It's 3:30am. I’m dragging myself out of bed. Again. Cold water to the face. A slug of coffee. Then a drive – sometimes a long one – for a sunrise shoot. There are plenty of days I ask myself "Why do I do this?" As a landscape photographer, I already know the tried and true answers. Light is best at dawn and dusk. That's the top layer. There's more to it. It begs the question, "Why photography?" Herein lies a tale...
In The Beginning...
In the mid-1990s I finished college and entered the workforce. Surrounded by technology 5 or 6 days a week, I took escape in hiking. Disconnect. Unplug from the world. Convene with nature. The simple pleasure of taking a walk. I started hiking more and more when I moved to San Diego. Deserts, beaches, local mountains – all with a day’s reach. Weekend getaways to Arizona and Nevada. Along the way, I started bringing a camera – the dirt-simple, yellow cardboard encased, 24-shot disposable kind. Very sleek. :)
In the late 1990s, I planned a hike in the Narrows of Zion National Park in Utah. (I’d go three summers in a row I had so much fun.) Before my trip, a friend who was into photography told me about a great deal on a camera at Costco. I bought a membership and walked out with a Canon EOS Rebel II. My first SLR.
Of course, I had no idea how to use it. I remember two modes. Auto mode, and this nifty thing Canon did for depth of field. Imagine a dock extending out into a lake. Compose and half-press the shutter to set the focus point on the front of the dock. Then release, recompose, and half-press to set focus on the end of the dock. Finally, recompose and take the shot. For someone that didn’t understand f/stops and how they produce different depths of field – magic.
That is all I knew about photography. I had no understanding of composition, complementary colors, depth of field, light, exposure. The same story for gear. No tripod, no polarizer, nothing. And this is how it was for me for many, many years. I enjoyed taking pictures. I hadn’t learned to make pictures yet.
When I returned from Zion (wow… that sounds biblical) my office mates loved the photos I’d taken. The reds of the clay and sand, contrasting with the blue skies. A few evergreens mixed in. White, puffy clouds adding interest. Mother Nature certainly gave me a leg up with the color combinations! That did it. The hooks were in. I fell in love with the idea I could visit a place, capture it on film, and evoke an emotion out of others. I kept hiking, bringing the camera along. Occasionally I’d try out black & white film. Most of these photos went unseen, moving from shoebox to shoebox, some lost along the way.
Around the same time I was bit by the travel bug. And bit hard! I adore travel to this day (very itchy feet). I took my first overseas trip to the Philippines to attend a wedding. Strictly speaking, the first Asian country I set foot in was South Korea. I think that’s a little irony of fate – I was married in South Korea just a few years later to my beautiful wife of nearly 15 years.
Enter serendipity. I changed jobs to one that required a lot of travel. Through the early 2000s, I visited more than 25 countries (not counting repeat visit, of which there were plenty), some for work some for pleasure. I was racking up so many frequent flyer miles, I was able to have my wife join me on many of these trips. And the camera was in tow. I still liked taking pictures. Friends and family liked them. And I still knew nothing about photography.
Through the rest of the 2000s, my relationship with the camera became more on again/off again. Starting a family meant less time for travel, less time for weekend hikes. I traded nature and landscapes for lots and lots of family photos (not a bad trade at all). Somewhere along the line I made the switch to digital. I also made the switch to Nikon. Why? A friend and neighbor was a Nikon shooter. Translation – lenses I can borrow. Woot!
A Turning Point
In 2011 I made a resolution to get my “digital life” in order. It was time to organize the folders upon folders of photos I had into a library. And as I slogged through that project (still slogging, actually) I started shooting more and more again. And I finally started studying photography. In short order I had my true Socratic moment – knowing that you know nothing. There was so much to learn.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been in “sponge mode”, absorbing lots of information about photography. What makes a good composition, post-processing techniques, understanding aperture v. exposure v. ISO sensitivity. I also carved out small pockets of time to take walks and short hikes. I now make the time to connect with nature, or get the vibe of a city. To take joy in the simplicity of “the walk”. Of course, with camera and tripod in hand. And shift from taking photos to making photos.
Today And Tomorrow
I continue growing as a photographer, refining my own style, and share what I’ve learned. I’ve always liked teaching, and it’s also a way to “pay it forward” for others wanting to learn. I’m not at the top of my game (do we ever get there?). I do not claim to have all the answers. I make mistakes and try to learn from them. I continue to learn photography week in and week out. And I hope I never stop.
For me, photography is in many ways a gateway to things beyond the camera. It’s about making a connection with the world around me. Experiencing life. Along the way, a few great captures will emerge and I can stir an emotion in others. Evoke a response. And share the wealth. That’s a great feeling.
So what’s your story? Why photography?
/ July 2014 /