My friend sent me a small comic the other day that depicted someone asking an artist "Where does your talent come from?" The answer was "Practice," to which the original questioner replied "Nope, must have come from God."
That exchange is something I'm involved in often. Especially when teaching. No one immediately believes that you can "become" an artist; they are all certain that you have to be born with an innate gift. These are the same people who believe that dogs of a certain age cannot learn new tricks. Both of these beliefs are just silly. Sure, you have to have some passion and drive for it, but anyone who really wants to be an artist can be.
Year 1 Vivitar Film Camera
Now, I'm by no means the best artist; but I call myself an artist because it's something that I have true passion for. Photography is something I have been interested in since I was 15 years old and decided that I wanted to be like Linda McCartney. A cool vegetarian photographer chick. So my dad gave me his Vivitar that he bought in 1974 and for about six months, I went out and did things like this:
I am proud of those photographs. I was getting used to composition and lighting and, because I had to do everything manually, I had to learn about exposure. I still didn't realize the cool tricks I could do with aperture or film speed, though. Really, I was just making sure the dot wasn't in the over-exposed section on my viewfinder. Focus was really hit or miss as well.
Even though I had decided that film was the only medium I would ever use, I was at an age where I wanted to be a beautiful goth model and there was no way to safely take pictures of myself and view them before anyone else with film (as I did not know yet how to develop my own pictures). So I sometimes took my father's fancy digital (at the time) Olympus point-and-shoot and did things like this:
This was well before selfies were popular with everyone and their mom. So whereas now, these pictures are rather normal, at the time it was pretty embarrassing to lock myself in my bathroom with a Marilyn Manson cd and take these shots. Also, note the horrible black border I used. That was a trend that I could not stop for about 10 years.
Year 2-5 Pentax *istDL
So I still wanted to have the control of a single lens reflex camera, but I figured it might be useful to do digital as I had some sexy ideas in my head. So, for Christmas, I got my very first DSLR, a Pentax *istDL. I had that camera for 3 beautiful years.
The first photos I took with that camera were:
Again with the ugly border! But I was able to control exposure very well and, as we can see, I learned a little bit about aperture. High ISO, however, wasn't something I understood. Nor was how to adjust my white balance indoors. Hence the blurry orange photo of my dad smoking a cigar. But, regardless, I really love that photo. What I was most impressed with was the level of detail I could achieve. My mother was not a fan of the photo I took of her eye. But it goes to show just how much I could see in my photos.
Something that I could also now do was control aftereffects. Before, I was just sending my photos in to be developed. But now I could use Paintshop Pro (that was what I landed on somehow) to adjust settings of the digital files. However, the only thing I knew how to tinker with was brightness and contrast. So a lot of my older pictures are ruined by overdoing the contrast and then saving a dark mess with an overexposed sky. Because of this, my photography skills actually took a step backwards.
I also had quite a bit of grain. I then read about circular polarizers and metering. The game changed again.
What I really fell in love with, though, was taking pictures of people. Mostly myself, but I made some friends along the way as well. I felt much better knowing I could instantly view my photos to make sure they were well composed and everyone's eyes were open. I bought some professional lighting and set up a studio of sorts:
I even started taking senior portraits and headshots for people. That's also when I got a job at a photo studio in the mall. That was a terrible idea and a story for another day.
During these years, I took my camera with me everywhere. To the grocery store, to school, even to my grandmother's funeral. I photographed everything I could. Nowadays, a lot of my photography would be called hipster and embarrassing. And, for a while, I let the idea of being called something annoying put me off of taking the weird pictures I always dreamt of taking. I focused completely on landscapes for a while. I still tend to do that now. But, now that I was taking my camera everywhere, it was with me on vacation too and I started to try and work with natural settings.
My first big trip was through France, Ireland, and Norway (and Denmark for a day) with my grandmother. I was so excited to take photos that would "win me awards" (which awards, I did not know). But what I brought back is mostly crap:
I had been shooting mostly on automatic the whole time and generally from the hip. Thus was due to my grandmother becoming upset and embarrassed every time the camera made the shutter noise. Still, it's a shame that I only got a few decent shots.
So I kept practicing back home:
Year 5-13 Nikon D90
Then I got myself a new camera. I thought for some reason that the camera itself would make me a better photographer. That is a common thought amongst beginners, I think. So, even though all my gear (both analogue and digital) was compatible with the Pentax/Vivitar frames, I got myself a Nikon D90; which, incidentally, was the first DSLR that could take video. I thought that was important for reasons of status probably. I used this camera for 8 years even though I never really felt connected to it. But I git the hang of it after a while.
My first pictures, again, were of my family:
And then, immediately, I went on a road trip to the ocean:
Maybe it was the 18-105 lens that came with my new camera; or maybe it was the placebo effect, but my photography seemed to be improving.
I bought a telephoto lens for it and continued to take it to all of my exotic (and not so exotic) destinations:
Year 14 Canon Rebel
I thought I was improving quite well. But, when I moved to Russia, my lens broke and I had to use my husband's camera for the next six months until I could get a new one. His was a Canon Rebel of about the same caliber as my D90, but with a much smaller lens. Only 18-55. That was difficult. And everything that I thought I knew about photography, I was suddenly having to relearn. But what I did notice was that with the Nikon, I had been missing out on something about colour!
Year 15+ Nikon D5500
What I did, however, was I rebuilt my lens as best as I could and got myself a new camera body. I had to get a new Nikon to fit the lens, but I decided to really get serious about what I know versus what I pretend to know. I bought a book and started actually studying photography for the first time. After 15 years, I felt I had so much room to grow. And it's true. Armed with my new camera, I have created an even more beautiful view of the world. Even if, in the beginning, I was definitely over processing my shots.
Now I'm photographing a much brighter and more colourful world. I'm shooting only in RAW and at least in aperture priority mode rather than on auto. I've also learned how to respectfully use Lightroom and Photoshop rather than using them to destroy my photos.
I'm still learning and will continue to do so. I really am excited to see what I will produce in the next era!