I get asked the question "how long have I been doing photography?" all the time. Even though I get this question regularly I have to pause and think about it for a minute because it depends on what the person is referring to. I've always had an interest in taking pictures ever since I was a kid. So do I count my Kodak Instamatic experience complete with flash cubes? Probably not what the person is thinking. I then answer for about 5 to 6 years. Last night I spent some time in Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta and while I don't organize my folders by year, I can certainly see why someone would want to use that method. Instead I organize by the folder for a particular shoot. If I do a shoot with Jane Doe, then that shoot goes into the Jane Doe folder. If I do another shoot with Jane Doe then it goes into the "Jane Doe 2" folder. That has worked well for me as I'm usually looking for a picture of a person, not necessarily a year that I took it. With that said, I was curious to see what photos I took when and since I have one catalog for my "Model" Shoots containing every "edited" picture I've done, I decided to create "Smart" Collections to separate them out by years:
It was really fun taking a trip down memory lane! Some of the photos I looked at and cringed and others I said, "hey that wasn't bad for a beginner." The photo above of Mya was my first "solo" shoot. I say it that way because it wasn't my first shoot ever. I had actually started shooting portraits in 2006, but back then I was merely tagging along on other photographer's shoots. My first shoot ever was along side Scott Kelby. Scott visited me back in 2006 and he had set up a shoot for his upcoming iPod Book at the time (I was technical editor). We rented Andy Greenwell's studio here in Michigan and Andy setup the lights, Scott found the model and I just basically observed and got a shot here and there. The reason that I don't really count that as my first shoot is because I didn't do any of the work. I just pointed my camera and fired after I asked "hey what settings are you using?"
I finally got up enough nerve to try my own portrait session in 2007. My sister recommended that i use Mya (friend of the family) and Mya agreed to let me photograph (experiment with) her. I had no studio, no professional lighting and a consumer grade DSLR. The shoot took place in my living room. I had a Nikon D80, 18-200mm Nikon lens and an SB 600 speedlight. I also used a Westcott pop up background. My SB 600 speedlight was mounted on a stand and shooting through a diffuser. Quite honestly I had no idea of what I was really doing from a settings stand point. I just kept adjusting things until I got a half way decent image. That session showed me that I had a LOT to learn!
Renting a Studio in 2008
In 2008 I decided that I needed a larger space than my living room. So I did a timeshare with other photographers. I also started buying more gear including lighting. According to Lightroom I shot more portraits in 2008 than any other year. This probably due more to being less selective about the number of images I kept vs. doing more shooting.
Between the years of 2009 and 2011 I would say was the timeframe that I learned most of what I know.
Not only did I improve my photography skills and lighting skills, but I also improved my editing skills in post.
I'm always learning from the photographers that I admire. Videos, seminars, books and group shoots are ways that I learn the fastest.
The number one lesson that I can say that I've learned and constantly remind myself of is "Less is more – Only show your best work." This is one that I have to credit Scott Kelby for. He basically beat it into to me and I finally got it. I now limit my galleries to 24 images. If there is a new image that I want to put in, then it has to be better than one of the ones that's already there and it replaces it.
Although I have my own studio now and a few years of shooting under my belt, I'm always learning something new just about every time I pick up my camera. I invite you to go back through your work and feel free to share some links in the comments below. Tell us your experiences over the years and perhaps some of the things you've learned.