May 20th 2008 - The Origin of 365

The Origin

On January 1st, 2006 I began work on a little project that would document my year in photos and short blog entries. I created a photo set on flickr and named it the “365 Day Visual Diary”. Day after day I would take a self portrait accompanied by a short description of my day.

The idea had come from a my friend Anna Lognion who had attempted to do a similar project with Polaroid photos. Every year I try to come up with some New Years resolutions that will in the end produce something creative that I can look back on to remember that year by. Previous years were marked with records I either wrote or produced as well as a feature film that I wrote and directed over the course of a year. After Hurricane Katrina my life was changing on a daily basis and when the new year came around I decided that Anna’s idea should be something that I should attempt myself.

So I began on January 1st with photo of my daughter and I enjoying a ride on my dad’s 4 wheeler while visiting them on Christmas vacation. After 6 months or so I looked back to see just how much happens during a year and how it shapes your near future. There were events ranging from the tragic to the delightful. A friend/cast member of my film “Songs About Your Girlfriend” died in a car accident, my Sister got married, got my film pressed into DVD’s, my Grandmother passed away, got a new job and moved to Montgomery Alabama… the list goes on.

Others start to get involved

Along the way I got lots of encouraging words and had begun to draw a daily audience. Some left comments and others just checked in to see what I was up to. Over the course of the year I had lots of people comment on how they’d like to do the same thing. One of those people was Chris Maverick. In August of 2006, Chris left me a comment to say:

“This may be the greatest idea ever. I am tempted to steal it from you. kinda weird starting so late in the year.”

Soon after that he left me a comment to say:

“I did decide to steal it, starting today. Hope you don’t mind. Thank you for the idea. It should be an interesting experiment.”

I was kind of excited to hear that someone else might also join me in the project. On August 12th he began his first entry and in the description for his photo set he wrote:
June 17th 2006

“So while browsing flickr, I ran across this photo by Stephen Poff. I liked it and then started looking at his photostream and then realized that since the 1st of this year he has taken a self-portrait every day and hopes to do the same every day for a year. I immediately decided that I had to do the same. 

If you would like to try this project as well, there is now a flickr pool called 365 days for you to share your efforts.

Needless to say I was stoked. Four years later and 16,500 people strong, the idea has become something of a phenomenon.

Personal Growth

February 17 2006When I began the project it was done in a simple documentary style, but over time I began to get a little bored with the project and in an effort to keep my interest, I began to try more creative things. At first it was in camera tricks that I could accomplish without the use of anything other than just my camera and a little time, the first of which was long exposures. I soon wanted to do even longer exposures and bought a remote shutter release. This led to a series of night photos that I cherish to this day.

March 4th 2006 "Hard to Bluff"After that I began to experiment with all kinds of creative options from double exposures to more complicated Photoshop composites.

I developed several skills during this first year, but the most important was the ability to tell a story with my photos. Every day was a new story and I did my best to tell that story of that day through the photo.

After taking a year off from the project I decided to take another stab at the project in 2008. In addition to the project I teamed up with fellow 365er Chris Maverick to do a weekly podcast on the project. My goal for the year was to make every day’s photo as creative as I could. The first year had taught me that the best way to learn anything in photography was to learn it on yourself first. You will always be your most patient subject… and you’re always available!

Why you should do this

So this is my message to you. I’ve learned more over the course of this project, by just taking a photo every day, than I ever did while trying to working under the deadlines of the newpapers and the magazines that I shot for. I wasn’t working under a creative director or for a client, it was personal work that allowed me to stretch my wings creatively and to learn at my own pace. Others began to notice the work I was doing and now wanted to hire me to shoot the brand of photography that I had despareately wanted to shoot all along.

So if you’re looking to get serious about your craft, why not challenge yourself to a photo a day with the only model that’s always available and as passionate as you are about it… yourself! 

Tips on Self-Portraits

Over the course of my project I’ve had lots of questions about how I get various shots. Here are my list of things that might help.

1. Get a tripod – I see a lot of photos from arms length. Holding the camera yourself and aiming it back at you is not a bad idea, but you certainly don’t want 365 days of this kind of photo. A tripod can be a great friend. And for you guys with the little point an shoot kind, it can be as simple as the type that you can attach to your water bottle. Take a look at Wal-Mart’s photo department. It’s a great little tool.

2. Get in focus – It’s not always easy to get a photo in focus when you’re not behind the camera. I had several tactics, but the one I used most often was to set up a microphone or light stand where I was going to be standing/sitting and then focus on that. Otherwise, if I had a friend or family member nearby, I would ask them to focus on me. Another easy solution is to stand in a pre-defined spot with your camera and focus on the head of your tripod.

3. Get used to your timer – When taking self-portraits you have to know how to use your timer. Pretty much every camera from little point and shoots to DSLR’s have them. Break out the manual and figure it out.

4. Light your photos when possble -It’s not always possible, but try to avoid having all your shots lit by the little pop up flash on your camera. Try using continuous light sources by arranging to have yourself standing under/near them. For those of you with hotshoe flashes, try bouncing them off the ceiling or wall to get a more pleasing photo. And for those of you with more equipment, you know what to do.

5. Get creative – The bathroom mirror shot was always a good standby for me, but when you’re doing a project that spans this amount of time, the only way to keep yourself interested for that long is to get creative and try to tell stories with your photos. Try some long exposures, or some cool Photoshop tricks.

6. Join the 365 Days group on Flickr. There are a lot of great resources in the forum and it’s the general dumping ground for all of your photos.

In Conclusion

I had a lot of fun doing this project and met a lot of great people during the process. The things I’ve learned about myself and others has given me a greater understanding of everything from photography to psychology. I look forward to seeing what the seeds I’ve sown will grow and hope all of you can gain something from doing your own 365 Days Project.

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  1. GuyEatsOctopus
    on December 28th, 2009

    I think I’m going to give this a shot this new year. Looking forward to challenge myself to something new each day. This is something that can be done/uploaded in 15 min or several hours (if you go all out and something crazy).

  2. Tweets that mention Why you should be doing the 365 Days Project : Stephen Poff's Blog --
    on December 28th, 2009

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen Poff, Michael Dunn. Michael Dunn said: New blog post: Why you should be doing the 365 Days Project ( (via @stephenpoff) [...]

  3. ann
    on December 28th, 2009

    I did this project from Feb 16, 2007 – Feb 15, 2008. I made so many friends and increased my skills as a photographer. I’m thinking of joining in again 1/1/10
    So THANKS!

  4. James B
    on December 28th, 2009

    Jessi and I have been kicking around the idea of starting again in 2010. :D

  5. Stephen Poff
    on December 28th, 2009

    @GuyEatsOctopus: I’m eager to see what you do. Let me know where you’re dumping your photos.

    @ann: You’re seem like a good ambassador for the project! See folks!

    @James B: Let me know if you guys do it. I’m thinking I might do it again myself.

  6. Scott Bourke
    on January 6th, 2010

    I have started this year and enjoyed checking your shots from 2008 out. They are all very creative. I hope that I too can get some creative shots. I’m not doing Self Portraits all year but I do plan on making all my images worth showing and creating interest. Maybe 1 self portrait a week.

    I will follow the blog intently.

  7. Zack Arias
    on January 17th, 2010

    Thank you for starting this! I have always been inspired to do a 365 project on my own but I know myself and I can get pretty lazy about stuff like this.

    I’m proud to report that I’m 16 days into my own 365 project. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be but I am so glad I have finally started it!

    You can find it here…


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