One Room, Fifty Photographs

A while back I found an interesting experiment in the comments of one of Wouter Brandsma‘s posts. The idea stuck with me, waiting for the right time to resurface.

This came a couple of days ago, after a bizarre knee injury meant I was far less mobile than I like, I found myself alone in the house for an hour.

And with the morning sunlight streaming in, conditions seemed ideal for the experiment.

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The challenge was simple – lock yourself in a single room and don’t leave until you’ve made 50 photographs.

I chose my current favourite camera, the Pentax Q with its 01 Prime Lens, noted the file number of the last shot so I knew when I’d made 50 more, and began.

Our south facing living room enjoys interesting shadows and contrasts on sunny days. This light became the main driving subject of my next 50 (ish – I miscounted somehow and took nearer 60) photographs.

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Lessons learned

My main lessons from the experiment are (re)affirmations of what I already know –

Lesson 1. Interesting light is fundamental to all photographs.

Sounds obvious, but many a time I still photograph in dull, flat light and wonder why the images are pretty lifeless. This is especially true with film.

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Lesson 2. The beauty is in the detail.

Since first playing with Sony Cybershot camera phones some 12 years ago, I’ve loved exploring and capturing the world up close and personal.

Obviously when you’re confined to one room, the closer you get, the more there is to photograph. But even out in a vast woodland, it’s still more often than not the tiny details that attract me.

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Lesson 3. I thrive on limitations.

My recent evolution towards far fewer cameras and simpler approaches has made me much happier as a photographer.

From being able to more easily grab one camera of three to go out with (rather than struggle to choose one from 13 or 53), to setting up the camera so the images captured are virtually irreversible, and require zero processing, these restrictions have all enhanced my photography experience.

Being confined to one room just further extends the idea of limitations, and I found myself on my back, poking in corners and even occasionally pointing the camera at myself to explore new angles and creative options.

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Lesson 4. I just love the little Pentax Q.

I stuck to my usual saved Quick Dial set up for b/w pictures and all I needed to adjust, occasionally, was as follows –

Aperture – when f/1.9 maxed out the shutter speed in very bright light.

ISO – left mostly at ISO400 but again in bright light switching to Auto ISO (which I have set to 125-800), gave the Q a chance to use a lower ISO in before I relented to closing down the aperture.

Focus – from AF to MF, when I wanted to deliberately shoot out of focus and there was nothing in the scene at the required distance so I could trick the AF.

AE lock – when in harshly contrasting light I wanted to control the metering more, mostly so the highlights didn’t blow out.

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All of the above adjustments were very instinctive with the Q and took just a button press or two and sometimes rotating the thumb dial a notch or two.

Nothing that overly intruded on the experience and reassured me how invisible the Q has become in my hands, in such a short space of time.

Partly this is down to my previously familiarity with a Pentax digital – my K10D, partly due to my experience with the Ricoh RX100 and GRD III, really quite similar small sensor compacts to the Q, and partly because the Q is just very intuitively and cleverly designed, in my view.

I would definitely try this experiment again.

It helped remind me to be curious and hunt for tiny beautiful details, to focus more on light, shadow and composition than particular objects, plus the concentrated time with just one camera enabled me to bond with it even more.

Have you ever tried a one room, fifty photographs experiment? Would you like to?

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

24 thoughts on “One Room, Fifty Photographs”

  1. At the moment on my lap top screen I have images rotating an image each day of photos I took while in a motel room at 2 am. I love looking at the images. due to health issues my life is often confined to one room and take photos like you did Dan. I also use my eyes to imagine shooting a shot when I am too unwell to use the camera. I love cloud photography and can look at clouds for ages at a time. thanks for your inspiration Dan xoxo susanJOY

    1. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do that too – capturing pictures in my head even when I don’t have a camera with me (or do but don’t get it out).

      Yes I love cloud photography too. I used to take a lot more cloud photos when i shot film, just loved how some films render the colours and textures of clouds and the sky. Something I need to get back to doing more with my digitals!

