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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!