A Brief Tour Of How I Got Started In Photography And What I Learned Along The Way

in #photography3 years ago (edited)


In 2003 I got my first camera.

It was a Coolpix 3.2MP point and shoot digital camera, which is showing my age in two ways. One, my first camera was not a Kodak or some other 35mm film camera, and neither was it a ‘fancy’ high megapixel DSLR. I came of age somewhere in between.

I’d received the camera as a Christmas gift in 2003 and started immediately to take photos of my surroundings, first the people in the house of course — little snapshots with untrained eye, indoor plants, favourite pets, my own feet. You know, the usual stuff. Soon thereafter I went out into the neighbourhood.

January 2004. Notice how flat it is? I would frame and edit this differently now.

Most people are not prodigies, most of us have to practice to develop some skills. Some people have a natural eye for composition but need to work on technicals, some people the other way around. Unfortunately some people stay this way forever, being highly technical but lacking that ‘something’ that makes a striking photograph, beyond a perfect exposure. I’d like to think I’ve taken some good photos, but I’m nowhere near a prodigy and I’m not super technically sound either! Woe is me!

Sometime in 2004? Blown out sky, no control in the fully automatic camera!
Can you feel the teenage angst? This was my most popular photo back in the day. Other angsty teens just loved it! It was so poorly shot and edited, I don't know why people liked it. This was very early on.

Black & White is more forgiving in general, and that’s probably why I started there. Aside from having a naturally morose teenage attitude towards everything, the aesthetics of black & white have always been with me.

I started at the local Community College in a Film Photography course, but didn't last long because during that time I was not interested in film photography whatsoever! The dark room did not interest me, and after exposing and developing my first roll, i stopped going.

My next camera was a Canon Rebel XT, which was a perfect little entry level DSLR and I recommend the Rebel line for anybody now starting out. In fact, I still use a Rebel SL1 and it suits me just fine.

Sometime in 2006?

Later on I went through a series of Advanced Photography Workshops with a local photographer who had worked as a professional photographer in New York City in the 80s. I also worked as his photographers assistant on several shoots. He shot almost exclusively with an old Hasselblad, and my main job was to keep notes on test shots and number the exposed film rolls, putting them away carefully in little bags, aside from moving lighting and holding reflectors. His first advice was to buy the book 'Camera and Lens' by Ansel Adams and read it cover to cover. Well I got the book, but I never read it. I still have it, and i still haven't read it! Dry technical books just don't do it for me... I'm sure I'd be much better than I am if I paid a bit more attention to it!

I have never worked as a photographer.

Sure, I've been paid once or twice to take photos, but I've never been a professional. I've been an amateur photographer for over 10 years, off and on. I don't particularly like to call myself a photographer because I think that should be reserved for the professionals, hence why I often say 'amateur photographer'. I also like to say I'm a fauxtographer!

My next upgrade was a Canon 80D which served me well and had for several years before I sold it for something that could take video (the SL1).

Eventually my wife and I were given an old 1950s Praktica as a wedding present and so I began experimenting more with film here and there. The cameras were much cheaper and while the film had a cost attached, it was still cheaper than a mid-range DSLR for sure. These were mostly pretty experimental, with free or cheaply bought expired film, old camera and some cross processing techniques.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 8.52.40 PM.png
Taken with medium format Zeiss Ikoflex, a Rolleiflex rip off :)

Film Photography exposed me to a different philosophy altogether. The whole process is, for lack of a better word, more precious.

You have a completely manual camera, nothing but a shutter release button and some pre-set manual shutter speeds.
You have the film, with its own specifics and limitations. You load it up, which is a very tactile excursion — you're opening your camera and handling the film itself, turning knobs and pulling levers like some ancient engineer! You close the camera and wind to the first frame. You begin shooting. All throughout the process you have no real idea what's going to come out. Maybe the film is badly expired, maybe you put it in wrong, maybe you have a broken seal and your film is going to be completely black! Oh no! For every frame that comes out well it becomes more precious to you, because it took more work than just pointing the camera with the autofocus on Aperture mode and clicking the picture. Not to downplay the skill it takes, but the skill is different when you're dealing with 24 or 36 photos per roll and you can't check anything until later.

Film photography helped to teach me about the value of Non-Attachment. and how we can enjoy the process without necessarily being attached to the result of the process.