      1. Dan, I have hundreds of hard copy photos that I just love and even have a few on the ceiling in one of the rooms of my house. xoxo susanJOY

        1. That’s great Susan – when you run out of wall space, put them on the ceiling! We have lots of photos in our house, but nearly all of family. I have one of my photos in one of the bathrooms but that’s all. I’d like to print more of my photos and have them around. Thinking about one of those digital frames actually so, like your laptop screen, I can have a selection on rotation and change them every week or month.

    1. That’s another great scenario to make use of this approach. I think I’ll try again on a rainy day – which inevitably won’t be far away! I think there’s something interesting in seeing your own intimate surroundings captured in photographs too. Somehow it makes photography even more embedded in my daily life and thinking, and vice verse.

  2. I think I’m going to give this a try! It is definitely a great way to practice some photography, save yourself from the cold weather/crappy days outside, and an awesome way to see a whole new world in an already familiar space! Great shots! 🙂

    1. Thanks Chris. Yes you’ve summed up my whole post in a paragraph! I think approaches that help us see the familiar in new ways is a hugely beneficial practice for all photographers.

  3. Phillips 9FF2 is my favourite digital photo frame. (It’s old so it must be cheap.) My photos are set to change in it every 15 min. People are often fooled into thinking it’s a regular analog frame, until the photo changes then they comment.
    I also use a very large monitor in the kitchen to randomly show photos my past. I have mine in portrait orientation and mounted up in the corner. The photos change every 90 seconds.
    I often do the 50 photos one room thing. But for me it’s a 30 min time limit (no exposure limit) and it’s usually a single car or a person. So I guess it’s not the same at all.

    1. Corvus, thanks for the tip, I’m looking into one of those Phillips frames as we speak… Yes I didn’t want that was in constant rotation like a screen saver, so being able to change every 15 mins is very useful.

      How do you have the monitor play the photos in the kitchen, is it connected to a camera or a computer? Or just an SD or memory card plugged in that it’s reading?

      Your 30 minute exercise is essentially a variation on the same thing, so serves the same purpose – forcing us to see the same familiar scene/object/person in new ways.

  4. The Phillips 9FF2 can be set change once a day if you want. Lots of options.

    The kitchen monitor is connected to a tiny PC with a 2TB usb 3 drive. It has 144 000 jpgs at the moment. I just shove entire photo shoots onto it bad shots and all. A pc was required to get the 90 display time. But you could also do it with a smart TV with a built in card reader.

    It’s a great way to see skinflint cameras against super expensive cameras. Great lenses against not great ones. If an image is randomly displayed and I or the woman says ‘wow!’ then we know it’s one to emulate again or do a variation of. Plus with no text information displayed on the full screen images, you have to stop what you are doing and ask to see what camera or lens took the pic. We use to laugh (considering the price.) when the Pentax Q-S1 took the shot and we were impressed, but now we are use to it’s quality.

    1. Corvus, this is all hugely interesting, thank you, and has touched on a number of things I’ve been thinking about to varying degrees.

      I’ve managed to find a Phillips 9FF2 digital frame cheaply and have ordered, as an experiment. It’s small enough to fit on a bookcase where we currently have four small 6×4 frames, but larger than any one of those, so the images will have more impact and presence.

      When I as looking at larger digital frames, the price suddenly escalates. I started to wonder about a smallish middle of the road smart tv (which are so cheap these days) and just having it mounted on the wall purely with an SD card in and playing the images in a slideshow. If you could get one that looked pretty stylish overall and not too tv like, it could work. Of course I could just do it on our main smart tv but I don’t think that would go down with the other three in the household who collectively watch it about 10 times as much as I ever do…

      I love the idea of doing the randomise on the kitchen monitor, then looking out for unexpected gems.

      I do a kind of similar thing with my Flickr sometimes when I’m looking for a few different photos for a new blog post. I’ll search for a specific word in my photos, something quite broad like flower or door or rust, then scan through the matches and pick something that jumps out.

      Though I’ve been very religious with my labelling, tagging and album organising on Flickr, at the point I’m choosing that image that jumps out, I have little idea when I took it, and with which camera and lens. It kind of makes the image fresh again. If that makes sense.

