January 31, 2014
I picked up my first SLR back in December of 2007. I was completely clueless, but I knew that I wanted to make photography a bigger part of my life. The truth is, photography was a fascination of mine much earlier than that.
When I was very little, my parents had a couple of cameras. They were of the point & shoot variety, and were really just around to take pictures of the family when we'd go out. I recall a long, slim, rectangular camera that we used quite a bit, and a big folding one. The long and slim camera turned out to be a Kodak Pocket Instamatic. My memory is fuzzy but the one that looks most familiar to me is the Pocket Instamatic 40. The big folding camera was most likely a Polaroid Supercolor 635CL. We also had a Kodak Instamatic 104, a camera that I remember vividly because it was the camera my parents allowed me to run around with. It didn't have film in it and it felt like a toy, so that's how I used it. In fact, I loved cameras so much that it carried over into my other childhood interests. I loved Transformers as a kid, and I begged my parents to get me a Transformer called Reflector. It was a 3-bot group that combined to transform into—you guessed it—a 35mm camera.
I recall begging my parents to let me take a real picture, and on a trip to the Statue of Liberty, I finally got a chance with the Pocket Instamatic. When the pictures came back, everyone knew that the low angle, out of focus shot of a man's ear was mine. Not a great start.
As the years went on and I got older, there wasn't any picture taking around the house. The only pictures of me were in the form of school pictures. My family didn't make very much, so paying for film and prints just wasn't in the cards after a while. Also, we didn't really travel, so there was nothing much to photograph. Eventually the Polaroid and the Pocket Instamatic disappeared into a drawer. I never knew what became of the Instamatic 104, but I never saw it again. My interests shifted to video games and computers, and it seemed like the camera fascination had all but been extinguished. It would be quite a long time before I'd have one in my hands again. The only other time I recall my parents bringing a camera around was when I graduated high school, and that was a disposable camera that they never even got developed. I ended up getting them developed about 10 years later.
I remember really wanting a Canon ELPH. I was graduating, and I really wanted to be able to have something to take pictures with. It was 1999, and the ELPH used the now defunct APS film system. Again, money was scarce around our household, and I ended up not getting the camera—it was over $200 at the time. To put it into perspective, when I was 11 I played clarinet. My instructor thought I was good enough that I deserved to have my own instrument, and offered his wooden one to me for $50. We couldn't afford it. Splurges were limited to Christmas, and that was really the result of long-term saving. It wouldn't be until I started college that I'd get to mess around with my own camera.
Digital cameras were starting to pick up a little bit of steam, and a friend in college had an early model Sony Cyber-Shot camera. I wouldn't even be able to tell you the model if I tried, but I recall that it had an articulating screen. Anyway, this friend was nice enough to allow some of his friends to play around with the camera from time to time. That's how I got the photo above in 2001. As time went on, I'd play around with this camera a lot more, mostly around campus, and mostly for nothing useful. This really rekindled my desire to have a camera and be able to take pictures anytime I wanted. In 2003, I finally made that happen and saved up for my own point & shoot. It was a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P52. It was 3.2 megapixels, took AA batteries, and couldn't fit in a pocket...but it was mine.
At first, I didn't use the camera as much as I thought I would. There was quite a bit going on in my life, and I wasn't very happy. In fact, I spent a lot of time feeling lonely and upset. In 2004, I'd start using the camera a bit more, mostly during breaks between classes and such. Summer of '04 was kind of tumultuous. My first relationship came to an end, stress at home had already jeopardized my academic career once and there was no sign of that letting up. Trying to remedy the school situation was also taking a heavy toll on me, so I really didn't have much in the way of an outlet. I started to take pictures between classes. I started leaving the house with my camera more often, and I'd take photos of whatever caught my interest. I really didn't have any direction with my photos, but taking them kept my mind from reaching into unhappy places. I used that Cyber-Shot until it had a mechanical failure: the shutter that covered the lens stopped working. The P52 was put to rest and in 2006 I moved on to the W50, which was another Cyber-Shot model.
Around this time, I wasn't wandering as much, and my pictures were mostly of the personal variety. I took pictures of my friends and not much else until 2007. That was the first time I dared to bring my camera to a concert. It was at Nokia Theater Times Square when I went to see Lupe Fiasco and The Roots. It was a fun time, and shortly thereafter, I made a regretful upgrade to another camera. I didn't see an improvement in the image quality, but that was the least of my issues. What was really starting to bother me, was that I'd go places and see photos on the walls, and constantly wonder to myself "how did they make that?" I had no understanding of exposure, no understanding of the basics of photography, but I really wanted to. I started searching for information online. Eventually I gave up my Cyber-Shot for a Canon PowerShot 870IS. The reason? It had a semblance of manual controls.
I really enjoyed having a camera that could give me some control over the shutter speed. I had taken an interest in long exposures, and it was nice to have that capability, even if I didn't know what I was doing. Eventually, my curiosity grew more. I wanted to know why everything was always in focus in all of my pictures. I wanted to know how I could take pictures at night without them looking awful. I wanted to know a bunch of things, so I went back online, read more, researched more. Eventually I learned about sensor size, aperture, depth of field. It became more and more apparent that the images I admired weren't being taken with consumer cameras. They were being taken with SLRs. In December of 2007, I picked up a Nikon D40, and...I didn't do a lot with it. I remember excitedly taking it out and getting ready to take all the photos I really wanted. There was one problem—I didn't know how to use the thing!
The blown out photo of the truck? That was my first time trying to shoot fully manual. I didn't even know how to read the light meter, so I took a guess at the exposure time. The photo of the Brooklyn Bridge was taken in April 2008, and by that time, I had settled into shooting with aperture priority mode, but I still didn't have a good enough grasp on how aperture affects depth of field, which is why I shot that photo at f/3.2 instead of something smaller. I'd continue to fumble around with the D40 until 2011.
After I stopped using the D40, I started making a lot of changes. I upgraded to a D7000. I started to shoot manual, and then in the summer of 2011, started to shoot in RAW. By this time, I had started sharing my work online. I started a tumblr, I started consuming a lot of photography created by peers. I started having conversations about photography, learning a ton of new information. It was exciting...easily as exciting as it was to run around my house as a little kid with that empty Instamatic.
By this time, I started sharing what I saw around me. I would wander the city for hours, just seeing things. Sometimes, I'd photograph it, and sometimes it looked pretty nice. I was hooked and there was no sign of me stopping. Photography was therapeutic, cathartic, and extremely satisfying. It felt good to advance with my work, even if it was the tiniest of increments. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
I'd have to say that the internet played a huge role in my growth, and in keeping my interest piqued. There was just so much to see, so much to learn, and such an abundance of people doing the same thing. The more I learned, the easier it was for me to share the moments I wanted people to see. Learning more also continued to fuel my desire to learn and experiment. I'm so happy that I've been able to reunite with my childhood curiosity, and even happier that I've been able to turn it into something I love, and that others enjoy.
Last year, I saw some of my extended family for the first time in years. I told one of my uncles that I was into photography, and his response was "yeah, that doesn't surprise me. You always did love cameras." It made me smile to know that someone noticed.
I titled this post "The Beginning" because I wanted to show how my interest in photography started, and how I got started shooting, but it's also because it's a representation of where I feel I am right now. My time taking pictures has had many beginnings, and it will continue to have new ones. I feel like I still have so much that I haven't accomplished, and so much I want to share. I'm still at the beginning, and I can't wait to do more.