If you were anything like me when you first started in photography, you probably took a metric ton of pictures of just about anything you could point your camera at. But what was the first photo you took that got you truly excited about photography? Did it change your path through photography or even life itself?
My first adventures with my DSLR generally consisted of me acting like a paparazzi with well, everything. Random average guy walking down the sidewalk? Call me a street photographer. Plain Jane rose bush? Let’s get a nice closeup. Maybe we can add a little selective color to that later. And let’s not even get into those HDR landscapes. Call me Skittles, because I added so much color that you could actually taste the rainbow in those images.
Excitement Takes Skill
Do you think I was excited by any of these shots? For a moment, sure. Everything is exciting when you first have a camera. But did anything hit me on a deep level and really excite me, motivate me to tackle this complex and sometimes nebulous pursuit and take control of my work? Nah. That was for two reasons. First, I had no idea what I was doing. A lot of the time, the reward we feel for an accomplishment is at least partially based on how hard we worked for it. It feels good to reap the rewards of hard work. It is why getting a college degree feels more satisfying than doing the laundry, though I have to say that I am absolutely loving this Febreze Tide I have been using.
The second reason was that I had no idea what made a compelling photo. When you are discovering photography, everything is interesting, and that is actually not a bad thing. It motivates you to use your camera and to discover the joy of the pursuit. But it does not change the fact that there are millions of pictures of rose bushes and people on sidewalks out there, which means that in order to make a memorable image of one of those things, you either have to find a unique rose bush or find a way to photograph a normal one in a unique way. I did not know how to do either of those things, thus the feeling of mundaneness I felt coming over me every time the thrill of shooting wore off and I sat down to review images on my computer.
My technique was nowhere near the point of knowing how to turn ordinary subjects into interesting images; I didn’t even have technique at that time. And I certainly had not developed an eye for interesting subject matter yet. This meant I either had to undertake the slow slog of developing technique (which I simply did not appreciate yet) or luck into an image to show me what was possible and to take me from enjoying the novelty of the nifty gadget in my hands to someone seriously pursuing photography.
Thankfully for me, luck was about to intervene. One day, I went to the farm to take care of my horse. I put him in a pasture with another horse, and of course, my camera was hanging off my shoulder. And that is when I finally got a shot worth talking about.
Technically, it is a poor image. I did not know a thing about properly exposing a photo, which meant the camera was on full auto. If I had known anything, I would have at least dialed in some exposure compensation to properly expose my horse (the dark one) or just switched to manual mode entirely. Instead of standing 100 feet away on the other side of a fence, up a hill, I would have followed him into the pasture and gotten close and low with a wide focal length to show off the power of two 1,200-pound animals rearing into the air. That also would have saved me from having to crop so much of the original shot, causing me to lose lots of resolution. All that is only the tip of the iceberg; there are a lot of other things I can talk about with regards to improving the image, but that isn’t really the point.
The point is that I had finally created an image that made me care about improving, because I saw the potential in it. I instantly saw that while it was still a snapshot due to my lack of proficiency, with more technique, it could have been a great image. It was the first shot that made me want to improve, that made me feel invested in photography. I was happy with my slapdash HDR creations up to that point because a boring landscape did not inspire me to want to output the best possible image. I had been cooking with the most budget cuts of beef and didn’t care how they came out because they were such cheap cuts to start with. But now, I had seen a raw cut of filet mignon and known that I could create something special with it. Granted, I still charred that particular one to a burnt, dried out crisp, but now I knew the potential that was out there, and I wanted to learn to be better.
Up until that point, any joy I got from photography derived from some combination of delusion about the novelty of my images and the fun of playing with a gadget, along with the occasional dopamine hit from a kind friend throwing a like my way on Facebook. But now, the joy was in creating a memorable image. I had shifted from a geek with a camera to a photographer (in training). Ok, in fairness, I still like to geek out about cameras, but I now have the motivation to create memorable images too.
Do you have any memorable images that took photography from a hobby to a true passion for you? How did they change your life path? Share them along with your story in the comments!