#NoFilter: Shooting 365 photos of Reno life…on film

Frank Manfredonia, a TEC Equipment parts specialist helps Kayla Blackwell, artist at Invictus Tattoo Studio, in the parking lot of a 7-11 on Wells and Second streets. Photo by Mike Higdon

Frank Manfredonia, a TEC Equipment parts specialist, helps Kayla Blackwell, artist at Invictus Tattoo Studio, in the parking lot of a 7-11 on Wells Avenue and Second Street. Photo by Mike Higdon

What did I just get myself into?

On July 1, I started taking one photo a day on film. I will continue taking a photo a day until June 30, 2017.

My goal is to tell the story of life in Reno over the course of 365 days. But, maybe I’ll only end up telling the story of where I’ve been and the things and people I ran into during that time. What’s the difference, right? Either way, I hope to exhibit them all in a gallery at the end.

The point of this project is to create a framework for telling 365 little stories that form larger narratives. But I don’t know what those stories will be each day or at the end of the year. I want to let them appear to me rather than craft a specific message. That could appear random, but I suspect my photographic style and the subjects that interest me will create their own theme.

I’m pursuing the project like a photojournalist…but also like an artist.

365 photo projects are common ways for photographers to push themselves to learn and grow. Mine started after spending June posting a photo a day on the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Instagram account. But what I realized is that I was actually taking 8 to 12 photos per day, then picking my favorite one, applying filters and posting it.

Most of us do that without thinking about it. Some people even spend hours taking photos with professional gear, then post one to Instagram as if it were a candid moment. The filters can either add fun, a mood or redeem a bad or boring shot.

That’s fine, it’s definitely a thing, and I do it all the time.

But I decided to do the complete opposite for this project because I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself hard enough to explore the world. And I was also stressing over which picture to post to impress an audience on social media.

Instead, everything in this #NoFilter project is 100 percent analog, unfiltered and slow. Take a picture? Cool, can’t see it until the whole roll is done and no one else will see them until the year is over. Too dark? Sucks for you, should’ve used the camera better. Missed a shot? Great, don’t be so timid next time.

I hate that I had to scan a few photos for this post just to demonstrate, because that hurts the integrity of the goal (and the scans look worse than the prints). But it’s the internet, and you gotta use pictures or no one will click. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My wife Annie Flanzraich helped set the parameters and has been the stalwart framer for this project. To make an interesting and terrifying challenge, we created these rules, which are largely based around the method and not the content:

  • A roll of 36 frames per month means I can take 28 to 31 photos a month with room for 5 to 8 do-overs
  • No cheating! That means no loading up on photos and saving them for other days. Each photo must be taken on that day. If I don’t take one, that day is blank
  • Be consistent. Use the same camera, print the photos at the same size at the same lab
  • But be flexible. Any 35mm film is acceptable and any photographic tool that works with the camera or aids in photographing something is fine (lenses, digital light meters, tripod, etc.)

The film I pick for that month dictates the most, so I stress out about it the most. In digital photography, we can all pick the light sensitivity (or let the camera/smart phone do it) and take any picture practically anywhere.

With film, I’m stuck with a certain speed for an entire month. That determines the time of day, indoor or outdoor and type of image I’ll get. And that really, really affects the subject choice. I can use lenses and flashes to compensate, but it only helps so much.


A dog barks at passersby while standing on an old car in a backyard on Lakeside Drive. Photo by Mike Higdon

A dog barks at passersby while standing on an old car in a backyard on Lakeside Drive. Taken through the cracks in a wooden fence. Photo by Mike Higdon

How I envision the final exhibit

I often focus on the final product first, rather than the purpose, before starting a project. Many artists, I imagine, start with the message then determine the method or process next. But I need to see the final outcome of a project in my head before deciding how to accomplishing it. Since I want the image to dictate the message, this mode of thinking works here.

In the end, 365, 5×7-inch photos will be displayed on a giant wall in the shape of a calendar. Some photos might include captions if they warrant it while others might not…or maybe they all will, I’m not sure yet.

Here's one section of the wall.

Here’s one rough example section of an imaginary wall


In any case, it should be really interesting to see what kind of stories come out of an entire year of shooting.

Join me next time as I answer some of the FAQs I’ve gotten about the project already. Such as, “Are you developing your own film?”, “What happens if you see more than one good subject in a day?” and “What if you travel?” 

Mike Higdon is a journalist who writes, photographs, videos and designs. He lives in Reno, Nevada and enjoys urban life and telling stories about it.