My Photographic Journey. 6 years in the making.

It all started September 2004 when I got my first camera. It was a Casio QV-3EX 3mp “pocketable” digital camera that shot video. I believe it cost me around $400. I got it because I wanted to capture memories while hanging out with friends and snap pics while on vacation.
Unfortunately I do not have any images saved from this camera.

I used that camera pretty sparingly until 2005 when I upgraded to a 4mp Sony DSC-P73. I wanted a camera that would take better pictures and this camera had a 3x optical zoom, was much smaller than the Casio and took AA batteries. I put that camera in Flower Mode (aka macro mode) and went to town shooting flowers and close-ups of anything else around the yard. I couldn’t believe the pictures that camera could take. I loved it.

At the beginning of 2006 I decided I wanted a real camera, a Digital SLR. I wanted to be able to change lenses and I really wanted a camera that would take better pictures. I didn’t want to spend much money so I researched all available options under $1000. I looked at Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc… I found out that Pentax was compatible with nearly every Pentax lens ever made and some of their glass was quite sharp and very affordable. Their entry level camera with 18-55mm kit lens was $500. I think I almost passed out when I clicked “Submit Order” and put it on my credit card.
I received the camera a few days later. Man was it sexy, it had an interchangeable lens, it made a shutter noise and it had a lens hood! I didn’t know what a lens hood was, but damn, it looked cool. I really thought I would be getting much better pictures with this camera, I mean after all it is a DSLR, not some measly point and shoot. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This camera was the most frustrating investment I ever made. I am not one to read manuals, so I started playing with it, shooting in auto mode. Shortly after I started using the camera, I heard that using auto mode defeated the purpose of owning an SLR camera. “You should be shooting in manual if you want to get the most out of your images” is what I kept hearing. So, I started shooting in manual mode. In the viewfinder,I saw a lot of blinking numbers and some weird meter bar thing that kept flashing and either moving to the far left or far right. Sometimes my camera would fire, sometimes it wouldn’t. I didn’t know why. I put the camera on my desk and it sat there most of the remainder of 2006. Some days I would pick it up and shoot a few things, only to become more frustrated than I was before.

This is when I joined an online forum and started posting my crappy images and asking for critique. At first I was hurt by what people were saying about my images. I almost sold my camera several times. Finally I decided to buck up and set my ego aside and really take in what these people were telling me. I would store those critiques and suggestions in my head and try them out the next time I shot. I started asking questions, started reading more about exposure, particularly Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” book. Things kind of started to come together. The more I posted my images, the more critique I received, the more critique I received, the more I learned, the more I learned, the more I could apply to my photography. I started becoming less frustrated and more excited about photography. I was making better images, but still not sure, exactly how I was doing it.

Still, a couple years went by, I upgraded to a couple newer Pentax camera bodies and things really started to click in my head when I shot. I started understanding how to really nail exposures in the camera rather than trying to fix them in photoshop. I also, finally realized that the camera had nothing to do with taking good photos. I found out that it is the photographer that takes the good images. It’s the photographer’s learned skills and creative eye that make the images.

I still remember the day I shot this image. I finally figured out what exposing to the right was.

This image is where I learned about shooting just after sunset to bring out rich colors the eye can’t see.

I also started working on portraiture during my Pentax days.

My first lit shot, the day I got my wireless triggers.

My first time shooting another person. I was nervous as hell.

My second time shooting another person, still super nervous.

A little over a year ago I sold all of my Pentax Gear and switched to Canon. I wanted a full frame camera and Pentax didn’t look to have one in their future. I purchased a Canon 5D, which was first produced around 5 years ago. It had an amazing reputation as a Landscape and Portrait camera. I had heard nothing but great things about it and it was in my price range, so I went for it. I bought a Canon 17-40mm F/4 lens for Landscape shooting. I use a Pentax 70-210 F/4 that has been adapted to fit Canon EOS cameras as my mid-range telephoto. I have a Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 as my all purpose lens and a Sigma 50mm F/1.4 as my portrait/shallow depth of field lens.

Here’s where I am today, getting the exposures right in the camera and making creative choices.

Shot of my Dad on white seamless

My Friend Amber.

Looking back over the past 6 years, I have realized a few things.

1. Photography is frustrating at times, it can be difficult and you never stop learning.
2. Although frustrating at times, when things start to click and you make your first successful image, the feeling you get is very rewarding , you realize all of the frustrating times in the past were well worth it.
3. Upgrading cameras every year is foolish and a waste of money. The camera does not take good pictures, you do. I know feel that you shouldn’t upgrade camera equipment unless you know that you have exceeded it’s limitation.
4. Stick with it, get frustrated, shoot, shoot, shoot, ask questions, embrace the feedback whether good or bad, keep learning, keep shooting and one day you will feel the rewards of the years and years of work and frustrations. Trust me, it’s well worth it.
5. I still get nervous before every portrait shoot. Once I get into the shoot, the nerves go away and I have a blast. I think if I ever stop feeling this way, I should hang it up.
6. Finally I have learned that I still have a long way to go and I am ok with that. The day I stop learning and stop pushing myself to create better images is the day I will sell my gear.

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  1. Christy Thibault 06/29/2010 at 10:51 am #

    Shawn what a great story !!! I am always eager to see your new photos !!!

  2. Jay 06/29/2010 at 7:10 pm #

    Nice post dude!

  3. Doug 06/29/2010 at 10:46 pm #

    You’ve come a long way. Those bottom four photos are great, the 2 landscape ones (near the bottom) are two of your best. They both show nuance, forethought and complexity, can’t wait to see where another six years leads to.

  4. Shawn Thompson 06/30/2010 at 7:15 am #

    Thanks for the comments and for reading the story.

  5. greg 06/30/2010 at 8:43 pm #

    You are very good. I enjoyed the pictures much

  6. Sunil 06/08/2012 at 3:07 pm #

    I’m a frustrated photography enthusiast. After reading your blog I have come to believe that frustration is good.

    Your photography is very inspiring. Keep up the good work.


  7. Shawn Thompson 06/08/2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Thank you Sunil!
    Stick with it, the frustration and tough times make it all the better when things start to click!

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