I love photography. I have always been drawn to it. I love the fact that with a simple capture in time, you can tell a very compelling story. There are photographs that have moved me to my core, photographs that have made me laugh, photographs that have made think, others that have moved me to action.
However, having been in marketing and advertising media buying and analytics for over 20 years, the creative side has been yearning to be unleashed. When I got married, I purchased my first DSLR prior to heading to Peru. I thought new found upgrade to a Canon Rebel XT would yield Ansel Adams type photographs. While my photographs were markedly better than my point and shoot or cell phone camera at the time, I couldn’t get out of automatic mode. “How do you get that water to look like cotton candy?” “How are you able to capture the grandeur of those mountains?” “Why do my photographs look no different than my usual snapshots?” While the quality was better, the composition was off. I was still taking snapshots, not photographs. I did get lucky once in awhile, I was told I had an ‘eye’, but my images never came close. But how could they? I was in automatic mode and had all but a week or so work. I figured the subjects (Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Lake Titicaca, Floating Islands of Uros, etc.) and a DSLR was enough for the magic to happen.
Sure, I got lucky once in awhile. My wife and I went to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Krakow over Thanksgiving week in 2009 and I happened to capture a photograph of the Buda Castle just after sundown. When I uploaded the picture, I was amazed by the blue in the sky, I tried to recreate many times, but couldn’t figure out how I caught it (I learned later that the hour after sunset provided some of the most beautiful blues in the sky. To my understanding, the ‘golden hour’ was the ‘best’ light, but this photograph captivated me. Not because it was anything particularly striking, or a compositional pioneer, but because I was taking a ‘picture’ of an illuminated building, but captured a photograph that surprised me. The camera saw something that I didn’t. For me, that was the picture that made me want to learn more.
The family went to Costa Rica the following year and with my new found skills and understanding, I had such a blast photographing, not taking pictures. Even though we had to move quick! (Kids would rather zip line than wait while dad waits for that perfect shot!). This trip was still capturing memories, not a ‘travel photography’ junket. This time, however, my photographs were much improved because now I was starting to look for ‘creatively correct’ exposures, not just snapshots.
I will post some pictures as a reflection of my journey, but in 2012, the company I worked for sold and shortly thereafter, the Los Angeles office closed, leaving me unemployed. I was at this company for 10 years and gave it my all, sacrificing time and energy in order to climb the corporate ladder. All of my successes didn’t present me with the level of success I had hoped for, or had been led to believe would happen. (Side note and lesson learned: Get things in writing!). I could write a whole other blog about the benefits of that time and what God was doing in my life, but I will save that for another time. Suffice it say, I always ‘fancied myself the creative type’, but was limited by my lack of ability. My daughter, however, is taking API art and watching her develop her skills to express herself creatively couldn’t make me more proud. She also excels in English where her writing is very impressive, and moving! (I should have her write this blog!). My older son loves baseball and has no problems expressing himself through sports. I wish I were my kids at their ages! Anyway, I’ve digressed. Suffice it say, I have always wanted a creative outlet but was so focused on work, I ‘was lost’. Work is a transactional relationship, and those were the relationships that I spent the most time fostering.
I started my own company as a result and a year later, my wife tells me we’re pregnant! Just before the baby is born, I decided to invest in my first full frame camera. I was recommended the book, Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson. I picked it up and read it cover to cover. For me, this book took my photography up several notches. Prior to Eastern Europe, I learned about shutter drag, and took a few photographs of moving cars, but it was only a technique, not a tool to bring to life any vision. Bryan’s simple concept of ‘Creatively’ correct exposure vs. correct exposure was an eye opener. Simple to understand, well written, plenty of samples to bring the concepts to life, and exceptionally organized. I’m not here to do a book review, but anytime someone asks me about my photographs and how can they get better, I recommend this book…highly.
I poured myself into reading, watching videos, reading blogs, subscribing to every photography newsletter, and shooting. Tons of shooting of my little guy and my two older children (I have a 14 year old son, nearly 17 year old daughter, and my 2 year old son). I shot the little league games, volleyball games, crawling, walking, giggles, laughters, et al.
I love the analytical perspective of photography, and I love the creative outlet it has provided. I wish I had taken it up sooner in life and not worried so much about work. I believe that your greatest strength if mismanaged, can be your greatest weakness. My greatest strength has been my work ethic. That has been my greatest weakness. While I wish my kids a solid work ethic, that isn’t something that we ‘bond’ over. Back in July, I did a photography day trip in Zion National Park with my older son who has taken a shine to photography as well. We hired a guide who took time with him to teach him the photography triangle (ISO, Shutter, Aperture) and he came away with some amazing shots for his first endeavor. I have since given him an entry level DSLR to flame his passion (well, technically ‘Santa’ gave it to him). I hope my kids don’t wait as long as me to find that creative outlet.
Not understanding post production/editing, I was determined to be a ‘purist’ – only OOC for me (out of camera). I thought post process was not an artful. Then I read that such greats as Ansel Adams used production techniques with burning and dodging in the film room, among other things. Then, I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and met someone who had some amazing photographs. We had the same gear, but his popped, mine were flat. He told me about Lightroom, how simple it was, and that he used it merely to enhance, not change, his photographs. I was sold – another thing to immerse myself in. When I read about the dynamic range of a camera vs. the human eye, it made sense to me to tweak my photos vs. leaving straight out of camera. At this juncture (and with much ‘Googling’ – I came across SLR Lounge and picked up their presets and newborn photography videos. They are all incredible. I’ve been very impressed. They have helped take my photography to yet another level. My photos from the Dominican after that trip are a bit over processed, but some worked.
I now understand my camera and its settings, have great glass, and everyday I spend at least 30 minutes reading or watching videos on photography. I try to get out at least every two weeks to shoot and practice.
I’m now at a point where I really want my photography to get to the next level. I’m studying about lighting now (watched many videos, read “The Strobist”, have SLR Lounge’s Lighting 101 and 201, and am still a bit intimidated. So I’ve decided to put myself out there and do a ‘photograph a day’ for 365 days and put myself out there. My goal is that by day 365, I have more compositional and ‘creatively’ correct exposed winners. However, I know myself. I’m sure some days might just be a quick photo from the iPhone in order to meet the daily quota. I want to push myself with lighting – ‘enhancing’ light, try my hand at panning, improve long exposure technique, improve macro and learn focus stacking, improve astral photography, and while I absolutely LOVE my children, work towards seeing the whole world around me – whether grand vistas and sunsets, or tight portraits, street photography. I want to move out from a complete linear analytic space to a creative expression. I want to visual and create, not see and react – hoping to capture what I see. I also hope my writing improves over the year! This is my first blog post – my coming out if you will!