My journey with photography. What's been yours?

It's cheesy title, but I'm curious. So I ask:

  • What got you into photography?
  • Perhaps more importantly, what has gotten you to stick with it?
  • How have your interests evolved from when you first started?

  • How has your style evolved over time?

If you have any images lying around to show your progress through time, please share. Even should you only shoot very casually, if you're on this forum you likely put more care and thought into your photos than just pressing the shutter(or at least you try to). That makes you a photographer, in my eyes.

As for my own story, well, here's the long version. Feel free to ignore it and just talk about yourself if you want, though!

The Cellphone Era

Pinpointing where it really began for me is tricky. I went through certain phases. I think I'm unusual among serious amateurs, though, in that I pretty much started with dedicated post processing before I knew anything about actually taking the photo.

See, when I was in middle school and high school, I liked to mess around with graphics software and would edit random photos I found online for fun. My first foray into photography came in 2007(my junior year of high school) when I got my first cellphone, a Palm Centro. It wasn't a dedicated camera or even a decent phone-cam, but it was an imaging device nevertheless. When I went on a trip to Italy later that year, it was all I used to take photos. I tried doing some basic editing with Macromedia/Adobe Fireworks, but looking through some photos on Google images online, I started to wonder how come everyone else's photos looked better than mine. I noticed the "blurred background effect" of professional photos, and at some point came across a plug-in called Alienskin Bokeh. For those who aren't familiar with it, Bokeh lets you imitate shallow depth of field on your computer. Mind you, I still had no idea what "real" bokeh actually was or how it worked, but I did know I liked how it looked.

When I downloaded the trial for the plugin, I also came across a different plug-in from the same company which recreated different film looks: Alienskin Exposure. I grew up digital, so I had no clue what real film looked like. Still, I liked what I did to my photos so I stuck with it too. More importantly, I realized that the heavy filters and grain helped mask the otherwise poor quality of my photos. I was doing Instagram before it ever existed.

I used these plug-ins to alter my Italy pictures, Even though I still new nothing about composition, lighting, exposure or any part of the traditional image-making process, I think just taking some more time to work on my photos made them look a little better than your average snapshots.

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So then college comes around, my new MyTouch 3G's camera is almost as bad, but I get a little better at the processing. I wasn't taking photos that often, but when I did, I took my time with the processing. I'd also developed a bit better of a sense of how not to be so tacky with the effects.

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Towards the end of my junior year of college, I wanted a new phone, and the MyTouch 4G slide caught my eye largely because of its camera(one of the best phone cams at the time). In trying to find out what made it so good, I read its specs, learned about its fast aperture. With some physics knowledge and a bit of lazy research, I started to get a stronger idea of how this influenced images, and started to compare my images to those of skilled folk.

So now I'm armed with a better phone, but more importantly, I have a better sense of what makes an image good. Mind you, I still know nothing of formal photography basics other than what my brain learned through observational conditioning. In any case, instead of just processing images after taking them, I started to take images with an idea of how I would process them later. Again, they became much less tacky. For the most part, I was more subtle with the processing (and I seem to have picked up the rule of thirds without noticing).

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Interchanging Lenses, Expanding Knowledge

Fast forward to the end of my penultimate semester of college, at the dusk of 2011. I was helping some friends with a project, they asked me to take photos. One of them lent me her brothers DSLR--a Nikon D80 I believe--and though I hardly knew how to use it, my photos were obviously coming out a lot better. It felt much more powerful, a tool actually intended for the given job. Seeing as I only had one semester left of college to go, I wanted to document the memories I'd create as much as possible, and therefore decided it would be a good idea to actually invest in a decent camera. It was one of the best choices I've ever made. This is when things really started, when I got serious.

I did research on DSLR's, researched interchangeable lens cameras. I ended up with Micro Four Thirds because the size meant I could my camera in my messenger bag along with all my schoolgear. I bought an E-PL1 originally, but replaced it right away with a G3 because I wanted something more futureproof. From there, things moved very quickly. I did a ton of research, reading countless online resources and some books. I picked up Lightroom, started shooting RAW after a month or so. Like everyone, I started with a kit lens, but given my longstanding fascination with bokeh I quickly moved onto adapted manual focus lenses in order to get a fast prime. It was just a cheap c-mount 35mm f1.7... but it gave me bokeh:

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Not too long after that, I went for a Canon FD 50mm F1.4, which acts like a 100mm on M4/3. With this lens was that I probably learned most of the basics, and became adept and manual focusing. I hardly ever used the kit lens anymore because this lens produced images of such superior quality, so I left usually left the former at my dorm. It forced me to learn to compose rather than just lazily zoom.

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I get the 20mm f1.7, a normal prime on Micro Four thirds. I sell my kit lens, and I'm working with basically just two focal lenths. Several people start asking me to shoot school events, some even for pay. I didn't feel comfortable accepting pay from anyone given I'd only been really shooting for a couple of months, but it was flattering. I try to develop a personal style, both with my shooting, and my processing.

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So here we are today. been over a year since I started to take photography seriously. I've taken a dozen or more assignments, and was even honored to have an article published on PetaPixel. I've shot with other systems, APS-C and full frame; sometimes for fun, other because I had to. Though I'm still new to all of this, I've learned a lot in the past year.

Photography is something that's become an essential part of who I am today. After I got my G3, I virtually never left my home without my camera, and with my new OM-D this is even more true. To me, photography means communicating something interesting about the visual world around me, but even more significantly, it's allowed me to see the world around me as more beautiful than ever before.

As I go on, I've been focusing more on the basics I never took the time to learn when I first started: exposing perfectly before post, shooting in good light rather than trying to artificially create it. Some habits die hard; after all, I learned Photoshop before I learned to take even photos. But still, as I continue snapping away, I try more and more to turn my photography into a skill and an art rather than just a hobby and kitsch.

To conclude, well, this went from being a short question post to a rambling, hastily written, semi-autobiographical piece. Here are some more recent images to close things off. Thanks to anyone that took the time out to read, and please share you own experiences below. Don't worry, they needn't be as long.

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