Photography – My Journey Behind the Lens

Over the years, I’ve had many hobbies. I’ve previously written about woodworking, and I’ve also enjoyed writing, motorcycle touring, and flying my own airplane. But I never particularly engaged in photography. 

I experimented with photography a bit in my high school years, photographing members of a ballet class for their parents and taking a few random photos around my town. But I wasn’t really bitten by the photography bug. On the other hand, my brother has been an accomplished photographer for most of his life.

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One of the photos that led me to a photography hobby – the 650-year-old Milan Cathedral in Milan, Italy. I took this photo with an iPhone 6S.
Photo by Author

As my life progressed, I was lucky enough to travel a lot, including visiting many parts of the U.S. at someone else’s expense. I often took a small camera, which remained in my pocket or suitcase more often than not. Taking photos just wasn’t “on my radar.”

Then, in 2016, I was privileged to be invited to accompany a college volleyball team on a playing tour of Europe. We spent two weeks touring sites in Italy, Slovenia, Austria, and Czechia between the six matches the team played against European teams. Those cities and countries’ sites weren’t something I could pass up, and I came home with 1,500 or so photos. My wife, who was also on the trip, took another 1,500. Suddenly, I was hooked. And it didn’t hurt that I could engage in a little friendly competition with my brother.

The First Steps

I already had a starter DSLR camera – one that hadn’t seen much use since I bought it. In fact, I hadn’t bothered to take it on the European trip. I shot all my photos there with my cell phone.

I invested in a few accessories: a tripod, a speed light (flash), some filters, and a small shoulder bag to carry accessories. And I was off and running.

At first, I really didn’t know what I wanted to photograph. Since many of Louisville’s subdivisions are named, I started a project of photographing the signs showing those names1. I also photographed some of my favorite historical sites around Louisville.

One day, I searched the internet for ideas of things to photograph and, more importantly, how to photograph various subjects. I ran across information from a man called Scott Kelby. It turned out that he is one of the premier photography trainers today and has a comprehensive training site called KelbyOne. I registered for a trial subscription and started watching his video courses.

KelbyOne

Street Photography

Observing people has been a major facet of my career for most of my life. So I was naturally attuned to the general idea.

One of the Kelby videos featured a New York photographer called Jay Maisel. His major emphasis is called street photography – photographing people in public places, generally in candid or unposed situations. Maisel calls it “capturing people being themselves.”

After watching that first video, and two subsequent interviews with Maisel, I decided to try it for myself. My first forays with my camera in downtown Louisville were apprehensive. Would people get mad if they saw me taking their picture? Maybe even react violently? Would I even see anything interesting?

Certainly, Maisel captured some fascinating images of people but could I do the same? I had learned that what I was doing was completely legal. Courts have ruled that it is permissible to take photos of people, even without their permission, so long as the photographer is in a public place such as a sidewalk. There are some restrictions to this, but in general, the ability to photograph in public falls under the First Amendment2.

Unfounded Concerns

My fears proved unfounded. In four years of photographing people on the street, I have never had a person get violent or even mad. I had one instance where a woman saw me raise my camera and held up her hand. She said, “Please don’t take my picture.” I nodded and lowered the camera. There was no reason not to honor her request. I could walk a hundred feet and easily find someone else interesting to photograph3

In time, I also became more discerning in what I photographed on the street. Rather than just photographing people who ‘looked interesting,’ I began to concentrate on looking for color or light/shadow as elements of the shot.

An early example of my street photography. A man sits on a downtown sidewalk drawing – oblivious to people walking by him.
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An early street photo but one of my favorites because of the story it tells. The sun shines on a woman listening to her smartphone while a few feet away in the shadows, a homeless man digs in the garbage can for food.
One of my more recent street photos – from early 2020.
A woman in an orange coat walking by orange traffic cones – a study in color.
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Another more recent photo. Rendered in black and white, this photo focuses on light and shadow.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for street photography largely disappeared4 So I moved on to other photographic pursuits.

Fine Art Photography

Early in the COVID pandemic, my research into other types of photography led me experiment with more unusual subjects. Specifically, I began to look at macro and close-up photography5

The best Pinterest Utility

One of the ideas that intrigued me was to photograph the collision of two water drops. Briefly, a drop of water falls from a height and hits a water pool. A second drop, released at a precise interval, collides with the first drop as it rebounds from impacting the pool’s surface.

This type of photography can be accomplished with elementary tools, but the result is extremely hit-and-miss. However, there are specific devices that allow precise timing of water drop intervals. I was able to purchase such a device on sale, and it led to some interesting photos.

I also delved into artistic capture of subjects like the interaction between oil and water and close-ups of flowers and other vegetation. Captures such as these can fall in the category of fine-art photography.

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A collision of two water drops creates a halo effect.
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Slight variations in the water drop trajectory can produce unexpected patterns. I call this shot ‘Angel of the Morning;
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This shot is created by delaying the fall of the second water drop by one millisecond. The column of the first drop has started to fall while the collision is still in progress.

Many Directions

This hobby of photography has taken me in many directions, and most of them were quite enjoyable.

There really is too much involved with a photography hobby to cover in one article. For the next few weeks, I will use my Thursday posting day to cover various aspects of photography as it has applied to me as a hobbyist.

I have sold a few photographs, and I’ve also done a few photo sessions for payment. But I still consider myself a hobbyist rather than a professional photographer. 

I do this for fun, and I hope you enjoy following the journey.


Do you have an interest in photography? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, and feel free to add links to your photos.

NOTES

  1. I might resurrect the subdivision sign project one day. I moved on to other things before I completed it.
  2. I am not a lawyer, but a lawyer named Bert Krages published a comprehensive guide for photographers on the subject. However, it should be noted that the laws regarding street photography may differ outside the United States
  3. Ironically, the most adverse reaction to my street photography came from other photographers, particularly those in two photography clubs I belonged to. “I wouldn’t want my photo taken without my permission,” was a common response – ignoring the fact that in today’s world, we have our photo taken without our overt permission hundreds of times a day by security cameras on streets, in stores, in shopping malls.
  4. I could have gone downtown to photograph the ongoing civil rights protests but chose not to do so.
  5. I’ll explore the distinction in a future article, but for now, ‘close-up’ will suffice for a description.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Photography and tagged , , , , , , .

2 Comments

  1. Sylvia Evans-Spits 12/17/2020 at 11:36 PM #

    I really enjoyed your story on photography Mike. You amaze me with your tenacity and level of skill you’ve been able to achieve in such a short time. Beautiful!

  2. Alycia 12/18/2020 at 1:45 PM #

    This is awesome! I’d really like to get into photography but have been hesitant. I love capturing people in their natural element instead of posed pictures. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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