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Feb 13, 2019
My Photography Journey

My Feb Newsletter went out in email last week, asking for topic ideas for future editions.  I got this lovely response and decided to make it a blog post so I could answer more fully.

"You mentioned in your newsletter that it took you 5 years to get to the stage where you considered your photographs to be "good", can you please do a post on how you discovered your passion for food photography  amongst all the other genres and when you are a beginner things to look  for which can help you to narrow down the genres out there."

This is such a great question!  I often hear about new photographers feeling paralysed because they have so many choices, that they don't know where to start.

My journey has mostly been a series of accidents and occasional discoveries.  Except for my decision to pursue food photography, none of the previous genres of photography that I found myself doing was by deliberate choice.  It was more a case of drifting round, stumbling across something that interested me, or finding something SHINY and then pursuing that.

Learning a new skill or technique is something I really enjoy, its a challenge to figure out how something was achieved.  Doing reading or research, and then experimenting until it finally pays off is a big part of my personal photography journey.  Its that quest to figure out a new thing that has often led me in completely random directions. 

Its possible my willingness to go down the rabbit hole to try these new things isn't something that everyone else shares? 


My first digital camera was a Canon S3IS point and shoot, purchased to take photos of my cats, garden and new house.  At the time I was doing a lot of belly dancing and shot a couple of our shows.  The light was AWFUL and the camera barely coped, but there were some good shots that came out of it.  The lack of capability in my camera was a real limitation.

A year or so later, I had the spare cash available to buy a real camera and I got a Canon 40D, along with a 17-85 lens and 70-200 F4 IS Lens.  I still have the 70-200 but the others are long gone :)

Now the learning really started, and in defence of my sanity (and to help others) I started a photography blog.  Sometimes it helps to write stuff down, and makes it sink in better.

But I was seriously out of my depth, not really understanding what I was doing, what I could do, what I needed to do to get the shots I wanted.  So joining a camera club was my next step.  Attending local club meetings and "interviewing" them for fit, led me to NPSNZ - Nature Photography Society of NZ.

A lovely group of people who embrace the beauty around us and capture it to share, in whatever form.  Shooting landscapes and nature therefore became my thing.  It was my thing for many years and is still a thing.

Along the way other things found their way in front of my camera, switched from Belly Dance to Swing Dance, and the lighting was even worse, dancers moving much faster and harder to get good shots.  A lot of technical learning happened, trying to figure out how to get better shots out of my camera.  Around this point the 40D was upgraded to a 7D and the 17-85 got traded in for a 17-55 - a much better quality lens!

I also bought a tripod and that began to change the game for me as I became more strategic and technical about my photography.  Roadtrips to different parts of the country happened, and occasional hops over to Australia happened as well.

This was a good period for me, my work was improving, much time was spent on trying new things, making mistakes, and trying again.

If I could give you one piece of advice it is this:

You will try something and you WILL fail, and you will fail over and over again.  Eventually, you will figure it out, but if you give up, you will have failed forever.

You name any mistake and I have made it.  Pretty sure I've made up a few new ones to add to the list.  The one thing  I never succeed at though, was failing, because I am stubborn enough to keep trying until eventually it gets figured out.  Or, end up going in a completely different direction and doing something new :)

The above shot is one my my first HDR experiments, its awfully crooked, and there are several focus points in the blend, because someone forgot to lock focus before shooting the different exposures properly!

This shot above is one of my personal favourites. Its my first proper black and white and showed me the fun to be had by playing in monochrome.  This opened a completely new door to me, the world of learning to EDIT my images better, and also, more creatively.

Probably about 6 or so years ago, I started to get frustrated with how my images looked compared to others viewed online, and eventually I realised that my editing was letting me down.  Using Lightroom to process my RAW files but was only doing global edits, not understanding the difference you can achieve by more structured editing.

Enter LR5 and the Radial Tool.  Not long after it was released I discovered an online course that promised to show me new exciting ways to edit - and threw my $100 at it and hoped for the best.  Well that course completely changed the way I thought about editing!

It taught me the value of lots of tiny subtle local edits and how they layer up to make a huge difference to the final work.  This then led me to want to experiment with Photoshop and Layers, and that sent me to a group of photographers on Wordpress who were partaking in the One Four challenge.

For One Month, you would edit One Image, and present a different edit for each week of the month.  So you had to edit ONE image FOUR ways!!

Oh the fun and excitement that this generated.  Such a positive and welcoming learning environment, a safe space to openly try something, maybe succeed or maybe not, and get generally constructive feedback.  

