As we come to the end of this unusual year I thought it would be interesting and a good exercise to do a bit of a review of 2020.

The biggest challenge for many of us was no traveling, in some cases not even locally. So what did you do to fill your time? Did you continue to create with your camera? Maybe you picked up another long-forgotten hobby like drawing, painting, knitting or baking.

As someone who had only just launched a photo tour business, I completely had to step back and re-evaluate what my 2020 would look like. Canceled trips and tours not only meant no income but also not being able to get out and help others learn and grow in their own photography. Even Photofocus pivoted and provided live and recorded educational content, more so than usual.

Lonely streets

The first months of the pandemic brought emptiness and loneliness to the world. I was contacted by a friend who was putting together a book with images from cities around the world to show just what that looked and felt like. My husband and I drove to Chicago. We stayed in the car and I photographed what I saw from the passenger seat.

At home projects this year

As an author here at Photofocus, I tend to almost always have some sort of project I can work on. Creating images at home became a theme. What can you do with what you have? What can you photograph that is in your own home or the surrounding area? These were both presented as part of the Artist Notebook series. We have talked about how limitations in photography help you to learn, grow and see more. This whole year became an exercise in just that — one big limitation.

Another project I worked on incorporated a kinetic sculpture that was purchased because of the photographic ideas that popped in my head when I saw it advertised. It was time to finally put those ideas on ‘film.’

The images I created were a bit architectural and a bit abstract. Doing this engaged my brain, got my creative juices flowing and kept me using my camera and photography skills during a time when it was really easy to just get down, sit around, binge watch TV and not be productive.

New toys also helped me stay creative at home. I purchased a light table to play with. I technically bought it so I could start scanning slides and negatives but I had other ideas. Wandering in my backyard I picked up some leaves and flowers and grabbed my mobile phone. You can read more about that here. I just let myself play, with no pressure to create masterpieces, it was all about being creative and letting the mind go to see what could be imagined.

Getting outside was important

It wasn’t daily and it wasn’t venturing out very far. I’m fortunate to live less than a mile away from the river here in my town. Plenty of forest preserves and trails to wander while still staying safe and away from groups of people. Nature is healing, calming and amazing for our mental health. So I went out a few times in the last 10 months. I wandered. Breathed in the fresh air. Saw the beauty of nature and the world we live in which was important as the months went by with so much death, hate and negativity in our social and media streams.

As things opened up a bit in later months there were a few car shows. Of course, being careful about crowd size, socially distancing and wearing masks. I likely would not have ventured out to these but my brother bought a new toy, a 1969 Chevy Impala and was exhibiting at a couple of shows. It got me out of the house and once again I was able to photograph something I enjoy shooting.

Staying in my own backyard. It’s still out in the fresh air, still some nature, plants, trees and weather. I realize not everyone has this available either but so many times I hear photographers who give up or don’t shoot because they can’t go somewhere. You can always shoot out your window, down the hallway or out the front door. In all seriousness, the possibilities are endless if you just push yourself to look a little bit further than you normally do.

Luck played a big part in the early months

We were fortunate enough to have had a family of foxes living under our neighbor’s shed. They entertained us daily and I was able to practice a little wildlife photography, something I really don’t do much of. By being outside in my backyard every day in the morning and evening, I became more aware of what else there was to see and photograph.

I realize not everyone had this type of opportunity fall into their lap but it showed me that there were opportunities out there, in our own space that we could take advantage of if only we looked.

The year of learning new things

We all had a lot of extra time it seemed most days. A friend of mine in a mentorship community was leading his Blurs and Unsharp mentorship in May. Many of my photographer friends had already been through this particular program and along the way had promised me that I would enjoy it.

I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of blurred images, intentional or otherwise. But, there are some, when done right and done well that are amazing. So, I jumped in with both feet. I learned about the different ways you can create movement in your images beyond just moving your camera. I realized that my camera was capable of some things I hadn’t ever looked into or tried before.

It was actually fun to play, not be so serious about making sure every setting was perfect, my images sharp and that I was so in control of the outcome. I let myself go and play and asked the question “what if?” a lot during those six weeks.

I also experimented with some post-processing. Images that may have been throwaways for being underexposed or otherwise not quite right, turned into fine art pieces. Again, the question “what if?” was asked over and over again.

Once again, Photofocus to the rescue. I was given the opportunity to try out a new camera — the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III. This also got me back out to the forest preserves, parks and rivers. I played. What does this button do, how can I create that type of image and, oh wow, I can’t do that with my own camera! Doing this opened my eyes even further to see what was available around me and photograph it in a way I wouldn’t normally.

Another excursion to the city

We were able to take advantage of being able to get out with the rules a bit relaxed for a short period of time. We socially distanced with friends and took one of my favorite architectural boat tours on the Chicago River. Boy did it feel good to be out and about and enjoy the city and lunch outdoors along the river. I was quite happy to get back to what I love as well, architectural photography.

Stepping out of my comfort zone

Let me start this off by saying I am not a portrait photographer, my friends and those who know me know this. I still get asked occasionally to take portraits. While I do my best to dissuade those asking, there are times when I cave and say what the heck, it’s always a learning experience.

My friend’s daughter turned one. We both knew our families were uber careful about staying home, social distancing and following the rules so we felt OK to head to a local park for outdoor images. What fun. Yes, I said I had fun taking portraits of a one-year-old. Who knew?

Because of that, her sister asked if I would take portraits of her daughters. As much as I tried not to, I ended up heading outdoors to a local forest preserve. It’s an unusual year, so why not? We had fun doing it and I end up surprising myself with how some of them turned out.

In this case, I also learned a bit about editing faces/portraits with Perfectly Clear, a program I never ever use. It’s always good to learn new techniques and realize what other options you have to create.

How about you, how was your year?

What did you create this year? What did you learn? How did you spend the last 10 months of this pandemic? I hope sharing a retrospective of my 2020 has given you ideas for how despite living with and through some uncertain times, photography can help us through.

2020 has taught us to be patient, flexible and that we’re stronger and more resilient than we ever dreamed. Creativity is never a bad thing and in so many ways it’s therapeutic.

The flip side of all of this is maybe we didn’t feel like creating at all. Perhaps our muse decided it needed to rest and recharge for times when we’re not so concerned about what’s going on in the world. That’s OK too.

A month or so ago I was listening to a webcast and the guest was talking about how he handled the ‘change of plans’ for 2020. What an impressive list of achievements he had. After the first five minutes, I felt like I had been a total slug, lazy, unproductive and had totally wasted eight months of creativity. But, I’ve learned over the last few years that no matter how small an accomplishment is, it’s worth celebrating.

Going back through the year to look at what we DID do, what we created, wrote, drew, baked or photographed is a much better way of looking at life.