I still like film, but I'm not able to shoot it anymore since there's nowhere around developing it. I've thought about setting up a small dark room and trying out the caffenol developer technique - literally developing black and white film with coffee. Could bring some interesting results!

Now here we are! If you been following me for a while you know that I still love black & white, but I've also developed a love for closeups of insects and other animals!

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 8.56.07 PM.png

Photography, for me, is a multifaceted skill which balances an eye for composition, technical skills for capturing the light effectively, but also positioning it (or yourself) in a way to make the light bring out what you're trying to achieve. It can both capture and evoke emotion, if done well, but it can also be completely mundane — a freeze frame of a point in time that can never be repeated. I'm very interested in time, and how we can re-live previous moments. Photography can do that, in a way.
It also forces you to stop and look carefully.

That alone is reason enough for me to love it.


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Enjoyed this article, thanks @jamtaylor. When I started out (2010 or so) I used to get very upset with myself if the results weren't what I was aiming for. The last few years I've learnt to calm down and just enjoy the process, use what I have and make sure everyone on a shoot has a good time, regardless of the final result.

My first camera didn't produce any pictures, but it did dispense some awesome bubble gum. In retrospect, I don't think it was a legit camera and my parents were probably lying. I guess I didn't care because I was four and it gave me candy.

lol you got yourself a new follower!

Nice! Appreciate the Re-Steem. I hope your followers got something out of it too. My article I mean, not my childhood addiction to candy.

Awesome, great details. People will learn from you. You have improved a lot

Thanks, I like to think I have.

Photography brings lots of wonders in an indivuals life, everything and i mean everything is seen differently then. Like through the lense of a camera, life is taken and seen differently. keep doing what you do !

VERY good information! thanks for sharing

Always thought anyone can take a good picture, till a great camera was in my hand. Nice of you to share.

I think a person should try to take good pictures with as many limitations as possible, in order to develop the eye and the creativity. Much more important than the camera imo.

good photos and info -- i enjoy art in all mediums and am a painter and musician - i followed you and will enjoy our connection -am upvoting now

I love hearing about your journey! It's encouraging to an amateur like me to see ways I can learn and advance my skills. Thank you for sharing

Wow I didn't realize there was so much to it, photography. I've just started with my iPhone taking pics of wildlife plants animals and stuff. It's becoming a growing interest for me.

Using what you have available to you is the best way to start! You can make great photos with an iphone.

I've been taking pictures since I was a teenager :) they may not be great but I love it

Once you love it then that's probably enough, but I'd encourage you to share them publicly as well!

Great shots, thanks for telling your story

Well most of those are old shots and a little embarrassing! I hope that I'm just a little bit better now, but still a lot to learn. Thanks!

Really liked your story. I love photography too...always practicing....following

Thanks for reading and following :)

Nice. I also attended some photography seminars but not that formal, just when there are free seminars by some photographers in the area. :)

Awesome photes, really interesting post, thanks for sharing! #keepsteemin :)

It's so amazing to see the journey you went on with photography. You're so right that some people are born with it and some have to work hard. You showed that you were passionate and now you're reaping the rewards. Thanks for sharing this great adventure and I look forward to your future posts :)

I really admire your photography, and I think you are very humble in stating that you're not a pro. @jasonrussell and I are the same way. I mean, he's improved immensely just in the past few years and I would consider him professional now! But I've always referred to myself as a "seasoned amateur" Thanks for sharing a little of your history as a photographer and for all the great content you bring to Steemit @jamtaylor!

@melodyrussell couldn't have put it better.....I'm not sure that I will ever label myself as a 'professional' ..... maybe.....a 'practicing photographer'?! Every time i pick up a camera it's just like the first time trying to figure out what all the buttons do.... Sometimes I happen to get a good exposure AND it's in focus!!

Gosh, I feel like my images are always slightly out of focus! :) Get it on the computer, zoom 100%, "agh! out of focus!"

Yep i feel the pain!! Maybe because i like to shoot wide open at 1.4?

I really admire your photography

Sweet of you to say, thanks for reading!

Thank you @jamtaylor for you post you explain to peoples some of the basics of photography and it is not a simple task as there is so much things to know but its a good start for newbies. I believe you must have show a little about some of the composition rules. I love picture too and most of my post are with pictures but because of my low rating as a newbie in the community i keep the best for when i will get more audience. Anyway big thanks ^ and follow you

Hopefully, my upvote will contribute to your lens fund.

hah well thanks. I only have two lenses, a 100mm macro and a nifty 50mm — both bought second hand. I'm not very fussy!

