Through the Lens: 365 Days

I have had a camera in hand for as long as I can remember. My dad dabbled in photography and passed his passion down to me early on. I would bring my little Barbie digital camera or a disposable camera with me to most places and snap pictures of everything.

They were not very good. I was also six years old, so I had not entirely developed my artistic eye. For the longest time, I strictly shot landscapes. One day, I woke up and decided I wanted to try portrait photography. I fell in love, which quickly led to me turning the camera on myself. Then I began my 365 days of self-portraits project.

The Beginning – Day 1

I first had this idea when I was moving. I had a good routine going with some local models and was ramping up my portfolio and I didn’t want to lose the momentum. I thought if I could shoot self-portraits, I could at least continue to practice posing and technique on myself until I was established in a new city. I wanted to do something that would really challenge me creatively and keep me committed. It’s easy to lose steam and slowly stop hobbies, but I knew if I put this on social media, I would be held accountable. So I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed to the beach.

This first self-portrait was captured as sunset started using a slow shutter speed to capture more motion blur. I set my tripod up and used the interval timer setting to continuously shoot while I moved around. The key to these photos was the movement and a slow shutter speed.

Just like magic – Day 9

The more self-portraits I took, the more creative I wanted to get. I very quickly fell into the world of composite editing, and boy was that fun. I feel like my photography went through so many phases during this project. This was one of my favorite phases. This particular photo was inspired by my love of reading and how magical it is to get transported into the world of your favorite book. The setup was fairly easy, I connected my phone to my camera so I could see what my camera saw and trigger the shutter.

Once I had the shot set, I grabbed a book and placed an RGB light in it to light my face, creating the effect of light coming out of the open book. The rest was done in Photoshop using multiple layers to adjust colors, shadows, and highlights, and finally adding in the magic dust.

31 Nights of Halloween – Day 127

The more composite editing I did, the more I loved it and knew I had to do something big for Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. As October approached, I decided I would do a 31 Nights of Halloween theme, meaning I was going to get spooky.

Some of my photos were based on classic Halloween movies, such as Scream or The Adams Family. One of my favorite 31 Nights of Halloween photos was actually a pretty simple one, but my dad helped me with it so it’s extra special.

I waited until dusk and I used car headlights as my main source of light. I had two sheets that I cut eye holes into and my dad came out and put one on and posed with me. It was such a basic setup, but it was a fun memory with my dad. We had some fun pretending to be ghosts while we took the photo.

A Friends Thanksgiving – Day 174

I did a lot of ridiculous things for my self-portraits, but I would have to say my Thanksgiving self-portrait takes the cake. Of course, I had to recreate the iconic Friends scene where Monica had a raw turkey on her head. It was not easy or clean. I ended up spraying turkey juice all over myself when I was opening the turkey.

Rookie mistake. It was also not easy to get this to fit over my head, I had to cut open the back and cut through the bone so I could sort of slip it over my face. I used a shower cap to protect my face from the raw insides, meaning I could not breathe very well either.

A lot of people asked me why I bothered putting it on my head since I ended up holding it in the photo, well the answer is that it was very heavy and I had to hold it to keep it on. This was definitely one of the harder photos to execute, but it was worth it.

25 Days of Christmas – Day 205

Following the same idea as 31 Nights of Halloween, December obviously had to include 25 days of Christmas. I did a mix of Christmas-themed photos and Christmas movie scene recreations, including Home Alone, Die Hard (yes, it’s a Christmas movie,) Mean Girls, and more.

I think my favorite Christmas photo was actually the day after Christmas though. This one is just hilarious to me. I wanted to portray how exhausting and even sad the day after Christmas can be after all of the festivities are over. Christmas just ends so abruptly, sometimes the day after is rather depressing.

I cleared out our kitchen so that I had an empty room as my backdrop and put a single chair in the middle of it. I sat on the chair and leaned a small Christmas tree over myself to make it look like the tree had defeated me.

