The subject of this weeks blog post has stumped me for days, which is why I’m several days late in posting it. Eventually I thought about something I haven’t shared often and never on my website with clients and friends. So, this week, I decided I’d do just that. This is my journey from hobbyist to professional.
Photography was something I’d always been interested in. I have many interests as I’m easy to entertain, but few things I’ve really pursued. Music and the performing arts, yoga, and photography were the bulk of it until recently when I began Martial Arts with my family. After expressing a real interest in photography in my teens, my parents bought me my first camera as part of my High School graduation gifts. It was a Minolta 35mm SLR. That’s right, folks. I started my photography journey with film. I credit that with shaping how I shoot even today when I use digital.
The camera was my new favorite thing, aside from my guitar, and I was dreaming up projects and shooting whenever I could. However, film, as many of you might remember, cost money. You only get one chance with each frame. If you mess that up, too bad. There’s no turning back now. That limitation makes one slow down. Take time to notice the shot, set it up just right, make sure everything is in place and know how it will turn out. In short, you must know your camera, your settings, your lighting, and how it will all ultimately affect the outcome of your picture. For a beginner, there was a learning curve and I messed up more than I made good photographs, however, that’s the point of learning and doing. Eventually you get better and better, and so I did. I started getting a small portfolio of photographs I was proud of, but it soon came to a screeching halt.
I used to take my camera with me just about everywhere I went. I kept it with me because you never know when inspiration and the right time will strike. Better to be prepared, yes? Not always. You see, my camera was in my car one day. An old friend was also in my car. A couple of weeks later I was in my apartment and my kitten was being adorable in front of my fire. It was a perfect shot. I picked up my camera and….nothing. It wouldn’t focus. Try as I might, nothing would work. I checked the lens and found the problem. The lens had been stepped or sat on and broken. I was crushed. I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to get a new one or fix it. There was nothing to do but mourn and move on.
Around this time, digital cameras started becoming increasingly popular. I was quite skeptical as film had always been my medium and I was unfamiliar with the digital world of photography. I got by with buying disposable or small inexpensive point and shoots. I wasn’t thrilled with them, but the quality was still better than the digital cameras I had seen at the time. When I was pregnant with my oldest son, my mother in law gave us a point and shoot for christmas. A nice one to capture our moments with our new baby with. It was shiny and red. It was a canon. Guess what else it was? Digital.
The quality was better than I had expected from a digital. It should have been considering it was December 2009. I was still so busy shunning digital that I hadn’t paid any attention to the leaps and bound they had been making in the years following my entrance to the photographic community. I was a bonafide hater getting my words and expectations handed back to me on a shiny little point and shoot platter.
When my son was four months old, I began to play with the various modes. Sunset mode was my immediate favorite as it cast a beautiful warm contrast to the image. I laid him on a blanket in our front yard and took a series of images of him. I had to admit how wrong my assumptions had been. I liked being able to see what I was shooting immediately and being able to adjust on the spot. The quality was nice. Storage was easier as I didn’t have to find places for massive amounts of prints or rolls of undeveloped film. I figured this could really be a good thing. The next month, I added my husband to the pictures of our growing boy and they are still some of my favorite images. My posing has improved, but the smiles and love in those will never need improvement.
This was the time I decided I wanted to get back to it. I wanted to do more with my photography. I was ready to begin again and try to start a business with it, slowly of course. With the support of my husband, we invested in a digital SLR, or DSLR, and I began learning all its ins and outs. Before I took a paying client, I started reading a book about photography business. Lets be honest, I was a music major and took some zoology as well. None of that would prepare me for running a business and trying to figure out what I needed to do and have. Thus began yet another list of things for me to learn about and procure. However, there was something that did come up quickly that I had never thought about until that point.
Editing. I now needed to edit and process photos, but with what and how? When I shot with film, I never edited them. They were how they were shot. I made sure they were to the best I could do, but now there was more to learn. I used free editors that I found at first and that was a good way to learn the basics. That year, I took the first Christmas photos of my son and my niece. They were edited on a free little program that didn’t do a lot, but it was my start. I still like those images, probably more for the sentimental value than the quality.
As I began to grow and learn more, I upgraded to Adobe Lightroom. Wow. That was a learning curve and a half for me. It was a lot more powerful than what I had been using and gave me so many more options and more control. I went back to some previous things I had shot and used them as trials. I did some personal projects that I enjoyed and played with editing options for them. I eventually made my first sale. Someone bought a few of my flower pictures. I was happy that someone liked my work enough to pay for it. I think I might have made $20. I felt like I was legit at that point. I hadn’t even touched Photoshop yet though.
I did eventually outgrow Lightroom and moved on to Photoshop. At first I used it for more complicated things that Lightroom couldn’t do. I was a newbie to it and didn’t utilize everything it offers. I had a few clients here and there and played around mostly with adding text and textures to the edited images. I grew out of that, though, no worries.
Finally I was at a point where I was desperate to learn more and do even better so I enrolled in Photography School with the New York Institute of Photography. Within the first unit we could see a difference in my work. They also had a business course with my course and it was insightful. I had busy times and very slow times during the three years I studied, but I steadily became better and better. My vision was always there, but the technique needed improvement. Improve it did. Lightroom became a thing of the past. RAW replaced JPG. Composites became a favorite project of mine. And lastly, my posing, lighting, creative direction, and editing skills improved tremendously.
The one thing about Photography that I learned the most during this time was that I was unhappy with what I was doing. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but some things felt more tedious and boring for me to do and others ignited that creative fire and burned during the entire process. As I began trying to figure it out, it became clear. I was watching a video by a photographer that I greatly admire. She was talking about passion. Knowing your passion and shooting just that. In other words, find your niche. Don’t try to do it all. That’s exactly what I had been doing. I didn’t want to do it all, but I didn’t know that I should’t be either.
That was a wake up call to my creativity. I sat down that night and began to think about the projects I was most fond of. The ones that I enjoyed doing the most. Once I had those narrowed down, it was time to start rebranding. A new name, a new purpose, a new direction. It was exciting and a little scary. I hadn’t shot much of what I enjoyed, and had instead, been shooting whatever I got hired to do. So, I didn’t have much of a portfolio anymore. It was like starting completely over.
But, I found my passion. Stories. Everyone has one, everyone is one. Our entire lives revolve around stories. From the daily replaying to a friend, the news on the tv, books, songs, events, and even dreams when we sleep, stories make us. They are who we are and what we are. I love telling stories. I love hearing stories. I love watching them come to life again. Whether I’m making the story from a personal project, or telling someones story of themselves from behind the lens, I’m invested in the storytelling process. Seeing that come to frutition and sitting back, letting the image sink in and all the things that could be going on swim around the imagination, or seeing the connection in someones eyes as they look into the lens and their entire soul is bared and vulnerable, but still carefully hidden, and everything they know and are is right there for them to see and reconnect with. These are the reasons I am where I am now, doing the type of photography that I do. Modern Beauty and Fine Art. Beauty and Fantasy. Real and Ethereal.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words….and so it is, and many many more.
(the images in this post represent my journey from where I started in digital until now. Below are some examples of my favorite kind of work)
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The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.