Continuing my photography journey

I’ve been serious about photography for a little over ten years now. That’s when I got my hands on my first DSLR camera and started seriously learning about both the craft and the art of photography. It’s been a love affair ever since.

You’ll frequently hear professional photographers tell beginner photographers that the camera is not the most important element in the photography process, the photographer is. Maybe you’ve heard the statement from photographer Chase Jarvis that “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” For most people, that is your smartphone camera, which these days are quite incredible, but for many of us, our smartphone camera just isn’t enough.

My first DSLR was a Pentax K100D. I’ve written about it before on my blog. I eventually did upgrade to a Pentax K-5 and later also purchased the funky Pentax K-01 designed by Marc Newsom. Because I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, I didn’t have many lenses. My favorite lens was a 1970s 50mm manual focus lens that I took from an old film Pentax ME Super that I purchased on the cheap from someone in Chicago when I lived there.

I bought these cameras right around the time my first son was born knowing that I would want to document him with pictures better than my little phone sensor could do. And photography thus became more than just a hobby for me, it was a means of documenting the most important moments in my life. And as a stay-at-home parent, I did that a lot. I learned a lot about photography and exposure and composition simply through taking lots of photos of my son. Soon we’d have another son for me to document as well.

Pentax, now a part of Ricoh, is not the sexiest camera brand. They are mostly utilitarian in their approach, but they make high quality gear at a great value. And because of that they have a somewhat cult following, people proud not to be Canon or Nikon users, people who will fight you for saying that any camera company is better than Pentax. Perhaps they are a bit defensive, but one major positive about being a Pentax user is that you have a passionate, somewhat close-knit community of photographers. They run an excellent website called Pentax Forums and around 2012 I became a part of that group. They have all sorts of photo challenges to help hone your photography skills while interacting with other photographers all around the world. I regularly participated in a daily photo challenge in which you use one lens for an entire month, and you publish one photo each day that you’ve shot with that lens that day. Then everyone in the forum looks at each other’s photos, usually about 30-35 photos, and praise or constructively critique each photo.

It is in this group and through this challenge that my photography skills were shaped. Living in Chicago as a stay-at-home dad with two kids under two was difficult sometimes, but having a “project” to work on each and every day in which I communicated with other photographers all around the world was an amazing experience. We all looked forward to seeing each person’s sliver of the world each day. We got to know each other, our pets, our children, and our spouses through the photos we posted each day. And even though few of us had ever met in person, we felt a sense of community.

I realized how much the group meant to me when one of the members announced they were in the late stages of having cancer and they eventually passed away. It was a unique experience for me to feel grief for someone I knew, but never had met.

I participated on and off with their photo challenges as life got busier and I moved to Omaha, Nebraska with my wife in December 2014. In the summer of 2016 we moved to Boys Town, which created a dramatic shift in my daily life. I stopped participating in the daily challenges and mostly took photos of my kids and the teenagers that now lived with us, whose photos I cannot publish publicly due to protecting their privacy.

Eventually I was considering upgrading my cameras. Perhaps I wanted new lenses? But a commitment to buying lenses is a commitment to whatever brand of camera you have, and I wasn’t necessarily committed to sticking with Pentax. So I took a few months to do research and decide what I wanted my next steps to be in my photography journey. Buying a camera and camera gear is an investment. So what camera company would I go with?

I debated between Sony and Fujifilm for months before landing with Fujifilm. Their physical dials and tactile ability to change settings reminded me of my old film lenses that I used on my Pentax cameras. I loved the way the Fuji cameras looked, and I knew I wanted to use a mirrorless camera that was a great value. Every one of their lenses had high reviews, and so during a black friday sale in 2017, I purchased my first Fujifilm camera.

Since that day I’ve slowly built up an arsenal of lenses and cameras that make me feel pretty spoiled for not being a full-time professional photographer. But they are by far the most valuable things to me that I own.

Fuji cameras are known for their ability to take amazing jpeg photos “straight out of camera” (SOOC). But nearly every serious photographer today shoots their camera in RAW mode, meaning that the files the camera makes are much more flexible and can be edited quite considerably on the computer.

But one of the most time-consuming elements of modern photography is the editing process. And for many people it steals some of, or perhaps a lot of, the joy of photography. Changing white balance and tones, adjusting shadows and highlights and even the exposure, these all take time away from simply taking photos. It can be fun, yes, but what if you got the look you were hoping for without having to edit nearly any of the photos. What if you could set up the settings you like on your camera before taking a photo so that way you no longer have to use so much precious time post-processing your images?

Fujifilm cameras are set up to do that if you are willing to take the time to learn the various settings and film simulations their cameras offer. Like in the Pentax days, I’ve discovered communities of Fujifilm photographers that share their “film recipes” with each other that are made so that way you don’t have to do any post-processing.

Digital cameras have incredible capabilities these days, but for whatever reason most people are still drawn to the colors and look that film provided. Maybe its simply nostalgia, or a fascination with the past, but I definitely fall into that group of people. And ever since Instagram came out with their filters, I’ve loved attempting to make my digital photos look like film photos.

The Fujifilm community has a passionate group of people around the world that tries to as accurately as possible emulate specific film stocks with their camera’s internal settings. I’ve used some of their recipes for emulations of Kodak Portra 400 or 160. I’ve used ones trying to emulate the famous slide film Kodachrome 64, among others. And for whatever reason, I’ve just never landed on an emulation that consistently matches the colors and tones and contrast that I want in my digital photos.

All that to say that starting tomorrow, October 1st, I’m going to play around with the various film emulations and mess with various settings to see if I can find one or two settings that I like SOOC. Photos that I don’t feel the need to edit or enhance in post-production.

Finding ways to give yourself limitations in photography often enhances the creative process. Whether it be using a prime lens at one focal length or deciding to only use your lens at one specific aperture, or perhaps just in black in white, these limitations push you to work within those confines and that causes you to be more intentional with your shots and therefore become more creative.

I am going to try and spend the month of October working on finding the in-camera look that I want, which includes the contrast, the white balance, the colors, the saturation of those colors, the amount of grain, etc.

I will then look at the jpeg photos and see what I like most and hopefully by Halloween landed on one or two looks that I am satisfied with and then try to stick mostly to shooting in jpeg, not having to worry about the editing process after the fact.

This all means that I have to be very intentional about every one of my settings. I can’t be too lazy about any of the elements of the photo like I can be when I shoot RAW knowing that I can always go back and adjust things like white balance or even the exposure.

I might share some of the process throughout the month to let you have an inside glimpse to my process and decision making.

Wish me luck!

Published by Andrew

a ragamuffin dad planting some sequoias

2 thoughts on “Continuing my photography journey

  1. I’ve been looking at getting in to photography, but I’m having trouble deciding between DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Any specific reasons why you wanted to switch from DSLR to mirrorless?

    Matt Brown

    1. Wow, Matt, I’m so sorry for only seeing this comment now. I think I saw an Instagram profile pop up for you so I’m assuming you got a new camera? To me it’s not really a choice anymore. The compact size of mirrorless cameras are great, the lenses available are great, and the quality of the cameras for the price is wonderful. The biggest selling point probably revolves around simply being able to see your exposure in real time. EVFs are so good these days it’s crazy. To be able to see exactly what your shot will look like in real time is so helpful. These days my main camera is the Fuji X-Pro3, so I have the option of using the EVF, the screen, or the optical viewfinder, but I find myself using the EVF most frequently. And the options that exist to use both mechanical shutter and electric shutter are phenomenal. To shoot at 1/32000 is crazy, but awesome.

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