Leading Lines – Day 214

After 31 Nights of Halloween and 25 Days of Christmas, I wanted to keep up the conceptual photos but for these shots I wanted to rely on Photoshop less and use just myself and/or props to create compelling images in camera.

This is where you get a glimpse into my wild imagination. I did things like wrap saran wrap around my eyes, pour honey over myself, and melt hot candle wax on my shoulders. More ridiculous things of course.

In one shot, I used just my hair in a ponytail as a prop. I set up my black backdrop and put on a black shirt to emphasize the hair and I held my ponytail up to create leading lines. You do not always need a fancy location or crazy photoshopping to create a compelling image.

It’s Lit – Day 241

This shot was actually a recreation of one of my first viral self-portraits. Before I started my 365 Days project, I was dabbling in self-portraits here and there and I took one where I had a lit match in my mouth.

This one was pretty popular on social media, so I thought it would be fun to sort of recreate that a year plus later after I had so much more experience under my belt. This time I got extra long matches so that it was easier to shoot before the match ran out. I added an RGB light in the tub behind me to add some dimension to the photo as opposed to just using softboxes to light my face.

Faceless Self Portraits – Day 259

As winter progressed, I definitely noticed my creativity and inspiration were lacking. There were a lot of days when the last thing I wanted to do was put on makeup and take pictures of my face. So some days I didn’t. I got creative with how I posed, like in this shot I placed my hands in front of my eyes and blocked a majority of my face.

I consider this to be another phase of my photography. I went through my composite phase, Halloween, Christmas, and Conceptual. I consider this to be my soft and simple phase. I started capturing myself doing simple posing or even tasks around my apartment like laundry or cooking.

As a creative, especially in the social media age, it is very easy to get caught up in thinking you have to constantly outdo yourself. I certainly got caught up in that. I found myself feeling quite burnt out after I hit the halfway mark of this project, but I was determined to see it through. We all go through growing pains, and my photography is no different.

Across the World – Day 294

I took a week-long trip to Greece, which had been a dream of mine for about 10 years. I was not going to let a vacation stop me from completing my 365 Days project, so I continued my daily self-portraits even while on another continent.

I wanted this set to be more about the location and less about me, so I did a lot of out-of-focus shots that blurred me out in the forefront and focused on the scenery around me. This is one of my favorite shots because this view was spectacular. At the top of Mount Lycabettus, you get a 360-degree view of Athens at 277 meters above sea level. It was breathtaking.

And that’s a wrap – Day 365

I could not let my 365 Days project end without a celebratory final photo. I went to the grocery store and bought a cute little cake, put on a cute little dress, and headed outside with my backdrop and camera for this set. I even got gold foil balloons for the 365. While it was a fairly simple setup, it was quite windy which made it difficult to get the shot as my backdrop kept flapping around and the balloons would not stay facing the right way, even when I tied them down. I did it though, and it was such a satisfying accomplishment.

You always hear people say “finish strong.” I get it, you want to kick it into gear for the final stretch and come out strong. But that is not always possible. Sometimes you just have to finish. And that is more than enough. This project was challenging in so many ways and I am so proud of myself for seeing it through. That being said, I will never again do a 365 Day long project. I don’t love every single photo I took for this project, some days I just took a photo because I committed to it, but I love the project as a whole.

It showcases the creative process, and how as artists we are not always going to create our best work, or top our last work. That is just not realistic. It takes time, effort, and planning to execute a well-thought-out photoshoot. It also takes time to plan out a photoshoot. Giving yourself a 24-hour turnaround time does not always result in your best work.

Nonetheless, it was so much fun to share this process on social media. I was able to give people an inside look at what goes into the process, from brainstorming to the actual shoot. While I will not be partaking in any more 365 Day photo challenges, I will never stop sharing my process online. The greatest thing I got out of this project was connecting with other creatives and photography enthusiasts.

Jackie Vlahos is a photographer, videographer, blogger, and visual artist. She splits her time between Boston and New York City. You can find more of her work and continue to follow her journey on her instagram page @jackievlahos.