Sunday Stepback: My Journey as a Photographer

Maybe you’ve seen that Vimeo video where Ira Glass describes the persistence needed as an artist to move past the doubts and into one’s own unique style. It made me think about my journey as a photographer.

Growing up my mother took and developed rolls and rolls of film. Nothing specifically artistic, but she was always documenting anything that could be seen as significant. Of course we had the standard first day of school picture. We always had the birthday photos, the ones where I show my age each year by holding up the correct number of fingers. But also pictures of me and my friends, of vacations, of activities at school and at cub scouts, and ones where I’m just playing in the backyard with my sister. There were always photos being taken. Other than always being frustrated that my mom seemed to have to take at least three pictures at each major milestone (a landscape, a vertical, and a Polaroid), I loved photography. After my mom’s pictures were developed and we had picked them up from the store I remember the excitement just to go through them to see how they turned out.

I remember the first time I started taking pictures was in fifth grade. I was given a simple Minolta 35mm battery powered camera. I brought it with me to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. I remember taking pictures of the rockets and boosters and other machines. When I got home I was excited to get them developed and see how they turned out. When I got them back I was overall pleased with what I had taken. When my dad saw them, he praised me for the cool perspectives and angles that I had taken the pictures from. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time. I just took pictures from the angles and perspectives that I thought were neat. It turned out that the shots I took at Space Camp were decently creative and artistic for a kid who had never really taken pictures on his own before.

I remember the encouragement that I got from taking those pictures meant a lot to me, and later on when I would go on trips I would always try and think about being creative and artistic with the shots that I would take. I didn’t really consider myself an artist or a photographer. I was just a kid enjoying taking pictures. Later on I would go to the Grand Canyon and to Tokyo, Japan and take pictures still thriving off the encouragement that I was given after I got back from Space Camp. It’s because my dad allowed me to see that I had TASTE as a photographer, as Ira Glass puts it.

I always have had a taste for photography. That taste led to a passion for photography – both in the taking of pictures and in the enjoyment of other photographer’s work. If I had not been so involved in music when I was in high school I probably would have really concentrated on photography. But I took Japanese and band instead. So I never really got to explore the world of photography as I would have liked. I never really got to apply my taste.

In 2002, when I was a sophomore in high school, I got my very first digital camera. It was a Canon point and shoot. It was really nice at the time. It was 5 megapixels, it recorded video with audio, and I even had a 512mb compact flash card for it. That was a big deal back then. And it was my camera. I didn’t have to get film developed any more. I could take as many pictures as I wanted and see them instantly. It was great. I took this camera with me everywhere I went. I also took it with me to Japan and captured some shots that I am still proud of to this day.

It wasn’t until 2009 during my senior year of college that I got a DSLR camera. It was my roommate’s camera, and he had no need for it, really. He already had a nice Canon DSLR, and so this Pentax K100D was not very useful to him. Plus, he only had the kit 18-55mm lens for it. I happened to have a few microphones that I was no longer needing or using at the time, and so we made a trade: my mics for his camera. He needed mics. I wanted a DSLR camera. It was a good deal for both of us. (Isn’t that how things work in the world of the arts?)

That Pentax K100D was the first of my now four Pentax cameras. (I don’t even want to count how many lenses I have now.) That camera is what allowed me to finally dive into the world of photography — to explore my taste. I slowly taught myself what the different settings on the camera did. I learned how to balance the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, and eventually how to use my camera in manual mode with confidence.

Since 2009 my journey as a photographer has been one of growing my confidence and living into what makes my photography unique. It has been a journey. There have been two hard aspects in this journey that I am still working through:

1) Living into who I am as a photographer. Every photographer has a unique style. Every photographer wants to tell a story through their photos. I have had to learn that photography is indeed art. It isn’t simply having a good camera and being at the right place at the right time. Yes, that does make up a lot of what photography is — but a photographer is someone who can not only take pictures, but puts a part of themselves into the pictures they take. And I have had to learn what that means for me. I have understood my photographic taste almost instinctually for a long time. I have had to learn what the process is like to live into that taste and allow others to experience it with me.

2) Being confident in my taste. These days anyone can take a picture. Sites like Tumblr, Flickr, 500px, and other social media sites that host great photography leaves me always comparing my photography to that of others. I compare someone else’s taste with mine. It is ok to be inspired or appreciate others’ photography, but I cannot let the photography of others chip away at my style or my confidence. I know what I want to take and what I believe to be good photography and I am still growing in confidence in this area. I’m always afraid that if I don’ t live into others’ expectations of what my photography should be, into other people’s tastes, then I won’t ever be taken seriously as an artist or photographer. But that holds me back from truly loving the art of photography and hurts my confidence that I do have something to offer.

Being busy raising a kid makes it hard and get out to take pictures like I would like, but I still try to regularly grow myself as a photographer. I have tried to take a picture every day, and usually by the end of a month (at least during this winter) I have failed pretty miserably. But that doesn’t mean I should give up altogether. Every month gives me a new opportunity to start again, and so I do.

I have a photography website: http://andrewseamanphotography.com 

I try and update it regularly. I have a section where I post the pictures I take every day called “A Pic a Day.” Check it out if you’re interested.

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