I always liked making photos, but it was the combination of instant feedback from digital cameras and being able to develop images on the computer what really got me into photography. My first digital compact camera had a 2.1 megapixel sensor with abysmal image quality, an insanely slow startup time and auto focus, and the four AA batteries that it needed lasted for about 100 photos. Early in 2007 I borrowed a DSLR, and that was the point when I was infected in earnest by the photography bug.
To “celebrate” this anniversary I’m posting a series of blog posts (one for each year from 2007 through 2016), and with each, I’m including one “key photo” that best describes my draw to photography, maybe documents my progress, shows my photographic vision, and explains me as a photographer.
I consider making photos not just a means of personal expression – my desire to make photos is born out of photography’s documentary nature: I see beauty in the world, and try to hold on to it through my photos. For me, it means making photos of nature and landscapes, and this began during my walks and hikes in the alps in Germany, Austria and Italy, and of other places that I visited (the earliest photos in my digital archive are scans from a trip to Tunisia in 1998, where I made photos of a cemetery, an old fortress, sunlight breaking through clouds, a mosque with beautiful minarets, that sort of thing).
The hikes in the mountains were really what I wanted to capture and preserve in images. And I soon found that it’s often bad weather that brings the most interesting light and photo opportunities:
Over the years, I realized that photography has turned into a certain need as well: when I make photos, I forget that I’m cold, hungry, hot, thirsty, tired – each exposure is a brief escape, a micro-meditation that lasts for mere seconds, on a moment in time and a glimpse at a world that still fills me with awe.
I realize that this may sound like poetic waxing to some, but this is the best summary I could come up with to explain why I do what I do. If the resulting images please anyone else but me it’s a plus, but I think I speak for all photographers and artists when I say that’s not the primary reason why we’re doing it.
This was the beginning of a long, long journey, and needless to say, I still don’t have the feeling that I’ve arrived – and I hope I never will, because I think it’s all just stages, and that we will never stop exploring.
Photo Geek Talk (the tech bits)
The borrowed DSLR happened to be a Nikon D70 and after I had to return it, my first very own DSLR was a Nikon D70s, with the 18-55mm kit lens. I bought it used to save money – experience taught me that somehow, we often pick up hobbies and abandon them not long after, and the older we get, the more expensive these hobbies become… ;-) I was already used to the D70, it was very affordable used – and that’s how I ended up being a Nikon user. Pure chance. Had I borrowed a Canon DSLR, I’d be a Canon user now, and just as happy.
The camera was in “Auto” mode for about one hour before I became fed up with the built-in flash popping up in backlight situations, and I switched to “Program automatic”. Clueless about the exposure triangle, I dabbled in this “P” mode for a couple of days, until I learned (by seeing and doing) that one of the key elements that “designs” images was depth of field.
This mysterious depth of field was controlled by the aperture of course, and so I found that using “Aperture priority” mode and letting the camera do the math for the exposure time was just right for me because I didn’t have a clue about “stops” and all that back then. Auto-ISO was still pretty much a crutch with limited control, so I didn’t use it (and higher ISO was really bad with regards to noise) – but to this day, my cameras are in “A” mode most of the time.
What else? I soon swapped the 18-55mm kit lens for an 18-200mm “superzoom” with image stabilization, and that was my setup for a while. I added a fast prime (foolishly, a 50mm, which acts more like a portrait tele on a crop sensor), then a wide angle zoom, all within a year or so.
After a couple of months of using JPEG and just not understanding at all what raw data was good for, I just gave it a try on a hike, and began to see its potential – back then with a program called “Rawshooter” that Adobe eventually bought in an acqui-hire, and integrated into Lightroom. And that’s how I’m a Lightroom user for ten years now, as well. :)
Last not least, after trying I was quickly sold on back-button auto focus, and to this day I can’t understand how anyone can have AE lock, AF operation and shutter actuation on a single button on the camera, and without going crazy. Back button AF is so much easier! ;-)
And that was the first of ten years. If you’re curious to look back and explore my photographic past :-) a little bit, I do have an archive of images from 2007 available in blog posts.