90 Days, 90 Photographs
December 17, 2004 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Photographer Jim Brandenburg gave himself a challenge: for 90 days between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice he would take exactly one photograph each day, around his home near Minnesota's million-acre Boundary Waters Wilderness. He then repeated the challenge in the summer, again taking one photograph each day from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox. You can see the results here: Chased by The Light and Looking for the Summer.
posted by driveler (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This makes me want to move to Minnesota.
posted by sciurus at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2004

Gah -- the moving pop-ups in "Chased by the Light" are very annoying! (And on Firefox on OS X, not very good for the epileptic...)
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2004

Chased is an absolute classic. The sheer technical bravado is astounding when you see such consistently amazing results. Most photographers are happy to have one great shot in a roll. Thanks for the links, driveler.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2004

Wow, super cool. I don't know how he got the wolf pictures in Chased... It's crazy how elusive they are. I spend all kinds of time up there and only seen wolf shit.

It's pretty excellent (and unnerving) to be camping and hear them start howling.
posted by COBRA! at 11:57 AM on December 17, 2004

I have significant doubts that he managed to take 90 perfect pictures in a row. As Civil_Disobedient says, "Most photographers are happy to have one great shot in a roll."

If he really did this then he is a photographic virtuoso. Those photographs are all amazing. I think he deserves praise for them no matter how they were created. I wish I could create one picture that amazing... but I really doubt he managed to do this by taking only one picture a day.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 11:57 AM on December 17, 2004

I've spent a lot of time up in the boundary waters-- beautiful country... you can paddle for days without seeing another soul.
posted by chaz at 12:13 PM on December 17, 2004

Some more info about Jim Brandenburg and the project here. The one photo each day story is legit. All the photos were published as a feature article in National Geographic and at the time were 'the most photographs the magazine had ever published in one feature in its history.'
posted by driveler at 12:16 PM on December 17, 2004

I loved these pictures. The BWCA is one of the greatest places on earth that I've been to. It reminds you of what the earth was like before us pesky humans arrived. Truly beautiful country.
posted by anomie at 12:27 PM on December 17, 2004

I agree that these images are incredible, but I've got to agree with Jupiter Jones - it seems like it would be pretty much impossible to get such perfect results consistently, shooting exactly one picture for each image. I can't imagine doing longer exposures without at least a couple stops of bracketing (especially since he shoots transparencies, where exposure has to be exact), or something with a very shallow depth of field without taking at least a few shots. At the very least, I'm sure some of these have been digitally manipulated, at least a little bit.

This, of course, brings up the whole digital debate. I'm studying photography at the moment, which absolutely doesn't make me an expert (yet, anyway), but it does lead to lots and LOTS of coversations about the issue. Would these images be more impressive if we knew for sure they hadn't been edited in Photoshop? Absolutely.

I'm not questioning the beauty of these photographs at all - I agree, they're breathtaking (I especially love the water & sky images from the summer series). But, as someone who shoots a lot (like I said, not a pro, I shoot a lot of crap) and truly understands just how many pictures need to be taken before you get what you want, I can't help but question the statement that he shot ONLY one photograph per day.
posted by AlisonM at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2004

So... Jealous...

To all you doubters, remember that taking a photograph is probably less than a 1/3rd of the work in making a great image. Finding your subject and waiting for it to get right is the 1st third, and printing (plus developing) is the last. Having top quality gear probably didn't hurt.

I take lots of photos myself, and only about 1 in 10 turn out acceptable. Way less than that turn out great. Imagine if you could spend your whole day finding one great scene, setting up for it and shooting it, and then a dedicated week getting the print right. Of course, the wildlife shots he couldn't wait for, but even so. What a privilege.

I guess I'll have to keep practicing...
posted by daver at 2:35 PM on December 17, 2004


Jim now shoots digital and prints digital. He is THAT good, too. There is a level of experience and skill where the consistency becomes very high.

Now having said that, nowhere does it say he ONLY took one shot per day. When I visited his gallery in Ely, we talked about how the diaries were done. He SHOT every day and he shot more than what is there.

It's still an incredible achievement, as Ansel Adams said he was happy to get 12 good images PER YEAR. But then Ansel didn't have the advantage of using a DSLR with the instant feedback (faster than the Polaroids that Ansel used) it provides.

As far as manipulation, yes, he does use Photoshop. There is a shot of ravens in a snow storm that appears in black and white. When I first saw the image, I saw a reproduction. But when I first saw the print in the gallery, I realized that I had seen a COLOR reproduction because the gallery had a black and white print that had been done digitally. He has discovered how much fun you can have working the image even further digitally. Nothing extreme, but yes, he does work on at least some of them.
posted by aldus_manutius at 2:43 PM on December 17, 2004


If you're getting 1 in 10, you're doing great. Better than most, actually. I haven't tried to calculate what my "hit" rate is yet. I know it's improved now that I've gone to full digital (I still shoot medium and large format on film), but anything I would have shot as 35mm and a lot of what I would have done as medium format, I'm shooting DSLR.
posted by aldus_manutius at 2:47 PM on December 17, 2004

I was actually hoping for a camera mounted on a roof that took a photo at the same time every day... so you'd see, slowly, the sun move _horizontally_ in the sky.
posted by effugas at 3:03 PM on December 17, 2004

Thanks for posting, driveler. I absolutely love Brandenburg's work. Have two of his prints hanging on our living room wall, in addition to Chased by the Light. If I could take a photograph that's 1/1000th as good as his, I'd be satisfied.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:00 PM on December 17, 2004


In the article about the project that driveler linked, there is the following quote:

"At only one photo per day, there can be no second thoughts, no bracketed images, no room for error." (6th paragraph)

This line, while it doesn't explicity say "he only shot one photograph per day," obviously led me to believe that he did just that. If he was shooting more than one image per day, of course there's room for error - photography, by it's very nature, is trial and error.

