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Pot II, originally uploaded by Skink74.

I’m a member of a private group on flickr, where a small number of people get together to set monthly themes and submit up to 3 photos in a month on the chosen theme, then vote on the submissions. Nothing particularly unusual there – I’m sure there are thousands of similar groups. In our case the winning photo gets printed and put up in the pub we all meet in – but that’s not really the point. It’s nice to get the most votes, and some more tangible appreciation of a photograph, but for me the real value comes from something else.
Firstly, not winning every week is very grounding. It’s a reminder that my tastes are different from those of others and that what really appeals to me is not going to suit everyone. While I could revel in a close-focused wide open bokeh shot of a twig, to others it’s just a twig, and mostly out of focus. Similarly, when it comes to voting every month I have to think very carefully about shots in the group pool, that in other groups I would just pass over.
Secondly – and more importantly from my point of view – the different themes each month force me out of a comfortable rut. I don’t think I could ever get bored of wandering alongside a forest river first thing in the morning, but you don’t learn anything new by doing the same thing continuously. So having widely varying themes gives me a chance to try something different. More than that they are a challenge that encourages me to step outside my comfort zone.
Take this month for example – movement. Most of a landscape is pretty static, and while I have some ideas that might work with a landscape setting I need to broaden my outlook. What else conveys movement? Here’s one idea, although I haven’t settled on a final shot. My problem with this one is that I know it’s a staged shot, and that seems gimmicky to me. Would it be better to have set up a full game and just tried the shot on any pots that came up in the right part of the table? Perhaps just scattering some other balls on the table would have given a more natural feel.