Photography Journey

My real interest in learning photography has little to do with taking pictures so that I can have memories of past vacations or special events that occur in my life.

Last year, I went on vacation and hula hooped at each of the lower 48 state signs. My goal was to get photos at each of the state signs and thus I would have a record of the entire trip around the country. I took about 3000 pictures along the way. Many were pictures of me hooping at each of the state signs but most of them were pictures of beautiful scenery seen along the way. I couldn’t help it. The scenery was so beautiful that I wanted to record it and keep it as a memory. What I realized after the trip was that I had taken thousands of photos and they didn’t come close to capturing the beauty that I had seen. Those pictures have been on my computer for over a year and I have rarely even looked at them since I came back from the trip.

After the trip, and after realizing that I viewed most of the country through the viewfinder on my iPhone, I made the decision to enjoy those vacations and special events with my eyes rather than by looking through the back of a camera. My daughter got married recently and I chose not to bring a camera. I do have some photos that were taken by other family members so future generations can see what her special day was like. My decision not to bring a camera to the wedding is something that I do not regret. I was able to watch my daughter get married and see the full live version of the event. The memory of the wedding is etched in my mind and I can recall the scenes instantly. Unlike the photos that are on my computer, I was able to see things that I wouldn’t have seen if I had been busily trying to get a good shot. My focus was on my daughter and her wedding rather than spending the majority of the time trying to capture it in photos. I left that job up to the photographer that she hired and just sat back and enjoyed my daughter’s special day.

What I have found interesting is that I have had a desire to learn about photography. Given my feelings about viewing the world through the lens of a camera I wasn’t able to fully articulate what it was that actually interested me about learning photography. I’ve taken some really great shots in the past so it wasn’t simply an interest in being able to take great pictures. It was more than that but I wasn’t sure what the draw was until I started to play around with my iPhone camera on a daily basis. I began to take themes of the day and I have been posting them to a calendar app on my iPhone. This is when it all really came together for me. My interest in photography was about learning, creativity, and raising my awareness and enjoying the moment.

First, I love to learn new things and photography is something that I don’t know anything about. I can point a camera at something, take the shot, and sometimes the picture looks great and sometimes it doesn’t. Some pictures I have had enlarged and are hanging up in my house because they came out amazing. Those pictures have been accidents. I have a picture of Niagara Falls hanging up that has a bird flying above the falls. I didn’t know the bird was there when I took the picture! The idea of learning something new, from scratch, the challenge of the whole process is something that interests me.

This past weekend, I got a new camera that is much more advanced than any camera I’ve ever had before. To those who are already into photography this camera might be simple to use but for me, coming from a simple point and shoot and an iPhone camera, this new one has a multitude of functions that I’ve never even heard of before. Reading the manual was a bit overwhelming but I enjoy things that are challenging so I am not going to let the fact that I have no idea what most of the settings are stop me from learning about each and every one of them. It will take time but it will be fun. For now, I am trying to learn the basic settings and how to easily find those settings. I also had to learn how to get the photos off the camera so that I can continue to take photos daily. I thought that this was one of the most important things to learn after learning how to charge the battery and a couple of other things in the manual about the basic operation of the camera.

I’ve been reading articles about photography and it seems as though I must learn a new language and practice a lot so that I can learn to apply it. Some concepts for taking better shots are pretty easy to understand. The rule of thirds and negative space I got pretty quickly but other concepts are quite confusing. I have a basic understanding of what aperture and shutter speed are and when I should be more concerned with one or the other but actually knowing how the settings relate to one another has become quite confusing. I spent time yesterday taking pictures of the ocean waves in an effort to try to understand the differences in the shutter speeds I had set on the camera. I learned that if the stutter speed was set to a slow speed the picture looked a certain way but if I increased the shutter speed it looked another way. I knew that would happen but because I don’t know how the shutter speed actually relates to aperture and ISO I couldn’t really apply the knowledge that I had read about. Some of those photos looked over exposed and I wasn’t sure if that had to do with the shutter speed that I had set or if it had to do with something else. I think I might practice here at home on rainy days (when I can’t go outside and take pictures). I have a faucet and a shower that I can try to see how things relate. Trying to make the water look still or flowing is what I am trying to do at this point. For now, I am most concerned with gaining an understanding of how things work rather than having it come out just right. My goal is to understand how different settings alter the photos.

Secondly, I’ve been hoping to find an additional creative outlet. Hooping has provided me with a way to be creative for the last 4 years but lately I have found that I have needed something more. Although, hooping has provided me with a way to meditate, gain more clarity, and express myself though my dance movements, it is an activity that requires a great deal of space. It is an activity that quiets the mind, whereas, taking photos requires thought and decision-making. Where will the shot be taken, how, what settings, etc. I wanted to do something that I could do in all kinds of weather and do anywhere. Something that would let me play around and find my voice in doing so. At this point, I don’t know what kind of photos I enjoy taking the most or even what I will eventually do with the photos that I take. My ideas about what I would like to take pictures of keeps changing. I love nature, I love interesting things, stories in pictures, abstracts, themes, the list is endless as is what one can do with each individual photo. Adjustments, filters etc. are all ways to play around and create something beautiful.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to be more aware. Live in the moment as much as possible. Since I started to take the pictures daily on my iPhone, I have noticed that I am more aware of everything around me. In doing the theme project on my iPhone have become aware of whatever my theme for the day is as well as any past themes I have done. Whether the theme is a particular color, shape, object, pattern, or type of photo, it forces me to notice the little things that I may never have seen. Since the weekend, I have noticed different ways that light hits certain objects. I’d never thought to even look at something like that before I read about the importance of light sources in photography. I see the smallest things in the larger scenes when I am out and about. I went for a walk this weekend and noticed things that were so small that if I hadn’t been thinking about it I would have walked right passed. A small shell on the beach among several rocks would have probably gone completely unnoticed or a space between two rocks that provided way to get an interesting shot of the ocean and the sky while providing a frame around a photo. Little things that seemed uninteresting or even awful looking in the past now seem interesting to me. One day, for one of my themes I went for a walk in the woods and took a few quick shots of trash on the ground. Was shocked at how many things I would have stepped over (or on) and not thought about it at all. Each piece of trash got me thinking about how it got there, what was the story behind it all. It stimulated my imagination and I began to make up stories as I continued my walk.

I’m looking forward to this journey. I believe that the journey that I take with my camera will be in many ways similar yet also different from the journey that I took around the country last year. I saw many things on my trip but I viewed them through a viewfinder. I randomly snapped pictures of things that I thought were beautiful. I tried to capture the essence of what was out there but, in the process, I lost the ability to stay in the moment and thus see the bigger picture which was to enjoy each moment. Now that I see things from a different perspective, metaphorically and physically, I will be more intentional with my photos. I will scan the big picture and take the time to notice the little things. Those things that go unnoticed will become sharper to my eyes and as I grow through learning photography, tapping into my creativity, and becoming more and more aware, the images I choose to shoot will become sharper too. Throughout the process I will still be creating memories through the use of a camera but those memories will not be simply filed separately in a folder on my computer under a specific trip or special event. Instead they will tell my story. The story of who I am rather than what I have done. The experiences of what I do and who I am will blend together and reflect back the story of my life’s journey.