Also in that article, near the bottom, it says, "His film is Provia 3--"the finest grain transparency film I've seen, and it pushes easily." Again, this led me to believe that he used only transparency film for this project, but if I read it wrong, sorry.

I will admit that I got most of the information about the project from that article and this thread, only because the main page of his website did bizarre things to my browser (the links to the individual projects in this post worked fine, although I agree with Robot Johnny - what is UP with the window jig in "Chased by the Light"?). Obviously, it's best to get the information straight from the horses mouth, but reading what I was given led me to be misinformed. Sorry 'bout that.
posted by AlisonM at 4:34 PM on December 17, 2004

aldus -

My sister gave me the book a few years ago. In the book he claims to have taken one shot per day. I remember some of the captions to the photos describing his near panic as the time approached sundown. Nothing to photograph and no more light! Then he would see his shot.

He claims that he never intended to publish the photos, that it was just an exercise because he was burned out from shooting endless rolls on commercial assignments.
posted by neuroshred at 5:17 PM on December 17, 2004

Boy, he sure would have been pissed if the lab had screwed up a roll.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:21 PM on December 17, 2004

I think I may be a bit of help with some questions you all may have. I am Jim Brandenburg's son, one of the designers of both www.jimbrandenburg.com and the sequel to "Chased by the Light" titled "Looking for the Summer". I wish to thank you all for the kind words regarding Jim. I will make sure that he sees this blog.

"Chased by the Light" indeed was one frame shot per day, one click of the shutter. I helped with the film processing logistics when the project was in the works. We would process our negative film - that’s right, it was negative film throughout the entire assignment - through a photo lab called Procolor here in Minneapolis. Thus, they provide us with a third-party voice in documenting the progress. Some rolls of film had a single image on them depending on ASA and lighting conditions that obviously varied daily and the latitude of neg film gave him a bit of wiggle room, especially in the long exposures.

We knew there would be doubters, but he had no reason to cheat. This project was originally done as a personal journey, not intended for publishing. John Echave, the editor of National Geographic was up at Jim's house and asked to see what he was working on, and only after his interest in running all 90 of the pictures, led Jim to publish these works.

A couple of years ago, an in-depth documentary was filmed and released detailing the entire project titled "Chased by the Light, A photographic journey with Jim Brandenburg". This piece won numerous awards including an Emmy nomination in 2003. One can purchase this on our website at www.jimbrandenburg.com. Sorry, I don't mean to sound like a salesman, but I have some integrity to defend. It was the real deal, indeed. In fact, nothing at all has been altered in photoshop or any other program from the original frame, other that the typical color cast or density adjustment. As any photographer knows, this is nothing I can't personally do in an actual chemical darkroom or lab.

Now, he shoots Canon digital; last year it was Nikon. We are also working on numerous High-Definition video pieces one of which is a 2-year endeavor on the Tall Grass Prairies of America. The piece is airing on Japanese NHK (their PBS) in two weeks, with an English version to complete next year.

If I could please ask anyone that goes to his website, http://www.jimbrandenburg.com - that they enter through the front page, not the links posted above, which are pop ups from the html version. The site is 100% Flash in navigation; purchasing pages in HTML.

Thanks for your time and your interest.
posted by anthonybrandenburg at 10:06 PM on December 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

This is why I love MetaFilter! Thanks for the explanation, Anthony -- I tried looking up more information on Google but took the 1-shot per day claim at face value because it would be trivial to check for multiple exposures on the film. I'm still kind of in awe that you actually helped with the project -- Chased, in my mind, is one of those perfect acts of Zen mastery to show the world what "skill" really means. Not only in the exposures, which are all dead-on, but the subject matter is so varied between the pictures.

Ahh, this is so cool...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2004

Really beautiful, great post, and thanks Anthony for sure. Man I just picked up my new Nikon D70 last weekend, if I can capture something a tiny fraction as good as the least of these shots I'll be thrilled.

Somehow though I think it's gonna take me more than one shot per outing... One of the great things about digital is you can shoot lots, back up and delete the trials and just keep the good. That Jim can head out, set up, open the shutter once, and come back with this stuff is truly amazing.
posted by scheptech at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2004

Thanks for posting, Anthony. I hope I'll be able to see the HD Tall Grass Prairies piece sometime. I linked to the HTML pages so people could navigate directly to the photos.
posted by driveler at 1:47 PM on December 18, 2004

Whoa, looks like Anthony shut everybody up.

I've seen Jim Brandenburg's studio near Blue Mounds Park in MN, a friend and I stopped by on a climbing trip. His work is incredible; I dabble in photography, but work like his makes me realize that I have a long way to go.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:50 PM on December 18, 2004

« Older I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy...   |   Christmas Letters to Christopher Walken Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments