Let me start by saying that I am the farthest thing from a professional photographer. A couple of years ago I didn't even really know the difference between shooting in manual and using automatic settings. I don't have super fancy photography equipment, and I have no formal training. BUT, I love to take photographs! I don't aspire to have it be anything more than a hobby, but I am passionate about taking good photos of our adventures and, perhaps most importantly, actually printing those photos so they don't just live on my phone or computer.
I have recently gotten some really sweet and touching messages about my photos as well as questions about what camera I use, etc. Today I want to share a little bit about my journey to going from an occasional iPhone photographer to using a "real" camera and exclusively shooting in manual.
In summer 2015 Grace and I were preparing for our first big road trip: a weeklong journey North-to-South across California. I wrote about it in this post. It was during that time that I felt inspired to invest in a DSLR camera and no longer rely on phone photos only. I knew we'd be seeing some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the state, and I wanted to create a big book of photos and memories from the trip (I did, and it's one of my most cherished possessions). That summer I saved up and bought a Canon Rebel. Real photographers might be rolling their eyes because I know this is nothing fancy, but at several hundred dollars, it was still a big investment for me and a BIG improvement from iPhone photos. And guess what? Two years later, I still use that camera all the time. It's what I'll be taking with me on our Alaska trip. I might invest in a more powerful camera down the line, but it has been an amazing starter and learner camera for me. If you're curious, here's a link to something similar (the one I bought in 2015 is no longer the current model).
Once I bought my camera, though, it quickly became apparent that I had no idea how to effectively use it. I follow a few photographers' blogs and had always read that beginners should start shooting in manual right away. Using the automatic settings really makes your DSLR more like a point-and-shoot digital camera. And the photos I took using automatic just didn't have that dreamy, light-filled quality that I loved seeing in the work of photographers I admired. That said, I had never heard of ISO, aperture, didn't know how to meter light, or any of that. Around that time (just prior to our 2015 California road trip), I decided to take an online course for shooting in manual on a DSLR. Let me tell you, that was the BEST investment. It totally changed my relationship with photography! I used a course offered through one of my favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess. I'll link the actual course itself here. I went through each lesson and did the assigned homework over a few weeks, but you can do it at any pace you want. I suddenly knew how to adjust my depth of focus, where to set my shutter speed, how to find the best light, how to take portraits, and more. Total game changer.
Ever since then, I haven't taken any more classes or formal training, but I have been practicing constantly. 99% of the photos on this blog are ones that I have shot in manual with my DSLR (there are a few iPhone photos thrown in too), and I always bring my camera on road trips or weekends out and about. I've heard a saying from a few photographers that I totally agree with: the best camera you have is the one on you. I know so many people who have nice cameras and never use them because they think it will be bulky or they just forget. So training myself to bring my camera with me all the time has been a big part of getting beautiful photos from my vacations and day-to-day life!
Over time, things like ISO, shutter speed, and f-stops have become second nature. I've also developed my own shooting style. I really like crisp, clear, light-filled photography. No crazy effects or angles for me. I have friends who are photographers and who underexpose photos or take them in low light, and they look awesome. It's just not my style. If anything, I tend to intentionally overexpose photos in many situations. It's been good to learn what I like my photos to look like and not to emulate the work of others (though of course, we're always inspired by others all the time and that translates to creative pursuits in a good way).
I'm not a purist when it comes to taking photos. Some of my all-time favorite photos were taken with self-timer on a tripod or balanced on top of a stack of books (for what it's worth, you can still shoot in manual while using self-timer! I do it all the time). I also recently upgraded my iPhone from 2014 for a new iPhone 7+, and the photo quality is AMAZING. In some situations, it's actually (dare I say) better than a DSLR because it's so quick to grab and take a photo, and you don't have to mess with the settings.
My goal is to capture meaningful moments and beautiful settings for Grace and me to look back on. Not to impress people or win any photography awards. We absolutely love to flip through the photobooks I've made from our travels, and I have a few stacks of printed photos lying around my house that guests always thumb through. That's the point. Not for Instagram or anything else online. Photos are heirlooms to me. I love thinking about looking back at my prints, photo books, and framed memories as I get old.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my philosophy and process for amateur photography! I can't wait to take a billion photos in Canada and Alaska next month!