Aprill Brandon column: A no-longer- young-yet-not-quite-old dog can still learn new tricks


May 18, 2010 at 12:18 a.m.
Updated May 19, 2010 at 12:19 a.m.

It's been said that when you stop learning, you start dying.

Or perhaps it was when you stop changing, you start dying.

Er ... when you stop breathing, you start dying?

Well, whatever the phrase is, the gist is that if you stop doing it, you die (particularly with the whole breathing aspect).

Having never been a big fan of dying, I take this little nugget of wisdom to heart, whatever its wording. It's the reason why I'm always challenging myself, taking risks and facing my fears. Why, just the other day I talked to our photo editor about an assignment before he had his coffee, fully cognizant that it may lead to me being beaten with a tripod and thrown out a second-story window.

But as my 29th birthday looms closer and closer on the horizon, tempting fate with un-caffeinated higher-ups just isn't enough anymore. I needed a bigger challenge. I needed a new way to express my creative side that didn't involve writing about fart jokes or filming singing chupacabra puppets (YouTube, peeps. Check it out). I needed a new medium to take to a new all-time low.

And that's when I heard about the 365 Project.

The premise is simple. Take one photo every day for an entire year. Upload the photos onto the 365project.org website and at the end of the year, not only will you have a sort of visual diary of one year of your life, but your photography skills will have improved.

Now prior to taking on this project, my photography skills consisted of two components:

1. Point.

2. Shoot.

Even with Charlie, the fancy-schmancy Nikon D80 camera I bought via the miracle of Visa (if God didn't want us to own stuff we couldn't afford, he wouldn't have invented credit cards), I still never really advanced beyond shooting on automatic. Of course, having been in the newspaper business all these years, I heard of other photography elements in passing, such as aperture, backlighting, graininess, density, farfegnugen, hornswoggle, kumquat, etc. But they were just background noise that held no meaning to me (much like when my editor throws office supplies at my head, yelling something about "missing deadline again").

However, 117 photos deep into this project, I am now learning what all those terms actually mean (as it turns out, kumquat is not, in fact, a photography term) and even started shooting on manual. Granted, shooting on manual for me means fiddling with all the settings for a good 30 minutes only to have all the photos turn out an odd shade of blue, but that's the great thing about artistic endeavors. I can just tell people it was my blue period (Picasso jokes RULE!).

Of course, there are days when I get discouraged. Many of the photographers on the website are more skilled than I am, making my photographs the equivalent of a kindergartner's finger painting. And then there are the times I yell at Charlie for refusing to take an extreme close-up shot of a moving object in very low lighting without a flash because I have yet to figure out that he is smarter than I am. Or I run out of ideas of what to take a picture of (at this point, even my dogs go into hiding when I whip out my camera for fear I'll dress them up again in funny hats and sunglasses).

But then there are the days I end up (mostly accidentally) getting a great shot. It's rare, mind you, and only happens due to either dumb luck or taking 527 photos of the same thing before I score a decent one, but it makes the daily struggle worth it. For someone who thought her only artistic capabilities were doodling naughty stick-figure drawings during meetings, learning I can teach myself photography gives me, dare I say it, a sense of accomplishment.

It just goes to show you that all of us no-longer-young-yet-not-quite-old dogs can still learn some new tricks. And it's what keeps us from dying.

Well, that and breathing.

Aprill Brandon is a reporter for the Advocate. Oh, and hey, Mr. Negative Anonymous Poster on my last column, I didn't mention my marriage or husband once in this column. So there. Er...well, except for right now. DANG!



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