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The One Roll Challenge #1

This will be my second consecutive post where a parking meter plays a significant role.

It was another overcast day in Southern California, and I was driving home from an appointment. I decided to go down Sawtelle and stop in Japantown to take photos. Practice makes perfect, so I thought there might be an image or two despite the less-than-stellar light.

As I parked, I saw that the meter was blinking green, meaning someone had left time on it when they left. Usually, we’re talking two or three minutes, but I got lucky, and someone had left a whopping 41 minutes on this meter. It was at that exact moment that I decided to challenge myself. I wanted to push myself and limit my shooting for those 41 minutes. I decided that I would act as if my Sony A7R2 was a film camera and I only had a set number of exposures available to me. At the same time, I decided that I HAD to “finish the roll” and made sure I left with at least 24 images. The reasoning was simple; I wanted to limit the NUMBER of pictures I could take, which meant focusing on every aspect of the image before clicking the shutter. The requirement that I “finish the roll” was designed to make me raise the camera even if I wasn’t 100% sure I had a good image. Oh, and I was on the clock - once again, I decided to use my allotted meter time to limit myself even further. I couldn’t go in circles for hours waiting for 24 perfect frames - I had 41 free minutes, and I wasn’t gonna spend one penny on extending my stay.

a list of guidelines to help with the one roll photo challenge
As they say in Pirates of the Caribbean - these are more like guidelines than rules

So how did it go? Spoilers - it was hard. You can see my contact sheet below:

At first, I thought I may have made it too easy. I saw images left, right, and center. I took my first image within two minutes of getting out of the car - of a bright kodak sticker on a parking meter.

Then I made my way to a plant nursery and saw this young woman blending into the scenery in her green military jacket - framed beautifully by the handle of a cart. I wish the cart had been some crazy contrasting color to give the image some POP, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Next, I walked down the block and captured an image of a faceless man fixing a door. I especially like the pop of blue from the stool - although I think black and white would work with this image.

I walked farther down and found an alleyway that led to a parking lot - pretty dull. However, as I walked back to the main road, I saw the wall covered with plants and the exposed portion covered with graffiti. I had to wait a little for this one as a UPS truck was parked in the street, drawing too much attention. Once the truck moved, I snapped the shot and moved on.

Another half a block, and I ended up behind this matching couple. It seemed unintentional, and I snapped a shot before they went entirely into the shadow beneath the tree you can see in the background.

I was twelve minutes into the challenge and had taken 11 shots. I thought 36 would be a breeze. I needed 25 images in 30 minutes. I had this.

I didn’t take another image for 11 minutes. Sawtelle at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon isn’t exactly poppin’. I felt STUCK. This sensation is why the time limit and the idea to “finish the roll” exist. I had to keep shooting - even if I only got to 24 images. At this point, I started just to explore frames. I shot a couple of images of a cracked convex mirror. I liked the texture of the crack in the curved glass, but, looking back, I should have waited for the red car to be gone. Especially in the flat gray light - there’s just not much there.

My following four images reek of desperation. There are a couple of shots of some silly graffiti, then two shots of the remnants of a since-removed piece of public art. My thought with the second was there might be something there with the texture, but it just doesn’t work. Then some flowers poking through a fence - my high school self is saying there’s a symbol here about life finding a way - but I’m not buying it nowadays.

It’s not until 15 minutes after my shot of the couple that I get something interesting (yet flawed). In the foreground, I framed this bright blue tiny library with its yellowish wood roof. In the background, a woman wearing the same colors and pattern pulls at her dog, rolling in the grass. Overall I would say the symmetry isn’t 100% successful due mainly to the big bag over her left shoulder and her posture at the pulling dog - but at least there’s something there.

I snapped a few more images - some of which may have been interesting with a different lens. I like the concept behind trying to frame the light post in the middle of the building behind - but ultimately, it’s unsuccessful.

Finally, with the time winding down, I saw this lovely pool of light inside a locked garage. I had to use manual focus to get it, but I knew it was an excellent way to end on a good note. Those who have followed me for some time will know how I love a pool or a shaft of light.

And that was it - I finished my first roll. Twenty-four frames, not a full 36, but I felt good. Would I recommend you try this? Absolutely. Here are a few reasons:

  1. It is a short exercise that can be repeated daily if so desired.

  2. I forced myself to see a part of my city as a photographer - and got some ideas for how to shoot it next time I’m there (when hopefully the light is better/different).

  3. It slows you down to focus on the composition of each image.

  4. The time limit forces you to raise the camera even if you aren’t sure about an image.

Ultimately, this was a valuable and fun challenge that I plan on continuing to partake in - especially when time is limited. Slowing down is something we could all use help with. The One Roll Challenge pushes you to do it. Try it. I can’t wait to see the images.

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