I remember my first camera well, though I can’t remember what it was called. It was a little flat black thing that used 110 film, the kind that came in a plastic cartridge. It had no settings, no special lenses, no way to adjust the focus. You could use a flash with it, a separate cartridge with maybe 5 or 6 individual bulbs which you could plug in on top of the camera, and which you’d throw out once each of the bulbs had flashed exactly once. The camera was passed down to me in maybe 1978 or 1979, when my sister was given her first 35 millimeter camera. I was thrilled with my camera, and used it for many years to take an assortment of grainy, blurry, badly composed pictures that were, nonetheless, precious to me.
I had various other cameras in later years (including, eventually, that same 35 millimeter that had been given to my sister). I would periodically take pictures of things to remember where I’d been, or what was going on. I would take snapshots. What’s more, my camera would sit untouched for months at a time.
About 6 years ago, before a trip to Japan, I got my first digital camera.
It was on that trip that I had an epiphany about taking photos: I had never consciously made an effort to consider composition. Composing had meant little more than “getting what I wanted to take a picture of in the frame before pushing the button.” However, having taken painting and drawing classes for several years, various lessons had apparently sunk in. About color. Light. Contrast. Composition. Negative space. Suddenly, I actually paid attention to the image that was in the frame as a whole. The photos I took started to look more like interesting images, and not just images of interesting things.
About 5 years ago, John started getting serious about photography. He read, he studied, he really learned the technical aspects. It didn’t take long before he had completely surpassed me in terms of photography skills. Watching him work, and seeing the results, I started learning, too. The photos I was taking started looking worse and worse to me. For one thing, my little point and shoot couldn’t hold a candle to SLRs. At the same time, I just couldn’t see myself lugging around a camera that was 10 times the mass of what I was used to. I mean, that would require effort.
After Phoebe was born, I started taking a lot of pictures. And I do mean a lot. The quantity of photos, however, didn’t much improve the quality. I just had more chance of getting lucky with a good shot. I used my little point and shoot because it was small enough for me to keep handy.
In the last couple years, I progressed a bit more with composition. I learned to change my position to find more interesting angles, and it’s not unusual to find me squatting down or climbing up. I notice the light, and the background even if I don’t make efforts to manipulate them.
When John got me a shiny new camera last year before our Spain trip, I wasn’t convinced I’d really use it. It had an intimidating array of options. Figuring out what they were seemed like it would be effort.
But, you know, I haven’t gone back to my point and shoot. Not even once. The improved quality of the photos, just by virtue of having a better lens, made me not want to turn back.
Even so, while I take quite a few photos that I really like, I take almost none that I really love. Of the ones that I love, almost all are happy accidents, flukes in the midst of a gazillion bad and mediocre shots.
My photos rarely look the way I want them to.
Part of why I have undertaken this daily photography project is to change that, and get my photos to more closely resemble the images in my head.
As of a few weeks ago, I hadn’t done much with settings. I hadn’t fiddled around with lenses and serious lighting gear. I’d barely entered the realm of manual focus. I could probably count the number of times I’d used a tripod on one finger.
I’m happy to say that in the time since then, I have made progress with changing settings, have mounted a flash, have used manual focus regularly, and have swapped my lenses back and forth.
A couple of nights ago, I even grabbed John’s tripod. (It’s okay. We’re married.)
John sent me a link to this graphic a few months ago. I find it fascinating, and a pretty good portrayal of my own path. I haven’t been able to track down the original author of it, as it’s been posted all over the place. But the link from which I grabbed it is here.