Thursday, July 21, 2011

Challenged: A Photo a Day

Monnie Ryan
Monnie Ryan is one of those people who does SO MUCH and does it SO WELL that we wonder how in the world she finds the time, energy, talent, and intestinal fortitude to cope with it all!  As you can see by her biographical sketch, which only touches the surface of her list of accomplishments, she is quite an awesome woman.  And as you can see from her photographs, she is also a super talented photographer.

Not only does her story relate the challenge (relentless pursuit of a photo a day) that she has set for herself, but it is also a mini-primer on how NOT to miss a great shot.  I hope you enjoy it and learn as much from Monnie's story as I did!


Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below for the author or
email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog. Also, PLEASE click the green SU icon at the bottom of this post to recommend the blog to Stumble Upon members. It will dramatically increase the "exposure" of our authors' work.

If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you! Also, consider forwarding the link to "Relentless" to your friends and family. Thanks again!

Michelle Alton


Challenged:  A Photo a Day   by Monnie Ryan

Those of us born under the Aries sign of the Zodiac are easily bored (or so astrological pundits would have us believe). We embrace change, have a strong urge to fix things that ain't broken and constantly are on the lookout for our next challenge. It was the latter, I suppose, that prompted me to join a group of online photographer friends who at the beginning of last year embarked on a special project: We would, we pledged, take at least one photo a day for the entire year. It turned out to be a frustrating, demanding and sometimes nearly impossible experience -- but one that was so satisfying (and decidedly unboring) that I'm doing it again this year.

Like many photographers I know, I have favorite photo subjects; flower close-ups, lighthouses, covered bridges and anything with rust on it are at the top of my list. But I reckoned that embarking on this photo journey would force me to open my eyes to new possibilities (whether I wanted to see them or not). And looking back on that first year, I realized that only a handful of flowers, two lighthouses and one covered bridge fill the 365 slots. Some days, subjects almost jumped in front of my camera begging for attention; other days, not so much. It was on those other days that another side of my Aries personality was called into play: stubbornness (or, as Jack, my husband of nearly 49 years, prefers to call it, damned stubbornness).

As I’ve wandered along my photographic path, a few folks have asked why on earth I'd want to undertake such a project. That answered (see the above explanation), they go on to ask how on earth I’m able to come up with a different photo every day for an entire year. Now that I’ve passed the halfway point of a second year, I've learned quite a bit that might help others follow me on a similar journey. So for whatever it's worth, I'll share what I've learned as part of my ongoing relentless pursuit (and a few of the photos as well).

Don’t leave home without it. No matter how good your camera is, it won’t work if you don’t have it when you need it. It’s safe to say I never walk out the door without at least one camera within easy reach (heck, I've even been known to carry it down the short driveway to get mail out of our box). There's one in my pocket when I wander through our neighborhood on my morning walks. I'm a state-certified volunteer long-term care ombudsman, so it's in my bag when I make my weekly nursing home visits. Grocery runs and department store stops? Well, you get the point. Here’s another, also from the voice of experience:  Be sure to keep your batteries charged (and carry extras) so you don’t run out of juice at a crucial moment.

Sunny Delight (Nursing Home Window)

Lighten up. Admittedly, I love competition -- make that winning -- as much or more than the next gal (yet another Aries trait). But the goal of taking a photo a day isn't getting an award or seeing your photos hanging in a gallery. Rather, the purpose is to expand your photographic horizons and, most importantly, create visual memories of where you've been and what you've done for an entire year. Whether it's a grandkid acting silly, somebody's cute pet or a stained glass window inside a local pub doesn't matter - it's the effort that counts.

Miss Lucy

Look, listen, stop. Wherever you go, keep your eyes and ears open (that means if you’re out for a walk or run, unplug the iPod). Look right and left, of course, but don’t forget up and down; some of my most interesting shots came from a ceiling or floor. Listen for noises like birds chirping, engines revving up and children laughing—and when one of those happens within range of your lens, stop and capture the action.

Pier Pressure (Avalon Pier, North Carolina Outer Banks)

Think outside your box. I’m not about to stop loving those flowers and lighthouses, but staying within my comfort zone does little to foster creativity and virtually puts the kabosh on the photo-a-day thing. Nothing comes to mind? Visit websites haunted by other photographers, like,,, Digital Image Cafe ( and social networking sites like Facebook. You'll be amazed at what you'll find to inspire you!

Off-Track (rusty railroad hingers, Delaplane, Va.)

Tune in. The daily newspaper, local TV newscasts and such are other terrific sources of photo possibilities. Checking them often can lead you to kite-flying and pizza-eating contests, balloon fests, wine-tastings, flower shows and Civil War reenactments -- each and every one a gold mine just waiting for you to dig in. Ask friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers to clue you in when the flowers in their gardens start to bloom, their churches are having a strawberry festival or their kids are playing in Little League games. Go online and sign up for e-newsletters at websites of convention and visitor bureaus, chambers of commerce and local, state and national parks so you'll be notified of upcoming events

Stirring the Pot (apple butter-making demonstration, Beaver Creek
State Park, East Liverpool, Ohio)

Point and shoot. If it's not moving too fast (and sometimes even if it is), it's got potential. Don't wait for the perfect opportunity; a telephone pole, an empty cigarette pack someone carelessly tossed in the street or a patch of weeds by a wood fence are fair game. Often, something that didn't turn me on in the moment turns out to be a real gem; and even if it’s a total dud, the great thing about digital photography is we can quickly dispose of anything we don't want or like.

