How did you learn photography? (part 1)

As a photographer, there are a number of questions that come up with some frequency.

Common Questions

As a photographer, there are a number of questions that come up with some frequency.  Some of these questions are rather mundane, such as ‘Your camera must be really good.  What model is it?’, while others are interesting, but not always answered in the short amount of time that is available in today’s busy lifestyle.

From my perspective, the interesting questions tend to center around the following areas:

  • Artistic choices made in shooting, editing, printing, etc.
  • Learning the technique and art of photography

Certainly, there are other topics that are fun to discuss, but these areas are the main ones.

As I tend to focus on artistic choice questions as they relate to specific images, I will defer that topic set to those posts, which focus on a single image or a set of them.

In this post, I’ll start the exploration of the approach that I have taken, both consciously and unconsciously.

First Steps

As is the case for many photographers, my first interest in photography was kindled by a family member; in my case, it was my stepfather who was an occasional photographer on vacations.  But the real mystery that intrigued me came from a set of photo developing and printing supplies that I found in our apartment’s storage locker; the unusual apparatus made me wonder what that was all about.

Kodak Pocket Instamatic

I got my first camera around age 16 or 17.  It was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, such as the one in this image.  It took C110 film and the flash cube that old photographers can tell you about.

Despite the diminutive size, it took reasonable photos, including a bunch that I took in the British Museum, much to the amusement of the guards, who wouldn’t believe that such a little camera could work; now, if I only still had the prints from that era!  It traveled everywhere with me and even came to college with me.

These first steps were very much about exploration, and, in all honesty, I don’t think that I learned much on a conscious level, as I didn’t give much thought to composition or the exposure triangle.  Unconsciously, this did start the process of learning to see what I liked in a photo, which is a start.

The Next Level

Leaving the Netherlands to go to college, I arrived in the United States and travelled to Granville, Ohio, the site of Denison University.  As an incoming freshman, I was assigned an academic advisor in the Physics department (I knew what my major was going to be before I arrived); as luck would have it, Dr. Grant, my advisor, was an avid photographer and an Olympus OM-1 shooter.

Plan C – Rotterdam

I distinctly remember examining the prints of his work that hung in his office, which were mostly of flowers; there was something that struck me about the quality of the composition of several of them, as I noticed that I was drawn to those images again and again.

After saving up for a while, I did acquire my first SLR, an Olympus OM-1, which I still have, and switch to shooting slides; the color saturation and the ability to see the positive image were what pulled me away from print film.  Additionally, slides are much more portable than prints.

During this period of my photography, I was very interested in examining structure, form, color, light and shadow; thus, a lot of my photos (technically, slides) from that period show architecture, such as the image here of a housing development in Rotterdam, which are usually referred to as ‘Cube Houses’.

When I look back to the images from this period, there is a slow maturation of my vision, but it was not at a level where I could explain why I shot an image in a particular manner.  As I didn’t pick up an instructional guide or take any course, that wasn’t surprising.  My learning methodology was purely trial, error and slow improvement.

The Dark Ages

After college, my photography activities diminished slowly until they were usually practiced only during vacations.  There was no real attempt on my part to improve my skills or acquire a better understanding of what I was doing to create either good or mediocre images.

Of course, we know from history that after the dark ages there will be a Renaissance period; this is where the learning and skills expansion gets serious.  More about that in the  next post in this series.

Learning Style

Author: jansenphoto

A Fresh Perspective Photography is more than just a vehicle for capturing the world around me; it provides me with a palette and a set of brushes, with which I paint not only what I see, but also look to express the emotions that are evoked by the scene in front of me in that moment. Growing up in the Netherlands exposed me to a wide cross-section of visual arts that laid the foundation of my photographic view of all that surrounds me. Early influences were the Dutch Masters of the 17th century, to whom I was introduced by my grandfather during museum explorations; favorites among them are the scenes of quotidian life depicted by Jan Steen and Frans Hals and the vivid landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael. My classical high school education was supplemented by the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, where I spent many a lunch hour exploring its great collection. Here I was introduced to surrealism with a particular love for the approach taken by Salvador Dali; Dali also rekindled my appreciation for the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who often showed the folly of us mortals. Universal Connections My approach to any photographic subject is to look for understanding first; in this I look to establish either a connection between the viewer and the subject or capture the connection of the subject with its surroundings. The captured image then aims to portray this connection from a perspective that is part of my personal interpretation. This interpretation is often a form of externalized introspection, which may alternately display the connection of isolated beings and items with their environment or highlight the whimsy of the profound world, in which we find ourselves. The universe is full of connections, many of which are waiting to be discovered; part of my journey as a photographer is to document these connections. Any assignment, be it an event, a product shoot or a portrait session is always approached through communication with the client; this is where the first connection is established. Ideas are exchanged and a collaborative plan of action forms, ultimately resulting in a set of images that aim to exceed the expectations of each client. And, lest we forget, it is important to have fun while practicing the serious business of photography!

6 thoughts on “How did you learn photography? (part 1)”

  1. Oh my! My mother had a Kodak Pocket Instamatic like yours! She still swears it took the best photos of all the compact cameras she had had. (: Thanks for sharing your experience. I sometimes get frustrated that I can’t just be great at taking photos and this post served as a reminder that I need to practice to get better. I’m looking forward to the Part 2.

    1. Thank you! Yes, that Instamatic was a great little camera. I really wish that I still had the negatives from those days, as it would be interesting to look for hints of how I approached photography back then.

      Glad that you’re enjoying this journey, as it is fun to go back down memory lane and recall when I learned particular skills.

    1. Thank you for your feedback! Over the years, I bought quite a number of books on various topics, but found there was no substitute for doing the actual work and shooting. I will do a story on texts about photography and which ones I like best. Thank you for another great idea!! Have a wonderful weekend.

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