      Plus thus gets over that obsession with using specific kit and comparing seven(ty!) versions of a 50mm lens for example to find which is “best”.

      This is a direction I want to move ever further in – using fewer cameras and then not caring so much about precise labelling/tagging etc. Just finding those I like then getting the best out of them.

      Plenty of food for thought, thanks!

      Ps – I’m currently (successfully, just!) resisting the allure of the Q7, with the larger sensor than my original Q…

  5. Corvus, thanks so much for reminding me to use my TV with my memory cards. This little discussion about displaying our photos other than in hard form is interesting to me. I would also like to display a daily hard form of a photo on my dining table to enjoy it. I have a huge lot of photos in hard form from my past and would like to re enjoy them particularly my cloud photos. xoxo susanJOY

  6. You are welcome Susan,

    The funny thing is… now I’m back into printing big time. Small 4 x 6″, 5 x 7″ and 2′ x 3′. So I’m now searching for the best way to display 4×6’s in a rotating frame system. So it’s similar to the 2FF9. The small prints are great, the woman glues them on her bathroom mirror, then later in a fit of rage, she rips them down and tears them up. It’s a great emotional release.
    I use the Canon Selphy CP 910 for 4 x 6 dye sublimation prints ($0.23 per print you skinflint.) It’s good but not great, read reviews before you buy. (It is convenient and fast.)
    For 5 x 7 I use an old Epson 830. It has excellent results with ‘red river’ brand paper. I even print jpgs directly from certain cameras. (It bothers me more when she tears the 5 x 7’s up.)
    All others are from my Epson 11880.

    Go to a local store and find any TV with a thin bezel. That is all you have to do, but make sure it has VESA supports on the back. It’s much easier to mount then TVs without. Also I far prefer using a PC to display photos rather than the TV’s card reader. Time control and sporadic screen text works best for me with a PC.

    I think the Q7 or Q-S1 are hard to resist the 4.6 crop factor is much better for me then the 5.5. I love using the 01 as a 39mm. Also the 08 is a more useful wide at 4.6 crop.

    I like you have many 50 mm’s so having the ability to use 40 mm is a nice change. I take my 50’s and use them on the small medium format camera. Makes them all into 40 mm.

    If you ever get tired of the Pentax Q line. Put an article up on your blog and ask for recommendations of other skinfilnt cameras. I have a few suggestions for the future.

    Also just tell the people living with you that they watch way too much TV and you have to help them stop for a week. Then use the TV for the experiment.

    1. For the amount of prints I currently get made using an online service is cheap enough and good enough quality.

      I’m going to see how it goes with the Philips digital frame and go from there. Good idea re telling people they watch too much tv!

      Years ago I had a dvd called ColorCalm which was ambient music plus changing visual patterns. The idea was to play it on your tv like a kind of mini ambient art installation. I loved (and still love) this idea, and wonder about the possibilities with evolving art (including photography) on the wall, rather than a static piece, or manually having to change pictures every so often.

      Yes one of the appeals of the Q7 is the effect of widening the field of view of the Q lenses. Especially the 08 wide. In fact I think the standard 02 zoom then becomes 24-70mm which is about as wide is I usually go, and different enough to 28mm to make it interesting. The main reason I have my Ricoh GX100 is that it’s 24mm at its widest compared with the GRD III’s 28mm.

      Oh and I’ll bear that in mind about other skinflint cameras, but for now I’m loving the Q more each day.

  7. Oh my, how I completely messed up my two and a half month at home after the surgery. This is what I intended to do and what I completely failed at, apart from 2 rolls of mediocre photos.

    If you ask me why I didn’t make more photos…. no idea! Too bad.

  8. What a marvelous experiment! Talk about a master class in seeing a familiar scene through new eyes. I’m keen to try it, though I expect I’ll come to all of the same conclusions you have (the quality of the light is everything; details can be more interesting than the whole; limiting our options can unlock our creativity). Thank you for the lovely eye-candy, and for the inspiration!

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