I was eleven when I first wanted to be a photographer. I asked my parents for a SLR camera, with at least two ways to zoom. My parents lovingly presented me with the one of the first digital cameras- a cannon, with 6x optical zoom and a whopping 2.4 megapixels. This was better you see, because it was digital and did not require the developing of film. I politely thanked them and somewhat suspiciously took my unexpected gift out to test. I came in deflated. Somehow, the photos I took with my digital point and shoot and with the $10.00 toss away film cameras just didn’t look the same as the picture did in my minds eye. They were dull, lackluster, sometimes blurry or just lifeless.
Fast forward through my early teen years (Oh yes! Lets please do fast forward through those!) and I began to work at Red Tail Publishing with the amazing woman who would become my mother-in-law. She had a DSLR. On an exceptionally good day, I was even privileged enough to use it for whatever miscellaneous task came up. But most importantly, she taught me. I can not begin to express the awesome benefits that come with learning photography from a woman who developed her own film, in her own darkroom- she really gets it. Soon our lessons went from professional needs to creative whims- and even in her personal time, she found the moments to help me grow (of course, maybe that’s because I would soon marry her son… And I was always in her personal time anyway!).
Not everyone is lucky enough to get such a great start, but then I have always been blessed with the women in my life. Take my own mom for example. As I was composing this little post- a brief history of where I started my journey as a photographer- my mom wrote a Facebook post, thanking my mother-in-law for taking time to help me get started, teaching me the basics, because now the entire family could reap the benefits of my portraits.
The turning point for me- when I went from occasionally using my Mother-in-laws camera to take shots for work, to actively pursuing a career of art in photography, was my very own wedding. We were on a tight budget and couldn’t afford a $1500.00 wedding package, so we went with a friend of a friend, who had recently had a baby but was getting back into the swing of her photography… Or so we were told.
The day she dropped off a CD filled with my low resolution jpg.s, I plugged it into my laptop and proceeded to cry. Every photo was haunted by giant shadows, barely illuminated by an under powered flash and shot at such an angle, that even my step mom- a tiny wisp of a woman- looked like she had shoulder pads and a linebackers build. Here, the photos from what was supposed to be the most important day of my life, were a wreck. Worse than the washed out, dull, lifeless photos I had clumsily captured as a child, these were horrendous! It was a beautiful moment in our life and the person we had paid to commemorate our wedding in photos left me so low I couldn’t even look at the pictures anymore.
I decided then that I could do better. That I could make a difference and create something amazing in place of what I received. Sometimes, when I am framing a shot, or the light filters through the windows and catch-lights spring up, I think about those pictures and I swear to myself that I will never feel the bitter disappointment of a moment passed and a photo missed again. With every photo, I try to capture the light; the beauty of the moment and pass it on to portraits, so people can look at the image and just know that the world- the person, the moment, the day, the feeling- was great.
Granted, my photos didn’t always look like they do now. At the beginning of my journey, the slope was steep and I scrabbled painfully up the first bit, slowly learning the technical aspects of the art I was to eventually create. Technical aspects are not fun and mastering them was a chore. But I am so very glad I did, because taking the time to learn from my mentor, read the books and attend a few classes, gave me the skills necessary to build my foundation.
Its so fun- and sometimes scary- to look back at how much I have learned and grown. Take this photo, from my first ever solo shoot, where I was in command of everything. I had the lights, the camera and the subject. And my brain just clicked off. I had no inspiration and a stomach full of jittery butterflies. This is a photo from that first shoot.
For SOOC photos, my first shoot really isn’t all that bad, if I take a moment to not criticize myself. It lacked inspiration, it was flat and a little boring- but then, there isn’t room for inspiration when you are so full of nerves. At the time, I thought it just wasn’t speaking to me. I even doubted myself: Maybe I wasn’t cut out to shoot portraits. While I was worrying myself into knots, I felt a driving need to produce something better. I took a day to step back, reflect and then to just “play” photo shoot with my own kids. One session with them proved that it wasn’t portraiture that hadn’t been speaking to me. It had been me, so full of self doubt I wasn’t listening. I was too busy asking myself What do I need to take these photos and make them art? I just knew I could do better, but I wouldn’t quiet my brain and my nerves long enough to hear the answer. Thankfully, I dont feel like that anymore. Now I know how to listen to the portrait and see it for what it really is: Art.
I got better. I did more shoots, I practiced with friends, and my friends kids and the neighborhood kids and I started taking my camera everywhere with me. My camera hikes when we do; Its been to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Austin and Little Rock. Its captured the view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park and it has (unfortunately) felt the salty spray of the Pacific ocean. And the more it traveled the country, the more I have learned.
I learned- through trial and error and hours in front of the computer screen- how to edit for just the right amount of spice to bring a photo over the line of “picture’ into the broad, dazzling spectrum of “art”. It wasn’t without its disasters, and in many ways, I am still growing. After alI, my journey isn’t over! Its just taking a three year layover in Arkansas. In the meantime, my camera rides ’round my neck, ready for the next amazing moment it might be able to capture, like this one, of Thing2 playing fairy princess in the woodsy area that is our front yard.