Someone said to me the other night. “You have beautiful pictures, I can’t wait to get a camera like yours.” I was very flattered and it made me think. It wasn’t very long ago I thought the very same thing. If I had a better camera I could just push a button and take amazing pictures. Let’s jump in the Delorean and see a little bit of what it took for me to become a photographer that can shoot the kids, hang the family and frame the wife. For the life of me I don’t understand why that girl doesn’t find me amusing.
As I mentioned in my About page, The View From Scott’s Office all started with a job change and a cell phone. As I traveled around the state I took pictures of everything, rocks, trees, snakes, mountains etc. My pictures were getting a great response on social media but to me something was missing. I wasn’t satisfied with my results. I thought, ” if I could just get a nicer camera.”
The three images above are the pictures that started it all. One was shot with a phone, the other two I shot with a Nikon point and shoot. Can you tell which is which? Again I looked at my images and the images of others and thought, “if I only had a better camera.” I would see the photographers in Yellowstone with their big fancy cameras and say to myself, “if I had THAT camera my images would be just as beautiful as theirs.” I was in for a rude awakening. I didn’t realize I needed to become a plastic surgeon, a historian, a comedian, a computer programmer, a magician, a mathematician, a social media guru, a hunter, a therapist and a master of light just to take pictures. But I was about to find out.
So I scrimped and saved. Sold a few body parts (no not really), and went on Amazon to search for the best deal I could find on a big, bright and shiney new camera. I found my dream camera, it was a semi-professional Nikon D7100 with three kit lenses. Mistake number one.
I was like the little boy in A Christmas Story waiting for his Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Tis ta season to be jory Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra. The day finally came, my camera had arrived. Now I would be able to take not good but great pictures. I opened the box and a tear rolled down my cheek. A tear caused by the sheer beauty of my new camera and the pain of where my kidney used to be. After unpacking, it was time to see how it worked. So I reached into the box and pulled out what looked like a copy of War and Peace and began reading. Although I admit, once I was past the parts on how to turn it on, change the lenses and install the battery pack it all got a little fuzzy. Anyone who has ever read a technical manual knows what I’m talking about. Now to find something to shoot.
This is what came out of my camera on my trial run. What the @#$&? What is this crap? This is awful. What went wrong? Bought expensive camera, check. Read (most of) the instruction manual on how to operate camera, check. I bought an expensive camera and I’m not getting professional results. How could this be? Maybe there is something wrong with the camera. In case your as confused as I was. The thing that’s wrong with most cameras that wont take good pictures is the nut behind the view finder. Mistake number two was thinking that by getting that expensive camera my images would be perfection right out of the box.
So me being me I went straight to Google; and you can too for the low price of $19.95 just click here. But wait there’s more. You’ll get used to my tangents in time. I started watching YouTube video after video and reading everything I could get my hands on (click here for B&H Tutorials). I even talked to other photographers. I wished I had done this before buying the camera with the three kit lenses. One lens I don’t even use, it’s total crap. I learned the hard way that it would have been better to spend less on the camera and more on lenses. I also learned that just knowing how to operate your camera guarantees nothing. There is so much more that goes into every picture. So much going on inside the camera. So much to adjust for with every different lighting condition. So many things to consider when shooting.
I read and watched and practiced. I couldn’t believe how much there was to remember every time you took a shot. It was enough to make my head spin. You need to remember the exposure triangle (click here to learn more about this). You need to think about white balance. Is it sunny? Is it cloudy? Are you inside? If your inside is it fluorescent or tungsten? Is it dark? Is everything in focus? Is your subject stationary or is it moving? I was learning photographers had to deal with a lot of crop. I know, I know, that one was bad, funny but bad.
So I practiced and I practiced and I practiced and after a couple months I was seeing some improvement. But nothing like what I saw from other photographers.
