Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Evolution of (My) Photography

My photographic journey began when I was 13 years old. For Christmas I received a Kodak point-and-shoot 110 film camera. The quality was terrible and I had no clue what I was doing, but it was fun to take pictures.

Several years later my dad let me use his 35mm SLR. I still had no idea what I was doing, and I struggled to even correctly expose a photograph. After returning from a trip in which far more photographs were complete disasters than not, I decided to do something about this--I enrolled in Photography 101 in my freshman year of college. That's where I discovered my love of photography.

My first camera (aside from the point-and-shoot and my dad's SLR) was a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm prime lens. For the first couple of years I shot black-and-white film (mostly Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford Delta 400), doing my own development and printing in a darkroom. After awhile I no longer had access to a darkroom, so I switched to color slide film (Fuji Velvia 50, Kodak Ektachrome 100VS, Kodak Kodachrome 64, etc.).
Fast Train - Omaha, Nebraska
Captured on Fuji Velvia 50 in the summer of 2005.
Color slide film is much different than black-and-white print film. In some ways it was like learning photography all over again. Black-and-white film is quite forgiving when it comes to exposure and it can easily be pushed in development. You can crop, dodge and burn, add contrast, tone and do a host of other adjustments during the printing process. Color slide film is very rigid--you can't crop, it requires precise exposure, and what you see is what you get. You have to look at the scene differently, as well, because what makes a good black-and-white photograph won't always make a good color photograph and vice versa.

I learned a lot about photography during those early years. I could work a camera and correctly expose an image. I new many darkroom techniques. I understood the zone system. I knew all of the "rules" that they teach in photography school. I knew plenty about photography, but I really didn't understand how to create meaningful photographs. If I did capture something interesting, it was more by accident and luck than anything done on purpose.

For the first twelve years my gear was pretty simple: a fully manual 35mm film SLR with a 50mm lens. Simplicity is good. Less is often more in photography.
Dreary Pathway - Goodyear, Arizona
Captured using a Pentax DSLR in February of 2011.
In 2010 I purchased my first digital camera, a Pentax DSLR. Digital capture is much different than film photography. In some ways it was like learning photography all over again. It has things in common with both color and black-and-white film, yet completely different from both.

In the five years that I've been shooting digital, I've had so many different cameras: three DSLRs, two mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, and two fixed lens cameras. I've collected a handful of film cameras, as well. This is not bragging. I think that, for some reason, with digital technology people become dissatisfied with what is actually good gear. One feels the need for the latest-and-greatest and to have more and more. For many years I was happy using a camera built in the late-1970's and using just one lens. One camera is all that anyone really needs. Simplicity over complexity.

A couple of years ago I started to understand photography a little deeper. I realized that photography isn't capturing, but interpreting or even creating. The difference is profound.
Sunrise At Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
Captured using a Pentax DSLR in October of 2012.
I used to think that making a good photograph was the result of being at a beautiful or interesting location when the lighting was good. Essentially it boiled down to being at the right place at the right time to capture something great. And there is certainly truth to that.

What I later came to understand, however, is that meaningful photographs begin not out in the world but in the photographer's mind. Every great photograph begins as an idea. Interesting images are the result of the photographer's vision. You have to start with a concept.

It took realizing that for me to understand that photography isn't the art of capturing but the art of seeing--seeing the world through my vision of what the world is. It's my take on things. My interpretation, my bias. What's interesting to me.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a Sigma Merrill camera in September of 2013.
That gives me the freedom to create. I can make a scene appear however I want it to in an image. There is no need for photographs to be accurate (outside of photographs meant for newspapers and such). My images are my own creation.

The more creative I am the better my photographs are. My own imagination is my biggest asset for making meaningful photographs. That's what makes it art. It's not about having the "right" gear or visiting the "right" places but about being in the right mindset.

I've simplified my gear so that I now have just one digital camera--one that's small and lightweight and fits into my pocket. It may seem unorthodox, but as long as I'm creating great photographs, does it really matter what camera I used? What's important to me is the photographic experience, and using small, lightweight gear is more enjoyable than using bulky, heavy gear.
Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
Captured using a Nikon DSLR in November of 2014.
My current camera of choice is a Sony RX100 II. This camera works well for me, delivering DSLR-like image quality in a compact package. There are some other interesting cameras that do basically the same thing, such as the DxO One, which works off of your iPhone, and the upcoming Light L16 with their new camera technology, which has 16 different cameras built-in, stitching exposures together to create high-resolution photographs.

What I photograph--the subjects found in my images--have evolved considerably over the years. What I photograph now is considerably different than what I photographed when I began photography.

When I first started out I photographed mostly transportation (trains, trucks, airplanes and cars), with a little architectural and landscape photography thrown in for good measure. I rarely photographed people.
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
Captured using a Nikon DSLR in Februaury of 2015.
After several years I began to photograph less. Sometimes life takes you in different directions. Sometimes things come up and priorities change. Shift happens. During this time the majority of my photographs were in the landscape and transportation genres. I began to photograph people more, my growing family as the main subject.

Once I purchased my first DSLR I began to photograph more and more. I started photographing flowers and still life. I photographed my first wedding and dabbled in real estate photography. During this time I began to branch out into new genres, exploring subjects that I'd never captured before. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I like to add that your next 10,000 photographs are your second worst. The more you do something the better at it you become. I cringe at most of my older photographs. At the time that I captured them I thought they were good, but in retrospect most of them were not. But I wouldn't be creating the images that I am today without capturing those back then. It's all a part of the journey.
Shoots & Ladder - Pasadena, California
Captured using a Sony fixed-lens camera in November of 2015.
My favorite subjects now are landscapes and abandoned buildings, although anything that captures my eye can become a subject. It might be easier to list the photography genres that I haven't done, because I've tried most at least once. I occasionally photograph weddings, portraits and events, although my family still remains the top subject for people images.

Just within the last year I've started really liking street and urban photography. This was never an interest in the past. This shows that what I photograph will continue to evolve for as long as I'm a photographer.

The one constant in photography is that things change. Your gear will change. Your abilities will change. Your philosophies will change. Your subjects will change. Everything changes. What's important is that you're improving, that you're moving forward. And, looking back at my own work through the years, I can see substantial growth. Things continuously evolve, and that is a good thing. 

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