How (And Why) I Started Photography

One of the few photography bloggers I follow consistently online, Jim Grey, wrote recently about the hobbies he’s had over the years.

Which got me thinking about photography, my dominant hobby for seven or eight years now, and how and why it all began. 

As with many things in life, looking back you can see more clearly how different and, perhaps on the surface, very unlikely and disparate threads, come together to form a natural new fusion.

If we could rewind to my early years for a moment, in my my family, there’s no great history of photographers, at least not in the previous two generations.

So growing up I had very little exposure to photography, aside from my nan being ever present at birthdays, trips and holidays with her flip up Kodak.

From my memories of how it looked and operated, the most likely candidates she used were Kodak EktraLites, like this one.

But this was snapshot photography, the recording of events and family, which was magical and hugely important in its own way, but gave me no indication of the artistic potential of photography.

In fact the only vague memory I have of looking at an artistic photograph was one my friend showed me his father made when I was maybe eight years old, of a busy city street, taken with a long exposure so it was full of light streaks.

Of course back then I had no idea about shutter speeds, so this image was utterly hypnotic and a work of sorcery.

But even so, it didn’t make enough of an impact for me to explore cameras myself for years.

These days, kids have such easy access to image making.

Our seven year old son has recently been using the golden Canon IXUS I bought last year, and our older daughter already had a similar IXUS, plus her iPod touch, with Snapseed on board for some fun processing.

When I was their age I wouldn’t have had a clue how to get into photography even if I’d wanted to, it just wasn’t on the radar of a boy who spent his waking hours riding BMX bikes, climbing trees, reading, and re-enacting Star Wars movies with his action figures.

The first time I recall buying a camera specifically was a Polaroid camera with my then partner, when I was around 23 or 24.

She was considerably older than me, and had known Polaroids the first time around. We just wanted something fun and instant (this was before mobile phones were mainstream or had decent cameras) to capture times together with, and attempt some more creative images.

Skip forward to around 2006 and, after a couple Nokias (like the 3210), I bought my first camera phone, the Sony Ericsson K800i, affectionately named Kate (K8!).

I remember setting up a folder on my PowerBook called Travels With Kate, to save the photos I made.

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In the meantime, an initially unrelated path in the written word was also unravelling.

At around 12 years old, I was delighted to be picked in English class to read out a poem I’d written.

Despite this early triumph, my inner poet lay pretty dormant for close to a decade after this, and around the same time I went halves on that Polaroid with my partner, I started exploring poems again.

This continued for years in some form, evolving through long streams of consciousness type writing influenced by Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation (and a fantastic online community of writers called Literary Kicks), through song lyrics (Michael Stipe from R.E.M and Morrissey were my twin figureheads), a hearty dose of Dylan Thomas, and finally through Japanese haiku.

There came a point probably around 2010 that I had a vital realisation.

What I was trying to capture in haiku form with three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, and through the tiny lens and tiny 5MP sensor of my Sony Ericsson Elm J10i2, was essentially the same – a beautiful scene, and the emotion it stirred inside me.

Beyond that point, the haiku slowed and the photography continued to increase, and in late 2011 I bought what I considered my first “proper” camera, a Nikon Coolpix P300.

These days, just about the other side of a five or six year phase of buying more cameras and lenses than I had time to use, then selling or donating the majority of them again, my purposes for making photographs are essentially the same as they were in those early days with the K800i Sony camera phone.

To get out in nature and find and capture compositions I find beautiful. 

So that’s pretty much the story of how and why I got into photography.

But how about you? How and why did you get into photography? 

Please share your story in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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27 thoughts on “How (And Why) I Started Photography”

  1. When I stopped painting I took up photography. It’s a LT less messy in our small apartment. I don’t make a living off it like I used to from selling my paintings. That’s a relief.

    1. Sherry, when you painted, did you paint to order, or just paint whatever you wanted and people bought the pictures they liked?

      Why is it a relief?

      1. I painted what I wanted and to order. The relief is not dealing with galleries. They are all horrible. They wore me down. Always had to argue pri es, etc.

      2. I can’t imagine what that’s like.

        Once in a while I’ve thought about approaching somewhere like an arty cafe or a meditation centre or somewhere about having an informal exhibition of my photographs on their walls, but I just don’t want to have any kind of critical or business oriented conversation about something I do purely for the love it, without any commercial aim.