I was getting frustrated. What do these other photographers know that I don’t? So back to Google I went. I found out that one, I was shooting in JPEG instead of Raw. So I switched. I now shoot everything in the Raw (ba dum bum tsh). Two, I wasn’t doing any real editing. Yes folks believe it or not all those amazing pictures don’t just pop off your camera they are edited. I knew a little about post processing, but as it turns out I knew very little. I had been using Picasa to adjust light and color but that was about it. The editing these other photographers were doing is on whole different level. Now we are talking Photoshop, Lightroom, Photomatix, etc.
Ugh back to Google and YouTube. Now I’m trying to learn photography as well as how to edit. Being an artistic person who’s type A I figure I’ve got to get this right or die trying. I won’t go into a lot of editing detail now. Maybe I’ll save that for another day if there is any interest. But now I use Photoshop elements 11 and have been known to spend a couple hours on one picture to as little a few minutes. A few more months pass and my photography has progressed to this point. You have no idea how thrilled I was to have gained enough knowledge to freeze the wings of this little gal. Oh yeah add a bird expert to becoming a photographer. You also have no idea how many images were deleted before I found one good enough to save and edit. But to me it’s still lacking. It’s a little blurry and composition is awful.
Months pass and I’m seeing there is no quick fix. Nothing that is going to make me a great photographer and well known by tomorrow. It comes down to time, practice and education. When I shoot an image, whether it’s a track meet, a portrait, a mountain range or an animal I have all this information running through my head. Aperture; do I want one thing in focus or everything? Shutter speed; do I want to capture motion, freeze motion, increase the amount of light coming in or reduce it? ISO; if it’s light out then keep it low, if it’s dark raise it. I’m thinking about white balance and composition. Is what I want in focus in focus. All these things are running through my head as I frame the shot. With a mountain range I can think about it for a minute, take it all in and be artistic. With sports or motion it needs to be a split second reaction or you miss the shot. Here are three examples, if I have even one setting wrong I miss the shot.
This brings us to present day. As I grow as a photographer and continue to expand my business I think back on all the misconceptions I had about being a professional photographer. Like walking through art galleries and thinking wow these prints are expensive. How can they charge so much when all they do is press a button. Now I know. Now I’m the photographer that has to answer that very same question. I say to them, JPEG your pardon. I’ve been dying to use that one. If you were to actually sit down and add everything up (and I have) from time shooting and post processing. Education time and expense. Camera and supplies, computer, lenses, cleaning kits, SD cards, x#terabyte external hard drives etc. The cost to have your pictures printed, framed or wrapped and on what medium. Not to mention the hours on social media and advertising to get your name out there. Let’s put it this way, most photographers aren’t in it to get rich. It’s for the love of photography. I’ve always heard the quickest way to make money in photography is to sell your camera. If it were only as easy as pushing a button.
The most important thing for me is that my images tell a story. When you look at this image what story does it tell you? I want to show people something they haven’t seen before or in a way they haven’t seen it. Some may love my images some may think they’re crap. But I love each and every one from my first to my last. They are my frozen moments in time. Memories that will last a forever. So when someone says to me your camera takes really great pictures, I can say thanks I taught it everything it knows.
So I say to the person who wants a camera just like mine. If you love to photograph then photograph. Read everything you can get your hands on. Watch videos. Watch, talk to and learn from others. Don’t wait for a camera just like mine. The camera is only a tool. What makes the picture is the artist holding the camera. If all you have is a phone or an old Polaroid use it. Even Santa uses a North Polaroid. I can almost hear the boo’s coming from the audience. Learn everything you can and be as artistic as you want. Experiment and find what works for you. Yes there will be certain things you can’t do with these types of cameras, things you can only do with a DSLR , so get creative.
I will leave you with two of my more recent images. I originally posted them in my blog about Yellowstone. It’s fun for me to look at all the images I used here and see how far I have come. From the first cell phone picture of the train tracks outside of Bridger, ( don’t tell the wife I was actually laying on the tracks listening and watching for the train while trying to frame the shot) to the image of Moose Falls (climbing on wet slippery rocks to get the shot.This she knows about. She was telling me to be careful the whole time. She knows how graceful I am. See Sympathy For The Runner Part Deux). I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me. Till next time get out there and shoot something. Click on any image to enlarge