Black and white photo of a model village
Lens-Artists,  My photography,  Photographic techniques

My photography journey: more than fifty years of images

Today, everyone is arguably a photographer, shooting images with their phone cameras almost every day. But when I started, as a child in the 1960s, photography was a hobby, and a relatively expensive one at that. Only the keenest photographers went on the journey from taking family snapshots to an obsession with getting the best from a camera, trying to create something both memorable and beautiful.

I was one of those, so let me take you on my own photography journey for this week’s Lens-Artists challenge.

Early years

I got my first camera when I was nine years old, a gift from my parents. It was a Kodak Brownie Vecta just like this one.

Old beige plastic camera
Kodak Brownie Vecta –
Photo from Creative Commons

The first photos I took were at the model village in Eastbourne, which we used to visit regularly while staying with relatives there. I remember well Dad saying that I had a good eye. I think he simply meant that my shots were in focus and quite neatly composed; but his praise stuck with me and I was hooked.

Black and white photo of houses in a model village
Model village, Eastbourne, 1965 (my very first photo!)

Most of my photos were taken on family holidays and were really just snapshots. But I can see looking back through them that I was starting to develop a sense of location, posing family members against interesting or significant backgrounds. I still have my first photo album and I note that I took so few photos that it lasted me five years! In the back are a few of the wallets that were used to return processed snaps. The cost of having my B&W films developed in 1968 was 7/2 (seven ‘old’ shillings and two pence – about 36p in decimal currency). By 1971 the UK had ‘gone decimal’ and the cost had gone up to 55p.

Black and white photo of girl paddling
By the sea in North Wales, 1969

The 1970s

Seeing my enthusiasm, a few years later my parents gave me my first 35 mm camera, a cheap ‘auto everything’ one from Boots. I started shooting colour slides; looking back through some of my early ones I find a mix of family snapshots and attempts at something more creative. I learned some of the ‘rules’ of photographic composition: using leading lines and frames to draw the viewer into my subject, the rule of thirds and so on.

Getting serious

By the time I got married, in 1981, I was describing photography as my main hobby. Chris soon got interested too and we bought our first serious SLR cameras, Prakticas, a couple of years later, later moving on to Minoltas. We liked having the same camera body as we could share lenses. I soon added a couple of extra ones to the standard 50mm: a wide-angle and a telephoto zoom. Together these were enough as I didn’t want to carry a lot of heavy gear.

Tunisia, 1986

In parallel to our enjoyment of photography we started to indulge a shared love of travel. We documented our trips in slideshows that we would share with our families on our return. My in-laws were always interested; my own parents were polite!

Nun on steps outside a church
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, 1987
Detail of stone fountain with pigeon
Fountain in front of the Pantheon, Rome, 1987

​The photos I took back then show an emergence of the themes that I still focus on (pun intended) today. I was interested in the people who lived in the places we visited. I looked for the small details as well as the big picture. I documented the places but also tried to find a different angle on my subjects.

California, 1991

I went through an unfortunate phase of using Cokin graduated filters; looking back at my images from that period many were unnaturally coloured due to a misplaced enthusiasm for their graduated blue and tobacco filters.

Green forest and brown mountains
Yosemite NP in 1991

By the standards of the pre-digital era we took a lot of photos when travelling; we each averaged half a reel a day. Today I can shoot eighteen photos in as many minutes, and reject seventeen of them; but back then it was quite an expensive indulgence, both the cost of the film and of processing afterwards. So we learned to do our own slide processing, on a counter in our tiny kitchen, with the reels of film pegged up to dry in doorways!

Going digital

When digital photography first came in we didn’t take it seriously. But we did buy a series of gradually-improving ‘point and shoot’ digital cameras to capture holiday snapshots.

Silver camera with Olympus logo
One of our first digital cameras – 3.0 megapixels!

We both made the change to fully digital around 2004. Our trip to Namibia was my first one taking mainly digital images. It’s great that Chris and I share this love of photography. I know from outings with other people how important it is that companions are patient enough to wait for us to take our photos, and understand that we don’t want to rush them. But while we are both equally keen, we don’t always want to take the same shots. So our progress can sometimes be very slow as he first waits for me and then I for him!