  2. For me, it was about seeing what happened after I pressed the shutter button. What kind of images can this camera make? I could see after a while that the camera was limited by the photographer, so I started to work on getting better so the camera was the limiting factor. As I started making satisfying images I wanted to make more.

    1. Thanks Jim. Some might say that having a limited camera is what challenges the photographer to really tap into their creativity and advance themselves, and a camera that is “too good” can make us lazy, or even overwhelm us with options completely.

  3. I was really into film and video making before discovering photography seriously. Like Jim mentions above, I was curious to see what that DSLR with all these settings can do and can I try to imitate some known photographers… I remember following Eric Kims photo blog and my preferred section was his introduction to the masters of photography. The rest has just become noise with time but initially it really helped me.
    Being a young daddy also played its part as I practiced a lot on my kids 😉

    1. Seems an obvious progression Yuri, as film is just a series of photographs.

      Years ago I was intrigued by Super8 film, and bought an old projector and some film reels of stuff like Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin. Magical stuff!

      I was fascinated to see the reels of film and how when you held it up to the light each frame was a picture. I know it sounds completely obvious, but before this I had only watched films on VHS videotape where you can’t see the frames, so it was a major revelation to me back then!

      Eric Kim has his critics, and whilst I followed him for a while some years back, I just didn’t think he was a good enough photographer to be giving out advice to others, but I do recall he often said “buy books not gear” and study the greats of photography to help yourself improve.

      1. It’s funny, I stumbled into Eric Kim’s early pictures at some point – I think from within the first couple years that he was a street photographer. And I thought they were really good! (Same level as Marius Vieth, one of my favorite street photographers, who seemed to fall off the face of the earth about 3 years ago… I fear the worse as he was open about his battles with depression…)
        Anyway, I wonder what happened to Eric Kim’s photography but the stuff he’s put out the last few years has getting worse and worse in regards to my concept of good photography (subjective, I know) to the point that I simply can’t look at his blog anymore. And his philosophy and self-help stuff is also a bit too much “just be you even if everyone else thinks you suck” repeated a zillion times…

      2. I think in all honesty I can recall one photo of his that I rated, and then it was nothing like what I usually like, it was just striking and memorable because of the subject, a menacing looking guy with loads of tattoos.

        It doesn’t sit well with me that someone regularly giving out advice, running workshops etc doesn’t (in my humble opinion of course!) seem to make particularly good photographs. It’s like the bland leading the bland, and those following thinking this is as good as it gets, so over time it further dilutes the quality of photography we consider good.

  4. Thanks for sharing Dan and starting the conversation! I followed a strange path but really came to photography because I could iterate images quickly and use it as a way to figure out what I was looking for in visual art. I am only just starting to see where it could take me from there.

    1. Thanks Andrew. Photography is so strange because it’s simultaneously very easy to make a picture, because you just press a button, but also so hard because you always have to use what’s already there, it’s not like painting or drawing or writing or music where you can build up exactly what you want from nothing.

      I think this is why I favour black and white, and generally quite minimalist compositions, it removes a few layers and makes what’s left easier to arrange and capture.

  5. Thanks for sharing your journey…
    I dabbed with an Olympus film point and shoots through the 90s, and then bought a “high end point and shoot” in 2004 – the Sony DSC-P200 that I already talked about before. That gave me quite a few good pictures through the years and then when our third son was born and the P200 failed, I was encouraged by my wife to get a DSLR. She liked her brother’s D7000 but because of budget restrictions, I ended up with the Pentax K20D and some manual lenses. And I immediately fell in love with all aspects of taking pictures… especially the beautiful experience of shooting with old manual lenses and the “character” they imprint into the images.
    I’m still trying to find my own “voice” and this year I want to try more panorama stitching with the K10D, as I think CCD panoramas can be really stunning. If there’s a difference between CCD and CMOS I think it gets even more pronounced when you do a panorama with CCD.
    So I have that to try, and some other ideas as well…

    1. Chris, I actually bought an old P series Cyber-shot a few weeks back, for a future experiment. A heady 2MP!

      You were fortunate I think to have something like a Pentax as your first camera. I think many go with the big two, Nikon and Canon, when getting an SLR. They’re just a bit bland and characterless compared with Pentax, in my view.

