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Key Learnings from the 365 Film Challenge (5 Months & 4 Rolls in)

When Manny asked me to be a part of the "365 Film Challenge" in December 2023, I instantly agreed, unaware of what I was about to get myself into. The challenge involved 11 photographers, each using different rolls of film to take one photo every day for a year.

Unfortunately, the core concept did not work out as most participants decided to take the challenge in different directions. However, I was determined to see it through to the end as originally planned. With the schedule set and the rolls purchased, I began the challenge.

Since starting in January, I have managed to shoot one photo on a dedicated film camera every day (apart from some missed days). What I didn't expect from this challenge were the changes to my photography, gaining new perspectives, and being exposed (pun intended) to scenes and environments I often overlooked. In fact, this challenge may have been the driving force behind my focus shifting to photography within the suburbs over the busy CBD.

What Happened?

To answer this, I should clarify my approach to this challenge. Apart from the initial first roll, I decided to use my Canon EF 35mm film camera. Why? Because it’s a tank, dead reliable, and fully mechanical (aside from the light meter, which doesn't work). The biggest downside of this camera is the weight—it's thiccc and not always viable to carry around during the day, especially when I already carry another camera. So, aside from special events, I decided it was best to use this camera during my walks. Traditionally, these walks were early in the morning before the day started.

From loading the second roll (Kodak Gold) into the Canon EF, I started taking the camera along on my morning walks. Before this challenge, I would normally not take a camera on these walks, as they were a form of meditation for me, and I didn't want the distraction. But it was the only viable way to capture photos every day.

At first, it went as expected—empty parks and quiet as the sun rose over the bay, snapping photos of still moments. Nothing much happens during the early hours of the morning, so it felt like I wasn't really capturing anything of interest. But after two weeks, I noticed something: the scene might be the same (sandstone blocks on the water's edge, for example), but everything else would change. Different people might sit at these scenes, the light would be different as the season slowly changed, and people's activities would change.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I started taking occasional afternoon walks (something I never used to do) only to find the same places were completely different. Suddenly, I discovered that the local bayside park was full of life on a summer afternoon—people fishing, swimming, and occasionally having an afternoon BBQ. What gives? I've spent years walking through this park and never knew it harbored so much life. Even as summer has passed and winter approaches, the bayside park still brings people, although much fewer compared to summer.

This challenge has allowed me to both re-experience an area I was "familiar" with and see a new side to it. It also showed me that there is life outside the city, moments to document, and scenes to capture.

There's Life Outside the City!

I've been taking photos within Sydney's CBD for some time now, investing a large amount of time into street photography over the past two years. However, after two years, I started to lose interest in the city. Feeling less motivated to shoot, this challenge came at the right time. Mainly because I was forced to take a photo every day, but also because it showed me that there are interesting moments to capture within the suburbs. While they are few and far between, these moments are far more interesting (in my opinion, of course).

Key Learnings So Far

So, what have I learned five months and four rolls into the 365 Film Challenge? Let’s list them out.

  • Shoot the Same Location/Scene at Different Times of the Day: It sounds obvious, but how many people actually practice this? I certainly didn't prior to taking this challenge on, but now I can see the serious appeal, especially over an extended period. Things change, from the light to the activities in that area, but sometimes they don't—it's hard to describe, but you'll know once you've done it for a while. When you do, you'll be glad you did.

  • It Doesn't Always Go to Plan: One of the four rolls shot so far unfortunately did not turn out because the leader end was not attached to the canister, preventing it from winding properly. Thirty-six days of the challenge wasted as I unknowingly opened the film door, exposing the entire roll. This was a reminder that sometimes things just don't go to plan, and all you can do is take a deep breath and continue on—this is just another part of the challenge. No one said it was going to be easy.

Italian Build Quality Roll
  • Be Open to Trying New Things: The key component of this challenge is that I am using film stocks 10 other people chose, some of which I have never even shot before. But to me, this is an opportunity to try something new. It's not fun to sit within your comfort zone, not venturing out because it doesn't suit your style. This isn't good for your art—I believe it's important to always be pushing the needle forward, try new stocks, and see what comes from it.

  • Learn to Let Moments Go: There have been many occasions where I've taken my one shot of the day only to be presented with a much more interesting moment (and not having a second camera to capture it). But this is another reminder that you sometimes have to let things go, understanding that you can't capture every moment that comes your way. Instead, take the opportunity to actually enjoy that moment for yourself, just like in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

  • Have Fun: Just have fun! This challenge has had its ups and downs, but ultimately, it's just another excuse to have some fun. I don't want to put any pressure on myself to create any serious or amazing work during the challenge, mainly because it's so limiting the odds are not favorable, but also because that pressure takes the joy out of the challenge. Is that really a sustainable way to go about it? I don't think so.

Challenges like these are great; using creative restrictions is a fantastic way to shake things up and force you to see things in a completely different light. I'm very thankful to Manny for giving me the opportunity to participate in this challenge and for not giving up despite losing a whole roll. I'm excited to see all the images at the end and maybe showcase them.

*All Images shown within this article are reference only and not actual shots from the challenge itself

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