There’s been interesting discussion in the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm about photography. This, and my preparations for a photography excursion to Iceland, has triggered a multitude of thoughts about the progression, over the years, of my own photography. When I view posted snapshots and judge photography contests, I realize that there’s a fine line where photography becomes an art. I watch as people who love photography travel the same paths I did in my early days.
I fell in love with the camera and taking photos when I was in junior high school. My Brownie camera was pretty straightforward and did not lend itself to any sort of creative efforts other than what my eye saw in the viewfinder. And like most beginners, I shot everything dead center.
After I graduated from college, a friend introduced me to the SLR cameras, and I bought my first 35mm SLR when I was 24 years old. I still have it – a Minolta SRT-101. The focus was manual, and the exposure was manual. The lens was a 55mm f/1.7 prime lens. Given that there was no such thing as AUTO on that camera, I was forced to learn the basics. In hindsight, that’s where I got a solid foundation in the basics.
Then the digital age arrived. I knew I did not want a point and shoot camera, so I saved up until I could afford a digital SLR. In 2005, I got on the phone with a representative from B&H in NYC who recommended that I go with Canon since, at that point, Canon was ahead of Nikon in digital photography. Several friends who were serious photographers also pushed me towards Canon. And that’s when the next phase in my journey as a photographer began. (NOTE: I use the term photographer loosely as I feel a real photographer is able to present images as art. At this point in my journey, I wasn’t really a photographer. I just loved taking pictures!)
So the camera arrived, a Canon XTi, and it sat in the box awhile. It was scary!! But it had a zoom lens!! Up until then all my photography had been with prime lenses.
Finally the camera came out of the box and was immediately set on Auto. I just didn’t know what to do with all the bells and whistles! And it had been so long since I’d done some serious photography that I needed a refresher in the basics! I became more and more frustrated with the lack of creative control I had when shooting on AUTO. So I signed up for a Canon digital 101 workshop at the local camera store. The instructor was terrific, and as he talked and demonstrated I was having one AHA moment after another!
So I turned the dial to Aperture Control. Hey, it was a digital camera; I could get instant feedback without paying $$ for film and developing. So I learned by trial and error. I loved the freedom of adjusting the ISO and f stops to control my shutter speed. And then eventually I got to exposure control. And then I began having fun! I wanted to get out and shoot all the time. And I got fixated on photographing different things.
I chased sunrises and sunsets.
I shot flowers and pets.
I photographed horses, being certain to take the coveted “eye” shots.
I took insects, especially butterflies on flowers!
I shot birds and wildlife.
I chased silhouettes and had a blast creating them through exposure control.
I took landscapes.
I toyed with portraits.
I struggled at times with focus and clarity! Enter DOF (depth of field), shutter speed, and good glass.
And eventually I realized I was just taking snapshots. I got bored. The pictures were common, cliché if you will. I was shooting what everyone shoots. My photos were not unique. Even though I was operating the functions of my camera, I was taking very little creative control of my images. I still thought of photography as TAKING a picture.
I bought PhotoShop. I learned about Picasa and PicMonkey. I explored the variations of filters.
At the urging of friend and photographer Hillary Shemin, I joined SmugMug and set up a photo website where I could store my photos. I actually sold a few! I became a member of the Smug Daily Community and began to see the work of talented photographers and got some valuable feedback and guidance. It inspired me to improve and advance with my photography. I began investing in good glass.
But I still thought of photography as TAKING a picture. . . and I was still shooting in jpg.
My post processing was just playing. Usually my better efforts in producing a decent image were often an accident!
I started experimenting in PhotoShop with layers – that was a phase, and it was another step in learning to manipulate images.
I purchased the Nik Collection and fell in love with Color and Silver Efex Pro.
And then I decided it was time to take some workshops, to work with some mentors. Good mentors do not tell you what to do; they merely open doors and challenge you to walk through them. I love being challenged. I love thinking about what I’m doing with my camera and editing and WHY.
Jeff Anderson finally made the Law (or Rule) of Thirds clear. He reminded me to “move my feet” to discover the best angles. And when I did an equine photography workshop with him he forbade me to take the “equine eye” shot – it was so overdone and so cliché. AHA! He forced me to look for new ways to photograph horses.
My work with Jeff gave me the courage to work with other mentors. And I’ve been so fortunate to work with amazing photographers and persons.
Craig Varjabedian, a gifted and published landscape photographer based in Santa Fe, NM, was my next mentor. Craig and I had amazing conversations about conscientious practice and concepts of photography as art. Craig had worked with Ansel Adams, and it was Craig who finally made me understand that we MAKE a photograph. When we sat down together to work on an image, he asked me, “What do you want to do with this?” Duh? I had never approached my images that way – I just played and hoped I’d get lucky!
Kim Scianghetti, daughter of photographer Barbel Scianghetti, was a photographer I admired in the Smug group. She is a very talented, award-winning portrait photographer, and I was mesmerized by her images. I knew I wanted to work with her if she was willing, and she was. Kim is a brilliant creative, a wonderful soul – and an amazing hands-on teacher. She opened the door to Lightroom and encouraged me to become more diligent about shooting RAW.
And along the way, my images changed.
Am I a photographer? Well, I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
. . . and the evolution continues . . .