Kudos to you. Photography is actually a difficult art form. Love the teenage angst photo!

I have an interest in learning photography. I hope it is not too late

Never! OK maybe not never, if you're in a deep stage of Alzheimer's it might be too late, unfortunately, but it's almost never too late!

Great blog! I love hearing how other photogs got started shooting. I find each individuals likes and dislikes interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Very good post I like it :) I got my forste camera 2014 summer :) it is Sony NEX-5T And I still use it :)

Taking pleasure in the process and not worrying about the results is my biggest takeaway here. I can often find myself wracked with anxiety worrying about the final result of my art to a degree that impedes upon my creative process, so reminders against this are always highly appreciated.

Glad you got something out of it, thanks for reading. Of course, the result is essential when you're doing a job for somebody — it wouldn't be very funny to finish a day of shooting and then lose everything. That's why creative projects are nice, you can exercise some of that freeness to experiment and possibly screw everything up, and try again another time.

My first camera was made in Soviet Union. And now it is MOTO G.

hi, I live in Myanmar Country.
Please follow and vote me.

This was an interesting article with nice pictures! Looking forward to more from you!

Excellent post. Will show it to my wife. She photographs well, she definitely has her style, but she's not confident in her abilities. I tried to explain to her that first you need photos for yourself, and secondly you have all the time to practice. But the paradox is that people are serious about the opinion of strangers, and not the opinion of loved ones :) I hope this post will inspire her :)

I totally get that you care more about strangers' opinions rather than people close to you. My problem is that I don't really take compliments very well, no matter who they are, unless I am satisfied with something completely — and by satisfied I mean it would stack up next to the best in the world, which obviously they never will. So I am chronically dissatisfied :) Just have to let it go and not worry about it too much.

But it's better to be good but think you're bad than be bad and think you're good! So it's good to be a bit self-critical but also to listen to those around you. Experience will also boost confidence.

I always looked at photography like the kind of thing everyone thinks is easy, but it's actually not. When you see a photo, as a beginner or as a person who never took a photo, you instantly say to yourself "I can do that too!"

It seems really easy, because all you have to do is hold a camera and press a button. However, it's nothing like that at all. You need skill, you need practice, and a lot of damn work.

Because it seems easy, I tried photography in the past, but I never used anything else than my phone. I did not consider myself to be good enough at this to buy a camera and try to do something different.

When I grew a little older I started admiring photographers more and more. They are those kind of people who press a button on a camera, and they transform something not great, common, into something amazing, that can make your imagination go crazy and think about all kind of things.

Your story it's really nice, and I love the last photo with that bug. It has a beautiful combination between a lot of black, with some really light colors on certain places. It makes the bug seem complex, and all the details make you look at it for minutes trying to see more of that little insect we're so afraid of.

Great article, congratulations, and keep up the good work!

Thanks for reading. The thing about most amazing photographs is that it also has a lot to do with the editing. Some people think that it's cheating to change tones in the sky, remove blemishes and unwanted items etc... but that's part of it. There are purists in every field, and I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't like to tamper too much and I like to do as much in the camera as I can and then some minor adjustments in post.

My first camera was a 2MP Sony Cybershot from 2002. I can't even show any of those pics - soooo embarrassing ;)
Same as you, I "dabble" in photography. Also been paid for a few events but it's only really a hobby...
Do I love it?? Oh my, lights up my day (no pun intended) when I get to shoot :)
I like your work though so decided to follow and upvote. Keep to great pics coming and, if you have time, please check out some of my pics and let me know what you think :)

Thanks for reading and following too! I'll look at your stuff and follow you as well. Always like to follow other photographers!

Awesome! Thanks! So good to see others with a passion for photography here :)

People with a natural eye for "the perfect shot" have always amazed me. Years of practice might put me on par with them lol

I was hooked to your post as I have always wanted to learn photography or at least not be so bad at it. I bought a DSLR and thought that would help in getting better photos, oh no... I was so confused that it gave me worse looking photos than my phone did... hahaha... it wasn't the tools, it was me.

I started taking pictures with an old kodak 2 megapixel brick that fit in my pocket during the baggy jeans days lol

It was a quick camera, not much resolution but in the beginning this was huge... in potential. (And size lol)

Look at that antique :)

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.