For a while I used a Fuji Finepix bridge camera, but I wasn’t always happy with the results when zooming in, especially for wildlife. After being rather disappointed with some of the photos I’d taken in the Galápagos Islands I decided that for me it was possible to have a camera that was too light, as I tended to wobble while zooming.

I switched to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 and am now on my second one. It’s not fancy but it suits me. The lens is excellent (a Leica), it’s weighty enough for stability but not too heavy to carry around, and it has the flexibility to work in fully manual, semi-automatic and automatic modes. I know that I’ve lost, probably for good, any enthusiasm for carrying lots of kit and changing lenses, so I doubt I’ll ever own a DSLR.

My first big trip with the Lumix was to Japan in 2013 and I was immediately happier with the images I took there than on any previous trip.

Ornately carved grey roof tiles
Roof detail, Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto, 2013
Golden temple by a lake
Golden Temple, Kyoto, 2013

My photography today

I’m grateful that all my experience of using an SLR means that I learned the ropes in terms of exposure, shutter speed, aperture selection, ISO etc. before I ever had the option of an ‘auto’ setting. But I’m not above relying on those auto settings in average conditions; I tend to leave my camera on those so that I can shoot in a hurry when needed, especially for street and candid photos. I often take a few auto shots and then start to adjust settings to see if they can be improved on; sometimes they can, quite often they can’t!

Man sleeping in a tuk tuk by a carved stone wall
Tuk tuk driver by the Terrace of the Leper King, Cambodia, 2020

Of course I also use my phone camera, as does pretty much everyone these days. I find it very useful for capturing those unexpected moments, especially when out and about in London.

Phone photos in London

In recent years I’ve become much more interested in post-processing. I almost always edit my images at least slightly – a little crop, a touch more saturation. Quite often I like to go further and play around with effects such as vignetting, B&W conversion, bleach bypass and more. So I’m looking forward to next week’s Lens-Artists ‘Before and After’ theme!

59 Comments

  • rosalieann37

    Your journey parallels mine in some respects. I had a Brownie in 1948. I didn’t get a SLR film camera until 1958. I started digital in 2000 and it took me a couple of years to completely convert.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Tish 🙂 I’m a bit of a Lumix fan and have a little point and shoot one as well as the larger bridge camera. The little one is perfect for taking on the local walks that we’re limited to right now, but I prefer the larger one for ‘serious’ shooting 🙂

  • Teresa

    That is true Sarah, cameras then, even the cheapest one will cost you an arm and a leg…especially if you are from a third world country. I was in my fourth year in university when we had a Photography subject and that was when I started my love for photography. But of course that camera stopped working so I haven’t held a camera up to the digital age.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re right Teresa, photography was once such an expensive hobby, and it still can be if you want to indulge in a lot of pricey equipment. But today anyone can be a photographer if they want to – although that can be a mixed blessing given the flood of look-alike images that we see all over social media!!

  • SandyL

    Lovely to read about your journey. Like you, my husband & I share photography is a hobby. It’s an excellent pastime to share especially when coupled with travel.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    An interesting journey, Sarah! I remember getting a Polaroid swinger in my teens, but as you mention, film was expensive! I’m glad you love your lumix! I have the Fz300 and love it, but I need to take another refresher how-to class to remember the settings. Your images are gorgeous! I’m sure we all can’t wait to travel again!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Fergy (Fergy’s Rambles) were indeed right about you on his blog … your photo’s are stunning! That first photo is a winner!
    I remember my parents had an instant camera (is it known as a Polaroid camera?) where the photo was printed immediately after it was taken … as children we were amazed by this 😁. And if I’m not mistaken, it is these days again on the market in all funky colours.
    Thanks, it was really fun walking down in your photo memory lane.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi, and thanks for popping over from Fergy’s blog. I’ve noticed you commenting on his Sri Lanka posts recently 🙂 He’s a great friend from our Virtual Tourist community. And thank you too for the nice words about my photos 🙂

      Yes, that would be a Polaroid camera. My uncle used to have one and like you we were fascinated by the instant appearance of the photos! I believe you can get them again, but I don’t know how popular they are now that we can all see all our photos instantaneously? Perhaps people like to get the hard copy in their hands, as that is the novelty nowadays 😀

  • Leya

    Thank you for sharing your interesting journey! I can see you had it in you from start – the eye and the composition. Interesting about filters – I had no idea. And I have a Samsung too, and use it for instagram. I am very happy with it, but prefer a proper camera.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Amanda, I love this thought about halting time! I often look at my photos of people (candid shots and people met on my travels) and wonder about them. I have captured and brought home just a moment in their life, but what of the rest of it? Who are they? What is their ‘back story’?!

      Off to check out that video now!!

      • Forestwood

        Time is a changing force that is constantly moving, slipping through our fingers.
        Those people we captured in the still of a moment in time, are so changed by time when, if, we meet them again. We are often surprised how time changes people. I wonder why?

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Maybe it’s because we don’t want to acknowledge how much it changes ourselves? I notice it most with kids, of course. A year or two ago we met up with the son of some Austrian friends who was spending a few days in London. We last saw him when he was nine years old. Of course I knew he would have grown, as he’s now an adult and working, but still I wasn’t prepared for the large lad (think rugby player build) who greeted us that morning!!

          • Forestwood

            Boys change incredibly in those adolescent years! It is hard to anticipate a young, sweet boy suddenly having beards or facial hair the next time you see him. They seem to grow overnight. Do you remember that Aussie swimming champion, who won a few Olympic medals some years back named Ian Thorpe? Anyway, his mother commented that he would go away to swimming carnivals and then return home a few days later having grown out of all of his clothes !!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yikes, I feel old!! We’ve tentatively booked a weekend in Paris (cancellable) for our anniversary, hoping that by early September travel over short distances is feasible again. At one point we were talking about a big trip this year to celebrate – drive Route 66 or do the Trans-Siberian perhaps. That ain’t gonna happen!

  • Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Hi Sarah, I enjoyed this tour of your history behind the camera very much. It was fun to see the quality of your images improve over time, although based on the photos you have shown us, I agree that you have always had a good eye. After all, composition is half the battle. I have been fascinated with taking photos since I was a young girl, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I got serious about getting off Automatic and learning the functions of my camera. Today I shoot with a lightweight, mirrorless, Lumix GX7 and although I still haul around a few lenses, I mostly use a 12-35. It is my ‘go to’ lens for landscapes. I echo your feelings about post processing and enjoy tweaking most of my images (within reason) since I still believe that natural is best. My husband understands my hobby and is a patient assistant, even though he rarely uses a camera any more. He is great at ‘seeing’ the shot and pointing out what I am likely to miss. Can’t wait to get back out there. Take care and happy shooting.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for the compliment Suzanne 🙂 It’s interesting to hear about your camera and lens choices too. Like you, I can’t wait to get out and about more, although I do try, not always successfully, to find things to shoot in my local area.

  • pattimoed

    I enjoyed this trip back in time, Sarah! I agree that we’re both lucky to have patient partners who are also interested in photography. It would be painful if they didn’t share our interests! I also totally agree with your statement: “I’m grateful that all my experience of using an SLR means that I learned the ropes in terms of exposure, shutter speed, aperture selection, ISO etc. before I ever had the option of an ‘auto’ setting.” I think that is absolutely true. I am happy I understand the basics of developing, too. I think it has sharpened my eye when I’m post processing. Great post!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Patti! That’s true about processing. I’ve only ever processed slide film but I’ve read enough about negative processing to have a good grasp of the principles. The other big influence which I failed to mention is studying the works of masters (Ansel Adams, Cartier-Bresson etc.) and we also (in normal times) go to a lot of contemporary photography exhibitions – all great for inspiration and learning 🙂

  • Anne Sandler

    Nice photo journey Sarah, and nice images. It’s great that you and your husband share the same hobby. It makes travel easier. I think we are all anxious for going places with our cameras once this pandemic is over. Take care and stay safe.

