When I first started traveling, I didn’t know my ISO from my aperture. I literally was so ignorant of the basics of photography, I’m embarrassed to talk about it. I purchased a camera which was way over my head in terms of my ability that in hindsight I should have been prevented from buying it by the store owner. My initial goal for taking photos wasn’t to put images online, it was to one day be able to decorate the walls of my home when I was done traveling. I envisioned the walls being covered with photos of the places I’ve been. I still might do that, but things have gone in a totally different direction.
The first stop on my trip was Hawaii, and I’m embarrassed to look at the photos I took from there now. I was shooting in full auto mode and was saving everything as a .jpg. Quickly, I figured out to save everything as RAW. I didn’t know what all the dials and buttons on my camera did. I didn’t use Photoshop, or any other photo editing program, to adjust my photos. I tried to geotag everything by attaching a GPS to the flash shoe of my camera (which worked, but having a Garmin GPS on your camera is really awkward. I’m still looking for a good geotagging solution).
I eventually got better by analyzing my photos and reading online. There is nothing wrong with taking bad photos when you start, so long as you take the time to figure out why they are bad. Likewise, if you do take a good photo, try to figure out what worked to you can replicate the success. I also read sites like KenRockwell.com as well as listened to podcasts like This Week in Photography and Photofocus.
It was an iterative process with incremental improvement. There was never a “ah ha!” moment.
Where I’m At Now
I now consider myself a good photographer, but not a great one. My photos tend to be of the postcard variety. Given the travel focus of my website that is not a bad thing, but I think I still have a lot of room to grow. I’m at a point where I feel comfortable giving advice to people who are starting out in photography, but I still listen to photography podcasts and blogs because there are still many things I have to learn.
Here are areas I think I need improvement:
- One weakness I have is that I seldom take photos of people. This isn’t a technical or artistic limitation, it is just a personal one. I don’t feel comfortable asking people to take their photo. This is something I’m going to focus on more in 2010.
- I’m running into limitations on my gear. I’ve had several times when the low light capabilities on my camera prevented me from getting shots. Likewise, my lenses are very slow. I’ve had my current camera (Nikon D200) for almost three years now and I am due for an upgrade. I’m looking at the Nikon D700 but am hoping they come out with a D700s which supports video. I’d also like to get a few more lenses. Specifically I’d like get a cheap, fast 50mm lens. The thing preventing me from getting a D700 is that I would need a new set of FX lenses for the full frame sensor.
- I recently broke down and purchased two flashes: SB-900 and SB-600 . I’ve been reading the The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes by Joe McNally (the first photography book I’ve ever read) and have been lusting after what I can do with a flash. There is a lot here that I need to learn. Even using a flash to even out ambient lighting outside will improve many of my photos. Using a remote flash with colored gels will let me get more artistic. I’ll be trying to make more photos instead of just taking photos.
- I’ve been visiting many places first and foremost as a traveler and as a photographer second. I’m going to greatly slow down my travel in 2010 (more on that later) and focus on creating better, more in-depth content for my site. This will involve going to places with the intent of taking photos. I can’t stress how much this matters when trying to get good photos. A pro photographer on vacation with their family will probably not take as good of photos as when they are on assignment just because of time and focus.
- My knowledge of Photoshop is still pretty basic. I need to learn more about Photoshop and how I can get the most out of my photos. I suppose actually reading a book or watching some video courses online wouldn’t hurt.
Doing Something With My Photos
You also might have noticed that I’m very fussy about using my own photography on my website. With only a few exceptions, I will only display photos that I’ve taken. There are only a few instances where I have used a photo that someone else has taken. I plan to continue doing that. It not only makes legal issues cleaner, but it is a matter of pride for me. Once I have removed every last photo hosted on Flickr (a process I’m still working on) I’m going to make my daily photos 1,000 pixels wide (they are currently 600px wide). This should really make them even more special.
I’m also going to start selling prints and licensing them for use in publications and other websites. If you are interested in using my photos, feel free to contact me. If you are a blogger with a personal website, just contact me if you are interested in using my photos. I often allow permission for individual bloggers to use my photos with just a link and attribution.
I’m rather clueless in the world off-line world of publications. I’d love to see my photos published, if only for vanity’s sake. One of my long-term goals is to get a photo in National Geographic someday. If you work for a publication or know someone who does and would like to use my photos, free free to contact me.
I’ve come a long way since I purchased a camera that was way over my head and set out to go around the world. I hope to keep taking photos and improving my photography for years to come. Someday I might even rint some out and put them on the walls of my house…if I ever settle down.