 Don't Fence Me In (Mineral Ridge, Ohio)

Put your feet to the fire. Putting the above strategies into play means plenty of opportunities will come knocking at your door most days; but sometimes, there’s simply no place to go and no one to see. That’s when I tell myself I have half an hour to find something -- anything -- to photograph (or else)! Over the course of this year, for instance, I’ve pointed at and shot everything from old books to vegetables to buckles on my shoes to my husband's [nearly] bald head.

Wisdom Through the Ages (old family Bible)

Get creative. Don't automatically discard a ho-hum photo; instead, try turning it into something special by "doctoring" it up in a photo editing program. Don't have one? Picasa is quite good and free (download it at Or, upload a photo at, jazz it up and save the changed version on your computer. You may be happily surprised at the results. A bunch of drab backyard leaves turned jazzy with a touch of the Fractalius filter; adding a focal zoom filter to fall leaves in a pond at our local park turned it into a contest winner

Rockin' the Lily Pond (Mill Creek Metropark, Youngstown, Ohio)

Above all, I encourage you to get out there, try new things and practice, practice, practice. If that results in an occasional honor or prize along the way, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t -- and there will be plenty of times when it won’t -- that’s fine too. Just relax, have fun and go with the flow. Who knows? Like me, you just may end up with another favorite photo subject or two to add to your list!

Monnie's Brief Biography

A one-time university administrator with a master’s degree in higher education administration, Monnie retired in 2003 after 14 years as managing editor of The Business Journal in Youngstown, Ohio. She continues to serve as online editor, columnist and feature article writer for the newspaper on a part-time basis and writes two online blogs, one in which she reviews northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania restaurants ( Her nonfiction articles have appeared in more than 20 national magazines, and her photos have earned numerous national, state and local awards. She’s been married for nearly 49 years Jack, a retired English teacher who’s also a photography nut. You can see more of Monnie's photography at her gallery:

Monnie's Bonus Shots

Lilies of the Field (Mill Creek MetroPark)

Dilly of a Dahlia (Mill Creek MetroPark)

Walk This Way (Whalehead Club, Corolla, N.C.)

A-Tisket, A-Tasket (woven basket at Hobby Lobby)

Fabrics of Our Lives (local Hobby Lobby store)

Let There Be Light (local pub window)

Fall Patio at Mill Creek MetroPark (Youngstown, Ohio)

Jazzed-Up Leaves (our backyard)
Big Red (Holland Harbor Lighthouse, Holland State Park, Mich.)

Pardon My Back (dahlia from nursing home garden)

Dumpster Rust (dumpster in Sharon, Pa.)

 Sharps Island Lighthouse (Chesapeake Bay, Md.)

Annisquam Lighthouse (Glouster, Mass.)

On-Yums (Farmers' market, Canfield, Ohio)
Wiswell Road Covered Bridge (Ashtabula County, Ohio)

   All photography by Monnie Ryan

*** I Need Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We haven't a single story on tap. I'm working on one, but it won't be ready in time for next week. Please consider sharing your tales of Relentless Pursuit!  Give you imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, or humorous.  And I'd be appreciative if you also take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story!--
Michelle Alton



Bob Cammarata said...

Terrific story and photos, Monnie!
You've effectively accomplished a seemingly impossible task and "defined" recreational photography as we know it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story Monnie :) I have no photo mojo with the heat right now!! You keep up the great work! :) Loved your photo a day story. Tammy

Denny Barnes said...

Wonderful story Monnie and thank you, Tammy for posting it and the photos. I wish I had your get up and go, Monnie. Your story reminds me of a poem I like very much.

Open your eye that you may see
The beauty that around you lies,
The misty loveliness of the dawn,
The glowing colors of the skies;
The Child's bright eager eyes of blue,
The gnarled and wrinkled face of age,
The bird with crimson on his wing
Whose spirit never knew a cage;
The roadsides blooming goldenrod
So brave through summer's wind and heat,
The brook that rushes to the sea
With courage that naught may defeat.

Open your eyes that you may see
The wonder that around you lies;
It will enrich your every day
And make you glad and kind and wise.
~ Emma Boge Whisenand ~

Dave Phalen said...

Great story!! Wish I had your energy!! Always a pleasure to see your photos!!

Betsyk said...

Loved the story, Monnie! And thanks to Michelle for the Blog. Monnie always posts an amazing photo in her one-a-day challenge of flowers, seascapes, snow scenes, pub name it! She has the determination to keep it going!!

Sandy Powers said...

Great post, Monnie! Lots of very good stuff here! Your photos are wonderful, but your advice on how to make the photo a day thing happen was truly an inspiration. THANK YOU!

Joe DiGilio said...

Monnie, I'm seriously considering taking up "The Challenge". I take pics almost every day but not every day. It sounds like a project that would be a lot of fun, and a good book. I enjoyed your story and your helpful tips. You're armed with "The Third Eye" at all times. I absolutely love your photography. From it I can tell you are a very interesting person. Your husband is a lucky guy.

Ron McEwan said...

Monnie we have met hundreds of times but not face to face. You are one of many talents; all of which juggle for first place. Our trails must cross sometime. Will Rodgers said that, "he was a part of everyone he met". Glad I met you and Jack. You have personally encourage me a number of times and counseled me many times. This story is packed full of excitement and directon for those with the love of photo art. Enjoyed your fast paced story and the great photos are always an inspiration.


Mitch Spence said...

Monnie, I applaud you, you know, for seeing this project through, and renewing your pledge to do it for yet another year. I started the project myself, and just didn't make it all the way. But you are so right about what it does for one's photography--to be on the lookout, all the time, everywhere. Such an engaging story you've told here. I so enjoyed it, and I so enjoy seeing your images as well. Mitch