  • yuri rasin

    It was a very interesting reading Sarah, thanks for sharing! Already back then you were taking lovely photos. Your dad was very right to compliment and push your creative side.

    When i was about 11, my dad got a video camera so i played a lot with video first and by the age of 20 there were already digital cameras everywhere so the learning process was quicker i suppose…
    I did shoot a lot of disposable ones and then developed in Boots i recall 🙂

  • margaret21

    This is a great story, well old. Unlike you, I’ve never got into all the dials, bells and whistles. And my own model of Panasonic Lumix doesn’t have that much versatility to make manual settings worthwhile, so I rely on eye and automatic. I may be up for a camera change soon, so I may look for a model that makes attempting manual settings more worthwhile. Or maybe not. Know thyself …

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret 🙂 I think the most important thing about our choice of camera is that it is right for us and our preferred approach to photography. The camera is just a means to an end and choosing one because someone else likes it is no guarantee it will suit you. What matters isn’t the camera, it’s the person behind it 🙂 Having said that, you might enjoy the challenge of learning a bit about settings etc?

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Sarah. You do have a good eye as your father said when you took your first photo. Enjoy reading your travels and how you have changed to digital camera, wonderful progress. These are beautiful photos and memories. Beautiful photos, great composition, focus, and angles.
    I also carry Panasonic Lumix (DMC-FZ2500) for traveling.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Amy (I’m blushing as I write!!) The DMC-FZ2500 looks a great option. I didn’t mention it but I especially like the tilting screen on these Panasonics as it’s excellent for candid photography 🙂

      • Amy

        The very last time I used this camera was Nov. 2019 when we traveled Egypt. Lately, I have been playing with my iPhone 11. 😊

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I used to have iPhones but I switched to Androids a couple of years ago. I had a Huawei I bought primarily because of its camera but I didn’t like it. Last year I got a Samsung which suits me much better. The camera is good if the conditions are good, but I still much prefer using a ‘proper’ camera!

  • Ryan Garden

    Great post, thanks for sharing your journey. Think it’s interesting to see how photography has changed over the years & how our opinions of new photographic technology changes as well.

    On thing I really love about your photos is that they bring you to that moment in time as if I were there. That’s a talent! I love to see photos that can transport you in time (hope that makes sense).

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for that lovely compliment Ryan (and yes, it makes sense) 😀 Yes, it’s interesting now to reflect that we were a little scornful of digital photography and now I can’t imagine a world without it!

  • VO

    Don’t you wish you still had that Kodak Brownie Vecta??

    And believe me, you’re not the only one who has played with the Cokin graduated filters!!! I have one particular photo taken in the middle of the Sahara desert which looks very odd!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, it would be great to still have that old camera. I have no idea what happened to it – I certainly didn’t see it when we cleared my parents’ house some years ago so I guess they must have thrown it out at some point.

      And I’m so pleased to hear I wasn’t the only one that went too crazy with those filters 😆

      • VO

        I had a whole bunch : the gradual purple one, the one supposed to help with very bright light, the one which turned the light into sparkles for night photos… Actually I still have them!!

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I had that sparkle one too! Also tobacco (which I deluded myself into thinking made the scenes look like sunsets!) and blue, which I tried to use, only occasionally successfully, to brighten grey skies 😆 Interestingly I could now, if I wanted to, create exactly the same effects with Nik Color Efex!

  • Tina Schell

    Wow Sarah, what a wonderful journey you’ve shared with us! Your evolution through the various technologies made me smile, especially your arrival at the point where you’ve left high-tech behind and settled comfortable into a single camera and your phone. The evolution of the cameras in the phones has been incredible. Every time I think I’ll jump to the latest version I read about the NEXT version and end up waiting again LOL. How terrific that you share your enthusiasm with your spouse – I think there are two good options there. One is a shared interest and the other is a partner who doesn’t shoot but loves helping and encouraging you as my husband does. Very much enjoyed your response this week and look forward to seeing what you come up with for the NEXT challenge!

Do let me know what you think - I'd love to hear from you

%d bloggers like this: