A Year of Looking for Light…..Through a Lens

“Can you believe it? I’m almost done,” I exclaimed to my off-spring a few days ago. “Done with what?” asked the 11-year old. “My Project 365. You know…where I’ve been taking a photo and posting it everyday this entire year? I only have two days left.”

“What do you get for that when you’re done? A prize?” inquired the 11-year old.

“No, nothing,” I replied back.

“Nothing???” he said in astonishment.

“I guess…just knowing that I did it…is the prize.”

Knowing that I set a goal and followed through. That I took a photo almost everyday this entire year…even on the days when I didn’t feel like it. When I was uninspired. When I was too tired. When I thought, “Why in the heck am I doing this? This self-imposed goal. This is ridiculous.” And yet, I did it.

And hopefully, during the process, I learned a lot about photography and a lot about myself. About how I see the world. What catches my eye.

After the sensory overload of the holidays, I dragged (literally) my family to the Oregon Coast. Nothing clears my mind more than the Pacific Ocean. I needed to breathe in the crisp salt air. I needed to recharge. I needed to lie around in bed reading a book til all hours of the morning without feeling the urgency to be somewhere or do something.

When it was apparent that my eldest two were suffering from a bit of cabin fever…judging by their hyper-activity and inability to stop poking, prodding or punching each other…I instructed them, “Time to go outside. Get your coats on.” I grabbed my camera, bundled myself up in boots, a down coat, a knitted hat, which I pulled down over my ears, and wool gloves. And then, after telling my dear children they needed to walk to the end of the beach and find a starfish before they could head home (to which they replied, “Really, Mom?” in that “teen speak” way of talking), I set out to take that last photo. Number 365. The final shot. A bit of pressure settled down over me to catch that celebratory shot. The pinnacle. The consummation.

Why, Mom?

At the top of the dune, as the first bite of ocean wind hit us, my 11-year old cried out, “What???! You’re coming out here in this cold just to take a picture!! Oh my gosh, Mom!!”

Clearly, he was still struggling with the fact that there was no prize. No payment. No trophy.

I bravely headed down to the edge of the ocean, lowering my head against the wind. My children begrudgingly followed behind me. Once there, I looked up and I was immediately struck by the winter light. Almost like a watercolor. Pale, soft tones. So lovely. I let the shutter fly, trying to use all I had learned in the past year, to capture that light.

Light on the sand

I tried to capture the pattern the light made as it bounced off the sand.

Why must they wrestle so?

The reason why I had brought my children outside.

And he takes flight....

A seagull I’d been following as it took flight.

He's still back there....

My 11-year old, behind me. Still following me. Still puzzled.

Ahhh....back light.....

The way the light from behind can take an ordinary picture and make it a bit magical.

Day 365/365 - I did it!

And then, this white feather caught my eye. The way that it laid there. So simply with just a bit of light bouncing off of it. Bouncing off the sand. It seemed to be a visual metaphor for 2011. To keep things uncluttered. Simple. Yet focused. There was my final picture.

My daughter had long since made it to the end of the beach, claimed her starfish and high-tailed it home. At 4:30 pm, the sun was already setting. I was taking fewer and fewer photos. I had seen my 11-year old, a red speck at that point, disappear over the dune and had assumed he went in as well.

He waited for me....

Deep in thought about the photos I had just taken, I left the beach. Hopeful that at least one of them had turned out. One of them would be worthy of marking the end of a year’s worth of dedication. Just ahead of me on the trail home, I spied my 11-year old. Waiting for me….but pretending not to.

Perhaps pondering about what it means to do something, something that took a lot of time, a lot of devotion, a lot of learning…without receiving or expecting anything in return. (Or perhaps he was just listening to his latest iTunes download while passing time.) And while I never expected anything in return when I set out to do this project, I received more that I could ever imagine. Encouragement. Inspiration. A new skill. Camaraderie with fellow photographers.

However, I am most grateful to this project for teaching me how to really notice the world around me. The tiny details. The light. The patterns. The colors of the passing seasons. The true depth of eyes. And, my, what a beautiful world it is.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange

A year ago, I published a post about the hows and whys for taking on this project. Click here if you’re curious to read those musings. Below is a link to my entire collection of photos from 2010 if you’d like to see it. My favorite part of scrolling through the pages is noticing the way that the colors and the light change throughout the year.

A huge thanks to my sweetie for being my number one fan. For being genuinely enthusiastic to see my daily posts. For encouraging me to keep going. For proudly displaying my photos on his “desktop”.

A big thanks to my kiddos for patiently allowing me to photograph them througout the year. And for taking a genuine interest in what I was doing. Puzzling as it may have been.

To all of my friends, family and Flickr pals who took the time to comment, call, email, encourage, advise….all of which helped me to keep going…thank you.

A special thank you to my father who has always been my “first” photographer. I’ve never known him without a camera around his neck. His tripod close at hand. He patiently answered my questions, over and over again, all year long.

And, of course, a novice photographer like me couldn’t improve without inspiration from those with more talent and skill. Those with a better-trained eye or sense of composition. Those who can interpret the light better. Those who know their equipment more fluently.

These are the photographers that I return to, time and time again, for inspiration. Simply click on a name below to be taken to their lovely, individually unique artwork.

Hannah Queen
Laura Ruth
Ree Drummond
Aran Goyoaga
Helene Dujardin
Heidi Swanson
Molly Wizenberg
Soup & Sunday
Laksmi W
Michael Grayson
Roving Girl
Everyday Us
Allison Achauer
Tara Thayer-Public
Kristin Hortenbach
Nichole Robertson
Michelle Huynh
Butterfly Foodie
Beatrice Lechtanski
3191 Miles Apart
Kristen Doyle

All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010


  1. Kim @ Quit Eating Out {Recipes to Make Dining Out a Choice, Not a Chore} says:

    Carrie I am so thrilled to have found your blog. Your photography and words are both inspirational and beautiful. I've been toying with the idea of starting Project 365 this year…. it looks like it is worth the effort. Happy New Year and best wishes for a wonderful start to this new week.

  2. Congrats! Your photos are all gorgeous–I spent quite a while perusing them last night, pretending that today was not the first day back at school… already.

  3. Courtney Cook Hopp says:

    Amazing! Just amazing! Congrats for finishing, but even more, congrats for capturing such amazing snap-shots of 2011! They are beautiful. I love going through the year and watching the colors shift with the season!

  4. Kim – Thank you so much for letting me know you were here. I'm so thrilled I did Project 365. I feel like it really pushed me to improve me photography. I learned so much. I won't be doing it this year but I highly recommend doing it at least once. Cheers!

    Amber – I hear ya on pretending that today wasn't the first day back to school. I wasn't quite ready to have my chickens fly the coop but here we are. And, thank you, my friend, for perusing through my photos….

    Sister – Thanks so much for your sisterly encouragement regarding this endeavor throughout the whole of 2010. Love ya…..

  5. This post brought tears to my eyes. You are truly a gifted photographer. So blessed to know you…looking forward to seeing what you have in store for 2011.

  6. Such a lovely post (though, yours always are!). Congratulations on finishing, Carrie! What a beautiful job you did :).

  7. Sheila – Thank you so kindly. Here's hoping 2011 brings us together at one food function or another! 🙂

    Thank you, dear Lauren….

  8. Gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, amazing! Thank you for sharing your talent.

  9. beautiful! and inspirational-truly! couple rookie questions (if you don't mind…) wondering if you changed camera mode settings and/or lenses on regular basis? so much to learn but your photos make the effort seem worthwhile. thanks for sharing!

  10. Maria – You are so welcome!

    Jess – Thank you so much…. While I do have a couple of lenses, I tend to return time and time again to my 50mm f/1.4. I try to always shoot on the lowest possible aperture setting as the light will allow and I never use a flash. Hope that helps and let me know if you have any other questions!

  11. frantic foodie says:

    Amazing photos Carrie!

  12. So lovely. So eloquent. And so very cathartic for me right now! I've never heard of "Project 365"…what a phenomenal idea! As I stretch out my leg and step into 2011, I am both inspired and motivated by your post and your words…
    I too am learning about light and how the world looks from behind a camera lens.
    Thanks for being a part of my inspiration! So glad to have met you! Happy 2011 & cheers to the many adventures in store!

  13. Carrie congrats. You did win amongst many things teaching your kids about commitment, love, art, passion. SO many things!.

    I only get to complete seventysomething of it and altought I didn´t finished I don´t feel like a failure. To me 365 helped me to share the world I see and also learn more about myself (and photography skills).

  14. heidi – Your 365 also helped me see parts of the world I've never been to so thank you for sharing.