      Did you see Francis’s comments and link the other day in the square photos thread about stitching images together?

      https://35hunter.blog/2020/02/12/the-square-affair-a-return-to-11-with-the-ricoh-grd-iii/#comment-18156

      1. Hi Dan,
        2MP? What did you get, a Mavica? 😆
        I actually had a little Kodak back in the early 90s that could do 3MP. I had actually forgotten about that one – I think I had it for less than a year, I let a roomate borrow it and I think it never came back… that little thing took great pictures! Great colors – little did I know about Kodak CCDs at the time, all I knew was that I liked it…
        On stitching – I’ve done a bit of stitching already through the years, just not as much as I’d like. I also use Microsoft ICE and I find it works really well – and I never used a tripod like people say you need to use when doing panoramas. If you take enough overlapping pictures, ICE will be able to make it work. The exception is a Brenizer portrait that I tried once where only the subject was in focus and everything else was bokeh – it couldn’t stitch together. But I tried a similar thing at other times and it actually worked!
        I think everyone should try stitching even if just to see how it turns out. What you have to do is overlap about 1/3 or 1/4 of the picture from one to another. An easy way to get a square picture with a 2×3 ratio camera (like DSLRs) is to do 2 rows of 3 portrait pictures, or 3 rows of landscape pictures.
        Then the software automatically takes them and does this: https://i.imgur.com/3rRmtjJ.png
        Just make sure that exposure is locked between pictures otherwise you end up with this: https://miro.medium.com/max/3288/1*z-gSGgtSXv-876HIdIywcg.jpeg
        On the Pentax topic… it really came down to me searching online and seeing that the two brands that had people most passionate about them were Pentax and Panasonic… and Pentax had bigger sensors and was more affordable. I did almost get a Nikon though, because my wife really wanted that… I couldn’t justify it in my budget at the time.
        The Pentax community, I find, is just great compared to others… usually the users are older and therefore part of a generation that is more kind and respectful.

      2. I would concur about Pentax and Panasonic, both excellent. Though I do like Ricoh compacts too (before they merged with Pentax).

  6. When I was a boy I never had a BMX bike but I went through a distinct phase where I included very detailed renderings of them in my sketches for the hopes that one day I’d possess something as advanced and futuristic as hand brakes or mag wheels 🙂 I’m savoring a time machine vision of a very nerdy, dirty barefoot me at the kitchen table, doodling bikes while you’re popping wheelies in the UK, headed to one of your favorite trees. And now here we are! Who were your first Star Wars action figures?

    Unlike many of your talented, knowledgeable readers I don’t have a very romantic pedigree to share as to the question about how and why I entered photography. But I’m a sentimental fool so this: My earliest inspiration was probably my father, a blue collar factory guy with six children, who didn’t have much time for hobbies unless you wanted to include hunting which often served a very practical purpose (food on the table). But years back he’d brought home a Minolta SR T101 from Japan during his days in the military and he had two lenses for it…a 50 mm and a big telephoto with a teleconverter. And once in a while he’d get that thing out and look around at critters in the fields behind our house and a couple weeks later some pictures would show up, if he’d had anything extra left over to get them developed. The compression from the telephoto transformed the fields and woods in those pictures in such a way to make me believe there was real magic through a viewfinder (though it’s funny, I’ve never used a lens with much reach, myself). Hope this finds you well, Dan.
    Cheers,
    Jason

    1. Re the BMX bikes, this is a fantastic site – https://bmxmuseum.com/

      I had one of these – https://bmxmuseum.com/bikes/raleigh/54088 – but lusted after one the coolest kid in the village had – https://bmxmuseum.com/bikes/raleigh/104888

      On the Star Wars front, I would guess my earliest figures were R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Han Solo, Luke in Hoth gear, Obi Wan, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and a stormtrooper. I always wanted the whole set, but never came close really! Which were yours?

      It’s strange that kids these days will never really know photography purely on film. It’s all so easy and instant with digital, that even of they shoot film, they’re already spoilt with digital. Do you have your dad’s old Minolta? I’ve had two or three of that era, including the SRT101. Beautiful beasts, and the Minolta Rokkor lenses are wonderful.

