Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Lately I’ve been feeling like my photography has gotten a bit stale. Not only are my shots coming out a little lackluster as of late, but my process has gotten predictable too. My work has become monotonous.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Denali National Park, Alaska

I tend to stick to one lens that can zoom in and out just close or far enough to keep me from having to get too involved in a situation. I prefer a more journalistic approach to taking pictures, but I got to thinking that maybe I’ve taken it too far. Maybe I’ve become the awkward kid that doesn’t leave his comfortable spot against the wall at the middle school dance.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Denali National Park, Alaska

In an effort to spice things up, reinvent my approach, and get out on the dance floor, I decided to give myself a challenge. After all, in order to get different results, you have to do things differently.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Alaska Highway

I decided to do what I liked to call The 30, 40, 50 Challenge. That means 30 consecutive days, shooting 40 photos, using a 50mm lens.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Alaska Highway

Why 30 days?

Psychologists say that doing something for 21 days straight will turn it into a habit. But round numbers make me happy and a full month sounded like quite a challenge.

Why 40 photos?

Honestly, because it’s in between 30 and 50. And shooting 40 frames would require me to keep that lens on for a good amount of time each day, not letting me spend much time back in my comfort zone of my telephoto lens.

Why 50mm?

I have a prime (fixed focal length) 50mm lens that I rarely ever use. But having a “nifty fifty” in the bag is essential for photographers. They’re lightweight, compact, sharper than I ever looked at middle school dances, and great for portraits. I decided that since it’s so limited by its fixed focal length, it would force me to stretch the way I would typically use it.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Denali National Park, Alaska

The round numbers of the parameters I set for myself made the rules easy to remember. But remembering the rules was the only easy part about my challenge.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Denali National Park, Alaska

As it turns out, doing just about anything for 30 days in a row is a struggle. There were lots of days where I didn’t feel like picking up my camera at all. Some days I didn’t. Yes, I failed at the easiest part of my challenge (JUST SHOOT SOMETHING!) multiple times.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Seward, Alaska

But there were also days where I did force myself to pick up the camera. And those are the days that made all the difference. When I wasn’t in the mood to shoot, it’s usually because I didn’t see anything in the area that caught my eye. So when I took the initiative to hit that 40 shot mark, I was forced to really try to find things worth shooting.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Calgary, Canada

Another cool thing about shooting at 50mm is that 50mm is the focal length that our eyes see. So instead of being able to get a 180-degree view with a wide-angle lens or zoom to see the dog across the street with a telephoto lens, I was forced to shoot only what my eyes saw. Basically, I had to live in the moment.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Seward, Alaska

While trying my hardest (and failing even harder) to stay consistent for 30 days, it wasn’t about creating a habit. Nor was it about getting 40 great shots each day. It was about forcing myself to see the world differently, even though I was shooting at the same focal length as our eyesight. And the outcome was a tremendous paradigm shift.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

I don’t think I mastered the 50mm lens. In fact, I think I’m still shaking dust off it. I didn’t shoot for 30 days straight. And on the days I did shoot with the 50, I didn’t always take 40 frames with it. In terms of reaching numerical goals, it was a complete bust.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Walmart, Somewhere in Alaska

But if we’re talking about reaching the objective, I couldn’t have succeeded any more. I became aware of my surroundings. I was alert in order to catch important moments in time. I anticipated things before they happened. And most importantly, my challenge stays with me.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Seward, Alaska

Sure, the 30 days came and went, but the things I’ve learned and improved on in that time are now lessons that I keep fresh in my mind every time I pick up a camera.

Old Lens & Fresh Eyes | The 30-40-50 Challenge

Yukon Territory, Canada

How can you challenge yourself to break up monotony?

 

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