Where did it all begin for me? I believe it was with this photograph.
That is me in the middle, around six years old. My little brother is on the right. No clue who the little guy on the left is. There is no date on the back. No writing at all. But I remember the day this was taken.
It was at the front walkway of my Grandma's historic house in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. We were there playing and some distant relative (I think) had come to visit with her children - hence the unknown little boy. We played, just as all kids jump into the rhythm of summer exploration with fellow compatriots. The grown-ups visited. But the lady? I remember that she was very, very nice. Very, very nice to her kids. And she had a camera. She photographed. She photographed us.
Later, she mailed my grandma copies of the images she took. I know there were a few more from that day, but this is the one I remember.
What Struck Me
There are two things that spoke to me about this photograph, even from that young age. First, the clarity of the image is downright stark in comparison to the piles of other horribly focused, horribly exposed, horribly composed, horrible quality photographs in my box of saved images from my childhood. It stands out like an anachronism, seemingly unmatched and perhaps misplaced with his fellow snapshots. No one could mistake that this piece of photographic paper was generated from a different camera than the rest.
But second, and perhaps more impactful to me as an artist, what the fact that she was photographing us just being. doing. playing. I must have noticed her approach, and that is why I'm looking up with such a pleasant expression on my face. But she didn't stop us from our ministrations. She didn't ask us to pose in the perfect spot. She didn't even try to get our attention and have everyone look at the camera with eye contact. She captured the moment, as it was. I don't think that was so common in these days in the mid 80's. This image just struck me, as a child, and stayed with me ever since. I believe it is what influenced me to embrace my style of documenting the real moments of my life and my children's childhoods.
The Courage to Fail
I didn't get a real camera until I graduated from college in 2001. It had been something I had yearned for since the day that photograph had arrived in my grandma's mailbox. With the promise of income through my college degree, I purchased my first SLR - the Nikon N65. I loved that camera. but I was never brave enough to turn the dial to manual and waste precious film trying to learn. I sold it in 2005 when I got the Nikon D70 dSLR. Oops. That was a little bit of a mistake, I think, now.
It was the no-risk aspect of digital photography that gave me the courage to learn how to operate my camera. During Little Buddy's one year photography session in 2007 with the amazing Tina Wilson Photography, I asked Tina in exasperation "why can I stand here, right where you are, and take the same shot you are taking but my images don't look like yours?" She was so kind, so gracious, and so encouraging. She told me about aperture (I didn't have a clue what that word meant at the time and was way too prideful to look stupid and ask her, so I nodded and kept quiet and pretended I knew). She told me how the kit lens I had wouldn't even open up to the aperture she had used for the session. That got my wheels turning.
Once I started to understand aperture, shutter speed and ISO, though, I asked my friend Becky with Picsee Studios why on earth my images still didn't look like the magic she made. She was also so kind, so gracious and so encouraging. She told me "learn to edit". At the time, the concept of editing every.single.image just seemed tedious, daunting, and unappealing. She met me at the local bookstore one day and walked me through Photoshop Elements software on my macbook. She explained to me what the various tools were and how to use them. She gave me my start to a world I have enjoyed so much. I never understood just how much editing could transform an image.
The Suggestion of a Forum that Changed my Life
Becky also suggested I seek out online photography forums, like I Love Photography, in which to learn more about photography. So I did. I have belonged to many over the last 4.5 years, and what I know about photographing and the use of light is credited to forums. I have loved it. I have loved how it suits my introvert nature. I have loved how it allows me to learn at my own pace and in my own timing (I've learned what I know while having young babies and children - time was not abundant). I have loved the caring feedback I've received. I've loved the connections and friendships I've made with other women who have my same interests and values. I've loved the resources I have at my fingertips when questions about anything photography related comes up.
We are all different with different personalities and different learning styles. I'm sure it doesn't suit everyone. But it sure has suited me. I had a little bit of trouble when I first started in forums, because the framework and friendships already exist. It felt like I was coming up to a large table at Starbucks, full of women who were already friends, pulling up a chair and inserting myself loudly and boldly into their conversation. I'd never do that in 'real life.' But forums function differently than a coffee date at Starbucks. I was wisely told that "you get what you put in". I absolutely concur. If you are participating and giving, you will receive so much more. It isn't a faux pas or rude to jump right in and offer your thoughts, or encouragement, or questions. That is the framework through which a forum operates! So go forth boldly!
So Bloom Already!
If you are looking for a forum to belong to and learn about photography... to grow your skills... in a safe place where you don't need to worry about getting torn apart for not being as good as the others... where you can ask questions, receive feedback, find resources... I recommend The Bloom Forum. I've been there for two years now and I really enjoy it. I like that there are women with all sorts of interests there. Those who enjoy lifestyle and documentary work. Those who like photographing food. Those who like film (though that isn't me). I like that it isn't too large. Some forums are great resources for information, but are so large, it isn't feasible to keep up with what has been posted and form any type of connection with others. Bloom is a wonderful size.
(the links above are affiliate links for me for the forum)