I’d had before — I was thrilled. I flew to California for a seminar on data journalism at UC-Berkeley and stayed with a dear friend and her family in San Rafael while I was there, so I took the commuter ferry in the mornings.

I am enchanted by San Francisco. There’s something about the light and the proportion of hill to tree to valley to sea that just slays me. This was shot from the ferry around 6 a.m. The moon peeked through the mist there for just a second. I got it. The color perfectly captures the calm and stillness that I feel there.

April 14, Nepaug Reservoir

The Nepaug Reservoir is close to home. I drive by every day on my way to and from work. It’s hard to shoot from the road, so one day I parked and walked to the water’s edge. This came out much moodier than I’d expected.

April 28, Collinsville

Collinsville, Conn. is a quaint-as-hell village with artist-colony flair. The children take piano and guitar lessons at a lovely music store there, and while they’re hammering away, I like to walk around the area. It never disappoints — there’s an old mostly abandoned ax factory right on the Farmington River, and there’s always something “beautiful.” In this case, it was a tree reflected in the calm river. One of the filters in post-processing turned half the sky inky black, and it looked to me like the tree was leaking into the water.

May 12, the side yard

Julia in the grass. Aside from the pink-and-green preppy palette, I love how she is so engrossed in something. Probably a bug. The devil-may-care posture caps it. Happy girl in happy place.

May 13, Collinsville

Collinsville also features a rails-to-trails corridor. This used to be a railroad bridge that probably took raw materials to and from the ax factory. Now it’s home to bikers and hikers. On this day, the light was special.

May 16, Bushnell Park, Hartford

Bushnell Park in Hartford is a little gem. I often go for a “cigar walk” on Friday afternoons after lunch—I visit the tobacconist downtown (there still is one), pick up a couple of cigars for the weekend and meander through the park on the way back. On this day, the pink tree flowers had fallen seemingly at once, and the area near the pond was carpeted in the stuff. The colors fade quickly after they fall from the tree; this is a once-a-year picture.

June 12, New Hartford

The thing that kills me about this picture is that *nobody* liked it, and it’s one of my favorites. This is at the top of a hill near an abandoned barn and silo, which would usually be the subject of the picture — but in this case, the warm light and the tree disappearing into the fog drew me in. I like the balance with the other elements— the rock, the pile of dirt, the buckets. It all feels otherworldly, and peaceful.

June 20, the driveway

LAST DAY OF SCHOOL! LAST DAY OF SCHOOL! LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!

Thomas’ evident relief is palpable.

July 1, the New Hampshire house

My family has a house on a lake in New Hampshire. We go up for a week around the Fourth of July and fish and canoe and go completely off-line.

Julia in an unguarded moment. This could be my favorite picture of the year.

July 5, New Hampshire

I know, everyone with a camera jumps at sunsets. This one was particularly nice. Not sure if the blur up at the top is a bird or a bug or a smudge on the lens. Colors were slightly boosted post-process, but this was pretty much exactly what it looked like. Fireworks, a day late.

July 20, back deck

If you know me well, you know I have a tendency to amuse myself faaaar too much.

This is “My Funny Ballantine.” Get it?

I chuckled for an hour.

August 7, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Every summer we head down to the North Carolina shore, just south of the Outer Banks. Julia here is proving that youth is not always wasted on the young.

August 8, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

It took a few days to get this shot right. It’s from the balcony of the house, looking west to the setting sun. By the looks of the marshes across the channel, it’s nearly high tide.

In this shot, the colors are really all that matters, mostly because they echo the feeling I have inside during this week with my family.

August 15, the back deck

HERE IT IS: Your favorite picture of the year. This one got 25 “likes” — more than any other — and a bunch of comments. It was a throw-away picture, but the caption (“Friday night — do I know how to party or what”) told the story. I suspect many of my friends tell this same story on Friday nights. We know how to party, man.

August 16, the New Hampshire house

My dad refers to this as “the most-photographed canoe in Woodsville, New Hampshire.” Yeah, and most of those photos are mine. But it’s such a perfectly tranquil beautiful thing — a canoe on a still lake. Heaven, to me.

This was the runner-up for most likes — 21.

September 3, Collinsville ax factory

Thomas takes guitar lessons in one of the old buildings that used to be part of the ax factory. From the outside, it’s bricky. The inside is basically a walk-in music studio. That’s Thomas’ teacher Andrew Decker, a pretty amazing musician and a hell of a dude.

I should have counted “guitars” as a compositional element. Between Thomas playing and pictures of my own guitars this year, they showed up in many images. And they’re such beautiful things.

This image tells Thomas’ story more than mine. But, you know, life is a song.

September 13, side yard at home

A successful flower picture, if I do say so myself. The challenge here was that the flower was waaaay over my head, so I was kinda shooting blind, but I got the crop I wanted after a few blurry mis-takes.

September 21, Steele Ave., West Hartford

Not a fan favorite, but I love this image. I was driving my mechanic’s awful Ford while my car was in the shop. I’d had a loooong day at work, and the fog fell heavy over everything, including my mood. I saw this in the side-view mirror while waiting at a stop light. Stuck my phone out the window, aimed backward and took one frame before the light changed.

The story? Leave the fog behind. Drive on.

October 1, Antolini Elementary School, New Hartford

I see this horrible yet awesome Chevy driving around town pretty regularly. I think it’s a 1972. Credit to whoever keeps it running.

The picture works because of the crazy juxtaposition of beautiful foliage and ugly hunk of metal. Every junker should have such a backdrop.

Again, the beauty is in the story, whatever you think it to be.

October 13, New Hartford

Foliage is easy: point and shoot, and shazam, you’re a photographer. But this is so quintessentially New England that I couldn’t resist. And it feels like home. What’s not to love.

October 21, Collinsville again

This is the old Collins Ax Company factory and probably one of the most photographed scenes in Connecticut. The light on this autumn afternoon put everything into sharp relief, and the color palette was so Kodachrome-y that I didn’t need any post-processing.

November 4, Collinsville again

Just a few weeks later in almost the same spot. I had just a few minutes to catch the moon at a good location, and the Ax Factory provided. I like the lights in the windows — a sign that something endures in this beautiful old building. The moon in the frame, along with the reflections, suggests a sort of man-meets-nature duet. Definitely in my top 5 of the year.

November 28, Grand Central Station, NYC

What a hoot. One of those pop-up kiosks in the corridors of Grand Central. A woman on the other side of the display kept walking into the frame—I had to wait for her to get out of the way. I still had to crop some of her out, which set the sign a little off-center and annoys me. But not that much. I like this one a lot.

Fini

And that’s that. Much thanks to my friend Alisa, who invited me to do this and who posted some masterpieces herself.

To restate: The best part of this project was sharing a bit of my point-of-view with you, my friends. Thank you so much for your likes and comments. Thank you for indulging me (there’s no way to do a project like this and not feel a little narcissistic).

I set out to remind myself that there’s a lot of beauty out there. I am gratefully reminded.

Life is a song.

xo

Stephen

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