In a post I wrote last month I discussed some of the reasons why I decided to start this blog. Today, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into my thought process and, more specifically, my journey as a photographer.
My recent obsession, er, fascination with photography really has roots in my childhood. My dad always had a camera around and was one of those fathers (I’m already rather far down that path myself and my kids have probably grown sick of having a camera in their faces even though they can’t yet voice their exasperation).
I remember getting my first camera in elementary school; third grade to be exact. We had just moved to a new town and I was the new kid in a new school. I had signed up (either of my own volition or at my parents’ urging, I can’t remember) for an after-school photography class that took place at my elementary school (Go Dalmatians). It was a black Vivitar point-and-shoot film camera. Looking back at those old prints, I am amused to see that I enlisted my dad to act as a model in front of an abandoned barn located next to the athletic field.
From what I can remember, the class was more about composition than technique which made sense as it was comprised of elementary schoolers. That’s the best place to start, and I have to constantly remind myself that great composition beats slick lighting and crystal-clear execution any day.
I also remember my first digital camera. Thanks to the beauty of EXIF data, I can go back into iPhoto (ah, the days of me not giving a fig about post-processing) and see exactly the make and model of that camera. It was a 2-megapixel HP Photosmart 318 that came free with a printer. Not great, but something.
Eventually my parents got me a Nikon Coolpix 5700 which was pretty sweet for my early forays into photography. It had a pretty nice zoom range, solid build, and lots of functions. You were even able to use filters with a screw-on attachment that fit over the zoom lens housing. I’m pretty sure I used it mostly in automatic mode, but I did have a lot of fun with that camera. It was a sad day when the electronics somehow went screwy.
When that camera died, I didn’t do much with photography for quite a while. College, grad school, and trying to make a living as a freelance musician got in the way of having an expensive hobby.
I’ve been extremely lucky in that my father is a huge photo enthusiast. I got my first DSLR several years ago when he upgraded to a Nikon D200 and handed down his D70s and (three!) lenses. One of the lenses was the 18-70 kit lens that came with the D70s and the other two were from his film camera days. Thanks to the Nikon F mount, they are completely compatible with today’s digital cameras. Those two lenses would be my 50mm and 75-300mm. Talk about a new beginning for a long-lost photographer!
I immediately started playing around with the capabilities of a DSLR and began learning a little bit about the semi-automatic modes. Regardless, I was still relying a bit on full automatic and the funny novelty automatic modes (Running Man, I’m looking at you!) The D70s made it easy to switch between all of the modes with a convenient dial right on top of the camera body. Why not use them all, huh?!
When my dad eventually handed down the D200 to me, I remember being a little annoyed that it didn’t have a handy dial on top to switch between modes. You had to press MODE, and then toggle through M, S, A, P. Hmm, where are my funny modes?!
Yep, that’s when I got really serious. I thought to myself, I have this great camera and I have no idea how to really use it.
One of the great things about the internet is the wealth of free information out there. You have to learn to filter out the bad information, but hey, it’s free. I began reading every little bit of information I could find, from Digital Camera World and Nikon’s Learn and Explore app, to checking out books at the library and even surfing FroKnowsPhoto. Soon I was shooting pretty much everything in full manual mode and, as of the second half of last year, began digging into the world of off-camera flash through Strobist.
That long introduction brings me to the deeper reason why I started this blog:
I stink at photographing people.
Hopefully someday I can put a line through that stink and put, “stank”. Until then, I’m diving in headfirst. Shooting photographs of musicians in DC was just a convenient way for me to tie together two parts of my life. I’m living and creating music here in this city, so why not use that to my advantage when it comes to learning how to better photograph people? You’ll notice that the first two artist profile posts were written about guys whom I know pretty well; Tim for three years, and Luke for ten.
The hardest thing for me about shooting portraits (or as Arnold Newman would say, photographs of people) is interacting with the subject. I’m not the most outgoing, engaging person. My earliest photographic subjects (not including that picture of my dad in front of the barn, and unsuspecting family members during holiday parties) were inanimate objects, animals, and landscapes. Things that can’t talk or really respond.
Even after getting my first DSLR, most of my photography was of the landscape variety. I love it. Scope out a great scene, wait for the right light and conditions, and fire away.
But people are different. People can be impatient, or annoyed, or at worst, refuse to have their picture taken. I always feel like I’m imposing by asking to take someone’s picture. Fear of rejection, mockery, and the like, no doubt.
So this is my burden and I’m starting out easy. By taking photographs of friends first, I go from dipping my toe in the water, to wading in the shallow end of the pool. Soon I will be venturing into deeper water by seeking out musicians in town who I have played with once or twice, and eventually musicians who I have never even met.
Along with creating interesting composition, light, and mood (which are getting easier for me to visualize), I am striving to draw emotion out of my subjects. That is the hardest thing for me and I hope you choose to follow along with me on this journey.
I’d love to hear about your experiences in photography, or even parallel experiences in your life. Hit me up in the comments.