  7. My first two Star Wars figures were, get ready for this…….Hammerhead and Greedo. By all accounts, just about the most inauspicious beginning you could possibly imagine and yet I remember back in the day being totally enthralled with them for at the time I could only assume the two must be central, absolutely key characters in the movie (mine was a sheltered existence). We both know Greedo is legendary (or infamous?) now for the dubbed-over Han Shot First scene but Hammerhead? I’m not sure but I think there’s barely a glimpse of Hammerhead in the cantina scene? Among others, I’ve still got my first Darth Vader but he’s missing his head and his extendable light saber is really floppy and bent. About ten years ago I built a complete collection of vintage Star Wars figures with the exception of two or three expensive rarities. Putting the final pieces together for that collection was the last time I ever used Ebay 🙂

    And yes, by the way….. that old Minolta is on a bookcase shelf about two meters high in our living room. It’s been relegated to dusty, handsome prop for now, perched as it is on a pile of photography-related books. Every year I tell myself to get a roll of film and take it for a whirl, to come full circle. Someday I will.

    1. Wow, Hammerhead and Greedo! I think you’re right, Hammerhead has the briefest of cameos. What I want to know is what happened to Vader’s head?

      The collection you built ten years ago, do you still have those? I started a similar thing maybe 15 years ago, but it got too expensive, and it wasn’t like I’m likely to play with them. And I’m not a collector for the sake of having a complete collection kind of person.

      Oh you should definitely put a roll of film through the old Minolta. Perhaps take it on an adventure with your boys and all use it?

  8. Vader’s head is in a little box with similarly broken and mismatched arms and legs, springs, coils, capes, Star Wars coins, blasters and bowcasters. As for the Minolta, you really are right that I should use it but I’m just awful and the chances are good the film would come back and every frame would be completely washed out, blurred or black as midnight. I will do it, though. And you can trust that I will report to you how it went.

  9. Quite interesting path. Usually, I think at least with us men, it is a fascination with gear, commonly photographic and audiophile equipment, as an obsession for technical perfection and specifications rather than photos. In your case it went along poetry and haikus, I understand why there is not a chase of bigger equipment in your photography, but just their use for expression. In my case my older brother gave me a digital camera when I finished university, a very nice hp r607 if I recall the number, very nice images (here are some photos that of course you are invited to see but only if your time allows you https://guaromekano.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/lima-a-a-compact-camera/ ) In what I wrote about that camera I mention a camera with better specifications, a Sony R1 that I got a few years later, but to be honest I prefer the colors of the HP.

    Before that camera actually I had purchased at elementary, in a promo trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, a disposable compact film camera, but I had no money to purchase and develop the negatives, and I suspect mentally I had the idea that photos where taken by our parents. So the little digital is the first time I got into photography, along my formation of architecture, and defined my preference for cameras with fixed lenses.

    1. Francis, your second line really threw me. I had previously assumed you were female from how you write, and didn’t know Francis was a male name. Interesting how preconceptions can be wrong!

      As you said, because I didn’t come into photography through a gear/gadget route, but a way to simply capture a picture and the accompanying feelings, I’m pretty indifferent to a camera’s tech specs. In fact I’m probably more like an inverted snob in this, if the camera doesn’t have an old, low MP CCD sensor I’m not usually interested – the opposite to most people!

      I can’t recall either of my parents having any camera, but surely they must have, don’t all families, to capture their memories? I’ll have to ask my mum. Though my nan (my dad’s mum) spend a great deal of time with us, so perhaps as she always had her camera ready, my parents didn’t feel the need to have one themselves…

      1. I am female, and a beautiful one. Haha, no, just kidding, I am a man : )
        It is true that Francis has changed a bit more for ladies, Sir Francis Bacon and even the fearsome Sir Francis Drake would be aghast about the change. I am native from a culture of patriarchal/matriarchal system (which curiously is very different to what feminism seeks) when kid I was taught at school to use crochet and is common since millennia ago that women can be in politics while the husband can support the tasks at home or vice versa. There is of course a manly way to be, but it is not as it was in traditional Western societies; it is not the first time I was considered a lady (without having a photo of reference of course! xD) And viceversa, different bloggers… I cannot point if they are male or female, I used to collect comic books and there was an artist called Kelley Jones, I thought for years that he was a she.

      2. Francis, we are similar, I have had more than one girlfriend say I am often more like a woman in terms of feelings and sensitivity than a man. Certainly not your “typical” alpha male. (I have also had more than one female friend assume I was gay, and a number of date propositions from male friends!) I love that some authors have pen names of opposite gender, and in the past sometimes of course this was for a female author to gain the kind of credibility only a man was given at that time, in that culture. Fascinating topic.

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