Then came another exciting thing - the After Before Challenge.  This was where EVERYONE participating got the same image and you had to edit it with your own personal spin!  So very interesting to see the variations that people came up with. The image above was of the old trucks in a field, and to me it said Route66.  This is what the end result looked like, above.

Now I was completely hooked on editing and wanting to expand my creative horizons and along came the course that changed my life

Its now called Photoshop Artistry and this opened the door to a whole new way of creating by starting with a photo, and using your computer to turn it into an artistic work.  It was an obvious step to sign up for the Awake course which is more advanced.

This leads me to start taking photos of people (something I rarely do), events, places, things.  I am seeing the world through different eyes, seeing artistic possibilities that were previously not visible.  Its a very exciting time and much fun was had.

Eventually though, the call of pure photography lures me back.  Now its a different challenge.  How do I make the art *with* the camera?  At this point I discover Brooke Shaden and fall completely in love with her work, her generosity of spirit in encouraging and teaching what she knows. I buy all her classes on Creative Live and do my best to understand her style.

I do something I have NEVER done before!  I put myself in the images!

So challenging!  Learning to shoot for composting and then doing the compositing was so hard but so valuable. doesn't quite fit for me - again its too much editing and not enough doing it in front of the camera.

But the concept of using myself in my work is really interesting to me.  This allows me to tell a very different story, one with impact and power, and this is a very new and exciting idea.

I make fake blood, get naked into a bath and pour it over myself and shoot that.  Recreate zombie horror scenes.  Do a BDSM themed shoot.  

Now my focus is on "telling a story" in my images.  Rather than just be a nice shot of a pretty flower, I want my images to have impact and drama.  For there to be something within the image for the viewer to connect to it in a deeper way. 

If you are scrolling on your phone through screeds of images, I want mine to be the one that makes you stop, look at it, like it and maybe even comment.

Now the Canon 100mm F2.8 ISL lens is dusted off from the cupboard its been in, and my spare bedroom is available so it gets turned into a studio.  This time we are learning about shooting in controlled conditions in natural light and then creatively editing the finished product.

This encompasses learning how to get sharp focus with macro (Live view and a wireless remote on a tripod) and then understanding the capabilities of Lightroom.  Playing with Presets is a really good way to safely experiment and sometimes stumble across new different ways to edit.

Flowers then lead me to Still Life - it is the ultimate in story telling photography because you have to build the whole scene in front of the camera first and then shoot it properly.  This is SO MUCH HARDER than you anticipate.  You need props, so many props!  You need to plan your shoot, how its going to look and feel, what the lighting and editing needs to look like.

This was some of the hardest but most valuable learning I have done, in honing my skills in thinking about my work from end to end.  

Food is a pretty intrinsic part of Still Life, but it ups the difficult level even more.  Plus it has the added benefit of being eaten at the end (sometimes)

At this point in time, my skill level is pretty significant in the general scheme of things, this is me after 10 years of dedicated learning and shooting.  I have been approached by two photography sites to write educational articles for them and I really want to settle in and get professional about what I am doing.

My gear has been upgraded - now its a 7D mk ii, with a range of lenses, including my first Lensbaby - a Velvet56.

Also, I want to do something that has some potential for commercial return.  Landscape shots are hard to sell prints off and there isnt much money in the stock photography market, plus its super difficult to get into the really good agencies and a lot of work.  Food seemed like an option with potential so this time I made an active choice to pursue food.  Plus I really enjoy it!

So genres of photography I have tried:

self portraits
long exposure
still life
creative photo artistry

Circling back to the original question - I honestly cannot tell you what you should focus on beyond "what inspires you to create?".

What keeps you awake at night planning how you might shoot it?  Pops ideas into your head when you are driving or in the shower?

Whatever *that* thing is, its firing your creative brain cells - I say, explore it.  You need never show any of the images to anyone if you don't want to. Also, do you have a particular goal or inspiration?  If so then use that as a direction to move into, but be prepared to change as you learn and grow.

In my opinion there isn't a right or a wrong subject to shoot - whatever you feel passionate about creating is the right thing.  Go easy on yourself because there is room to do other things as well.  I still do landscapes now and then. My most recent journey has been learning to use flash and I had fun doing some boudoir self portraits lit with flash.  Did that for a couple of weeks then back to the food.

Do what you enjoy and don't let anyone judge you for it.  Also trying different things can lead you in directions of stuff you never knew existed too.  Look online for inspiration - I get loads of ideas from Pinterest.

Above all - HAVE FUN!