It’s nearly that time of year when all of our camera gear suddenly becomes too limited and obsolete–usually as a result of proximity to Black Friday sales. I’ve watched the #OptOutside initiative grow over the last year or so–with the goal of encouraging people to redefine the day after Thanksgiving in a less materialistic light by scheduling outdoor adventures in place of shopping. Being a bit of a skeptic, I think that this is likely just clever marketing meant to snag sales in early December but despite that, I appreciate the idea of doing more with less.  The Ugly Camera Challenge is geared towards applying that same minimalism to our adventure and photography!

Full disclosure: I struggle with G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) as much as anyone else and my goal here is not to bare my soul to the world and repent of my love of cameras. I’ve accepted that it’s part of who I am. Aesthetics of new gear entices and inspires new adventures. On the other hand, limitations are an absolute key to creativity. Thus, the Ugly Camera Challenge which can help us selectively limit ourselves while getting more mileage out of gear we might otherwise neglect.

The rules of the challenge are pretty simple:

  • Make 1 photo a day with YOUR “ugly” camera every day in November
  • Share your posts on social media using the #uglycamerachallenge tag
  • In early December we pick our favorite shots. You can email yours to me with any relevant notes, thoughts or lessons learned and I’ll post our favorite images here on the blog!
  • Have fun!

A few notes about the challenge:

  • I’ve intentionally left room for some creative interpretation. The goal isn’t to specify exactly what to shoot or how–but rather to try embracing limitation to see what creative growth comes from it.
  • I’m not calling your camera literally ugly–it’s a figure of speech. The idea is to shoot with something that is a little “off the beaten path”
  • Since I am going to be shooting film as my interpretation of this challenge, I am going to leave enough time to get film developed before sharing the results on here.
  • I’ve included some ideas for “bonus points” below. I’d love to hear your ideas too–drop a comment below and let’s make this fun!

Buy a used camera from a person (ebay, yardsale, craigslist, barter) that is deplorably cheap. Let’s say $50 or less. They are out there! Film or digital–let your mind wander a bit!

Give your ugly camera away to someone who doesn’t have one-this could be a young person who only knows cell phones and has never gotten to experience simply shooting photographs, someone who is interested in photography but can’t afford a “better” camera–you get the idea.

Get a friend, a child or a spouse involved–these kinds of things are more fun with group participation! This could easily create a pathway to mentorship. I’d love to see us getting more mileage out of gear that we would normally not even bother to pick out of a trash bin–and then passing it on to someone else along with whatever lessons taken from participating in this challenge!

This could easily be integrated with the OptOutside initiative–and I think it shares a lot of the same ideals of minimalism and prioritizing experience. Having a camera imposes the need to go somewhere, do something and shoot it. Plan adventures outside–small, local or whatever to document through this month!

Photography is a gift and the simpler we make the experience, the richer it becomes–to borrow the words of Steve House. I want to point out that this initiative was inspired by Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography–his video may help inspire you further!