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31 Days to a Better Photo | Day 1 – Welcome!

There are no photos in this post; this post may be the only one on this blog with this many words and without any photos. It feels strangely appropriate that the first in a series on better photos wouldn’t have a single one.

I was living in Florence, Italy in 1998, attending l’universita’. I spent my carefree weekends with a Eurorail pass, a passport, and a backpack. I saw 13 countries that year. I photographed the snow-capped Alps, the clock and insanely crowded Old Jewish Cemetary in Prague, the beautiful volcanic beaches in Greece, the River Danube separating Buda from Pest with the glorious Parliament building in Hungary. I saw Anne Frank’s hide-away home in Amsterdam, the canals in Copenhagen, tulips in the Netherlands, the lights over Paris taking off from Charles de Gaulle. I saw where Mozart learned to love music in Vienna, and fairy tale castles in Germany.

I snuck a photo of much-too-young Polish soldiers who boarded the train with semi-automatic weapons and sashes of ammunition – their teenage bodies wearing grown-up faces. My camera captured old men on trains, gypsy camps outside of Florence, glass blowers in Venice, men playing bocce ball, kids playing soccer. I fell in love with Il Duomo, Michaelangelo’s Davide, frescoes in Rome, pizza in Naples, cannolis in Sicily, art in Milano – all behind the lens of my camera. I attended Stations of the Cross at the Roman Coliseum with Pope John Paul II and captured the sea of faces who collectively gasped as His Holiness mistepped and nearly fell. I captured piazzas, cafes, lines of laundry, plates of gnocchi, statues, churches… all the faces and places I loved there.

It was my year’s life story.

And when I came back to the States to develop a pillow case full of film…

it was all. gray.

The heightened security due to bombings of US Embassies abroad meant the rays used to scan my baggage deleted every single image from the film. I called Kodak and the lady on the phone cried with me as I told my story.

It was then I realized how powerful images can be and how much they tell our stories. My memories from that year are thinning, and it still makes me incredibly sad that I have nothing tangibile to remind me of the faces and places that I loved that year.

But it lit a fire. And out of the loss emerged a girl who loves photos…. who understands the magic they hold, the stories they tell, and the precious, irretrievable time they freeze.

I treasure my photos. My boys sit captivated in front of their scrapbooks. My husband and I have taken photography classes, attended workshops, watched countless hours of training and tutorials via DVD and online. We poured ourselves in learning the technical so we could make the meaningful images we were capturing all along even better.

The lesson I hope you pull from today – no matter how good of a photographer you are, no matter how new you are, what you paid for your camera, how long you’ve owned it, what lens is on it…

What matters most is that you are freezing time and capturing memories. They will be treasured. Because life is constantly in motion. And that little boy smashing trucks and playing legos will soon be borrowing car keys, and those once-in-a-lifetime trips can not be retaken. Your princess will soon wear a prom dress instead of a Disney costume, and time goes on…

So, today’s lesson? Day 1 to a better photo – take the photo. Always, always take the photo. You will never get a second chance at that moment. It’s a simple one, clearly. But how many times have you meant to bring the camera but didn’t?

Today’s blog sharing opportunity in comments:
When did you realize how much you loved photos? What motivates you to love your images?

Please visit my girls who are sharing this 31 Days journey with us:

31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer


  1. I am kind of new to the operations of my camera, so I was so thankful to have found this on Pinterest. I have had my camera less than a month now. I had a point and shoot canon, that took pretty good pictures, but wanted to get a better camera with lenses. I ended up getting a Nikon DSLR and I am loving it so far, but I know I have a lot to learn. I got a little frustrated at my sons basketball game, cause some of the pics come out blurry. Hopefully after going through all of the steps I can pick up some good ideas to improve.

  2. I just found this through Pinterest. In response to your question about when I first realized that I loved photos – I have been taking pictures for quiet some time now mostly during the holidays or at family events but nothing professionally but I have been wanting to learn to take better photos. I am hoping that this will help me to do just that. I recently went from using a FinePix S700 to an Olympus Pen E-PL1. Hopefully after this I can pick up some good ideas to help me to improve which will result in some awesome photos!

  3. I just came across this today. I loved photography for a long time and bought a dslr camera a couple of years ago. I have used it just to shoot pics, but now I want to learn how to take pictures, because I believe there is a major difference. I am eager to learn about my camera and how to get the most from it now. Thank you.

  4. I found your blog, and in particular this series you have written, on City Chic in the Countries blog series…30 Days of Allume.
    I discovered my own love of photography while in highschool, taking my mom’s Brownie camera everywhere on every Chorus trip, etc. taking photos and capturing memories that were and still are so precious to me. That camera became mine as I used it more than anyone else in the family.
    As you were describing your own season in Europe I found myself quickly wondering, where are the photos? I want to see them! Then I read the ‘grey’ part and my heart broke for you. Grey…that’s a little how the memories can become when we don’t have the physical reminders in the photos, don’t you think?
    I love that you have turned tragedy into triumph using that heart sinking moment to realize the importance of photography…capturing memories and letting that passion become purpose in your life! Not including any photos in this post sort of drove the point home.
    I have moved up in the years with better cameras…still can’t afford the one I would love to have, but I’m not ready for it yet. Last year I was blessed with a Nikon Coolpix500 which was a jump from the Nikon Coolpix P2 that I was preciously using to capture memories. I am so excited to go beyond what I have been doing with it…which was blindly experimenting with settings having no clue how to recapture the photos that turned out pretty amazing.
    Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to put this series together!!! You ROCK!!

  5. Photography hit like a lighting bolt. I took an art class in college and we need to go to local museum and chose something to write about. There was a photograph of the Vietiman Memorial. It was the length of it. How it just went on and on hit me in the gut. I felt the pain of those soldiers.

  6. I just found your website via Pintrest and am so happy I did, I will be starting your 31 days to a better picture today! I just read this post and truly feel inspired…thank you!

  7. Ashley Kelly says:

    I cried inside when I read that you lost all your images! I can relate to that dreadful feeling, I visited Tennessee in 2009, and I took glorious pictures of the moutains, snow, and beautiful colorful color changing trees, and even got a picture with my favorite singer while up there for a conference. They all got deleted!

    Anyways I am starting this challenge to hopefully take better portraits.

    In response to your question, I first found out that I loved photographing people was when I took a trip to Washintong D.C. my senior year of highschool. I took pictures of the beautiful cherry blossom trees in full bloom, and the amazing towering Lincoln Memorial, and countless pictures of the smithsonian and the White House. I got back home and quickly became sad because I wanted pictures of my friends, which I had none. Now I am building my photography business by doing single portraits, couples and family portraits.

  8. 2 and a half years later and this post is still inspiring others.. bravo!

    “What matters most is that you are freezing time and capturing memories. They will be treasured. Because life is constantly in motion. And that little boy smashing trucks and playing legos will soon be borrowing car keys, and those once-in-a-lifetime trips can not be retaken. Your princess will soon wear a prom dress instead of a Disney costume, and time goes on…”

    You put my thoughts into words and I thank you. I can’t remember the day it clicked (lol!) but I realize that ‘freezing that moment’ is so important to me. I just came across this via Pinterest and I can’t wait to read through and implement the entire series. I am not a very good photography but your words made me realize that it doesn’t matter- I am doing what I love.

  9. I’d like to thank you for writing this series. I just bought a new camera for my month in Europe (in September) I’ve gotten brave and will be spending the month traveling alone, staying in hostels and homes and hoping to make the most memories I can in a short period of 30 days and with this I hope to capture those memories and keep them in digital format. I’m so excited!

  10. Valerie says:

    I’ve know for a while how much a single image can mean to someone. I was 6 when my family (Mom, Dad, brother, and I) went on a month long journey to Europe. An absolutely amazing and life-changing experience… or so I heard. I was 6 at the time! Ten years have gone by and the memories have all too soon faded. The only thing I have left is a photobook full of images my dad captured while my brother and I stood feeding pigeons, riding the tea cups at Euro Disney, and walking around museums I didn’t appreciate at the time. I also have a journal where I drew pictures every night about what had happened that day, but I still doesn’t capture the experience like some of those pictures do. I love to look through them and hope that some day I’ll get to go back and see it all again. The other moment I knew I loved photography was two years ago. My town was struck by an EF-5 tornado. I didn’t know how much emotion I could feel by simply looking at an image until I saw a picture of my friend outside her destroyed house hugging her mom she thought she had lost. Pictures from my town went viral. When you said you were from Joplin people would say, “I saw some pictures from that tornado. I hope everyone’s recovering.” Those pictures from the days after now shape our town. We are better because of it, and whenever I need a reminder of how much compassion was shown for us I look back at the pictures and am thankful for everyone who helped us.

  11. I was 8 or 9 years old when my parents gave me my first camera – it was a Kodak Instamatic. I LOVED my camera. I took photos of anything and everything – Christmas presents, my brother, our pets, our yard… I went crazy. The quality of the photos wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t care. I could take photos and keep a record of my life. I became even more excited when my parents gave me my first set of cube flashes, because then I could take photos indoors too. I think that’s where my love began…and since then I’ve been recording! I have BOXES of film from the many other cameras I’ve had along the way (one of my other projects is digitizing the film)… though most recently (back in 2008!) I purchased a Canon Rebel XS. While I know it is not the fanciest camera out there, I have been pleased with the photos I have taken thus far. I bought it with the intention to learn how to shoot photos using manual settings, but I became side-tracked by life. One of my goals this year is to be more intentional, and I hope that this series will help me in this goal to learn more about my camera and ultimately learn to take better photographs as I record the lives of our family.

  12. My wife and I didn’t get our wedding photos. I became a wedding photographer for this reason. I vowed to never let a bride and her linkage suffer the way my wife and I have.

  13. Sharla Matlock says:

    I started reading this blog several years ago and never did the 31 days. I think this is the time for me.

    I have had a camera from the time I was about eleven years old. My dad bought me my first few 35mm’s and I began snapping away. I put all those photos in to photo albums. I’m 41 years old now and I have them to this day.

    I don’t know what “motivates” me to love my pictures but I do. I love to photograph my family and friends, and events that we attend. I make scrapbooks with the photos and they are always poured over by anyone who happens to stop by for dinner or a beer. We look, laugh, tell stories and remember. The photos remind us that we are all connected through the years in a way that cannot be “deleted.” It is especially enlightening to hear a shared past experience from a different perspective, years later, and have tid-bits revealed that add depth and comedy to the past.

    I love my pictures and I love to alter them with apps on my phone or programs on my computer allowing me to put my personal spin on a moment and make it even more special.

    So today, I will take a photo…maybe a photo walk.


  14. Hello. I just found this series and think it might help with things that I may not know. I am self taught and want to fill in some of the gaps that I was never trained on.
    I first realized I loved it when I was in high school. My friends and I just went to a local park and I tend to always have a camera on me. I don’t remember exactly how it started but I started to take pictures of them and had them pose in different places. Now I had no idea what I was doing, we were just playing around and it was a point and shoot 35mm, but when I got some of the images back from being developed I was shocked at what I did. I still have some of those pictures to remind me. After the park picture I took a b/w photography class during my senior year. I was able to develop the picture myself which was really fun. After HS I pretty much stopped but within the last 4 years I have picked up the camera again and jumped right into it. Now I am trying to establish a business while working FT on Grave shift.
    My motivation comes from seeing how happy my friends and family are with the moments I have captured for them. FB helps a lot getting peer recognition. I am modest when it comes to compliments, but my favorite thing is seeing how happy they are with their images rather then hearing how happy they are. Don’t know how much sense that makes but I think people watchers might understand that one.
    Thank you for posting this series. I hope to learn a lot from it about my talent as well as myself and the direction I want to take my work.

  15. Ann Davis says:

    Oh I feel your pain at losing all those photos! I lost ones from only one trip & I know how that tugs at my heart. I look forward to the other 30 days here.

  16. I don’t know how i found this blog, but im loving it ! I really appreciate all the knowledge you’ve written with so much love for us! thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  17. I love photography because one of my heroes, my grandfather, also loves it. He has always helped me, especially when I’m experimenting with film. 🙂

  18. Thanks for sharing, i’ve just bought my first dlsr camera and thankfully i found your blog. Thank you for sharing so much information!
    Cheers from Brazil!

  19. mt grandma says:

    Came across this on pinterest…have had my camera for about a year…want to learn to use all of its functions


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