Wow, it's January already, crazy how the time just comes and goes. I mean it's 2015, even though it's the present it still sounds so futuristic... 2015!!! At the beginning of every year I tell myself that I just want to grow, it doesn't have to be anything major, but I want to make sure I take at least one step forward. 2014 was a solid year, I had some bumps, well, some potholes actually, but the good definitely outweighed the bad.
Living from home to home really slowed my progress down for the first half of the year, at times I found myself sleeping in the Target parking lot and washing up at the 24 hour gym before work. My clothes were wrinkled every day as I walked into the office, I remember a particular day when someone asked "Are you homeless?". I went back to my desk to reflect what I wanted to do with my life, I knew it was photography, but I felt like I wasn't getting enough recognition to take myself seriously.
It was May when I joined a young professionals group with my job, our goal was to get young Detroiters to participate more in Downtown Detroit events, there was so much going on that individuals didn't know about, from Tecohnomy Detroit, to DrinksxDesign and even the annual TEDxDetroit talks. I've always found myself going to these events solo, so when this group came about I figured if we couldn't persuade others to go, then I could at least connect with these people and attend the events with them. The group ended up dismantling, but it was a good experience, I met some pretty awesome people, and still keep in touch with a few of them.
One individual from the group reached out to me for a photography opportunity, it was my first paid gig, the task was to do a fashion shoot every week for her blog, 4DetroitGirls. Our first shoot was in Downtown Detroit, on May 17th, we had to drive to a coffee shop and shoot her model all within one hour. I honestly had no idea what to do, I brought with me my Canon 60D and a Sigma 18-35 f/1.8. My gear for my level of experience was top notch, so I was hoping if I sucked that it would compensate for any mishaps I created. The photos didn't turn out awful, I know now that I didn't have to shoot at f/1.8, I also wouldn't have cropped her hands so tight in this particular image, and the editing... well I could have taken more time. I was also very nervous when it came to directing, I didn't tell the model to fix her hair, or lift her chin up, I'm sure this wasn't her best angle, but to my defense, I only had 20 minutes or so to shoot.
I finished up the series for 4DetroitGirls, but the every week photoshoot we agreed upon never happened, this was the first & last time I shot for her. I'm not sure if it was because she was unhappy with my images, or if the owner simply had a hard time juggling both her blog and personal life... The images still remain on her website, but we have lost contact since.
That May was monumental for me, even though I lost my first contact I became more confident in my shooting, I was the only person out of my core group who did a paid shoot. I didn't act big headed, but I did feel superior when compared to my peers. Another one of my friends was just getting into photography, so she and I went on a walk Downtown, it was my first time just leaving the house and shooting with no purpose, I thought the idea was stupid, but it tested me in many ways. It was the first time I had to adjust my ISO and aperture for nearly every shot, I wasn't aware of AP or auto ISO then, so everything was done manual. I believe I had in my kit a Sigma 18-35, and Canon 24-105, then the idea of shooting solely with an 18-35mm lens was asinine, so the 24-105 was what lived on my camera for that day.
My first few shots were pretty amateurish, I decided to upload the series (unedited) so you all can view them, after all, this post is about progress, and giving people hope that they can become better with hard work and consistency. This goes for photographers and those who are just trying to get one up in life... I also uploaded a few of the ones I edited, so you can get an idea of what my creative process was back then.
Many of these images were just plain horrible haha. I was so frustrated that day, I was a very technical shooter back then (as if it wasn't a few months ago). I followed the rule of thirds, which from my understand was framing your character to the right, because thats all I ever did. I really didn't know about depth of field then, but I'm sure most of these were shot were taken at the largest aperture possible, which for the 24-105 was f/4. What I came home with wasn't so bad though, at least that was my opinion back then. I was very proud of what I had captured, and couldn't wait to edit and share them with all my friends.
One thing I can say I did well then was tightly select my edits, these images above may not be the greatest photos, but out of all the pictures I shot I only picked the ones that displayed a skill, or told a story, so I guess I can pat myself on the back for that. The first and final image were ones that I was most proud of. The first one really spoke to me (it no longer does), it was so Detroit, from the construction to the trash, to the cars. I thought I nailed it, and the B&W edit (horrible contrast) made the image really pop. The last image was obviously my favorite, the colors it produced were amazing, I still keep this image in my 500px profile, and it was my first image to really garner small attention. Considering it was shot in JPEG it turned out great, the edit was pure luck, I simply just rearranged things in lightroom. If you sat me down again that day to re-edit it I'm almost 100% sure it would have turned out different.
Though my images were getting better, I was unhappy with my equipment, this caused me to shoot less. My 18-35 wasn't good enough for me, it wasn't an "L" lens, and the 24-105 just didn't have the advantages other L lenses had at f/4. If people were going to take me seriously I needed red rings! I didn't feel like a pro, nor did I have the income to become one. Moving forward I pushed myself at work like no other, I was the first one there, and the last one leaving every day! I came in on weekends and even slept there at times. I raised enough money to finally upgrade my camera, and when it came time to click the buy button I backed out. I hated my living situation, I was shacked up in a studio apartment with a very generous friend of mine. That had to changed, immediately.
In June I was finally able to secure myself an Apartment in the heart of Downtown Detroit. It was nothing grand, but it was home and I was thankful that I had a place to lay my head every night. The apartment didn't consist of much, in my bedroom was a bed and in my living room was a desk and computer... Thats it, no furniture, no tv, no dressers, just a bed, a computer and my camera equipment.
After I was settled in I came to the conclusion that I needed a full frame camera to become a "professional" photographer. In July I upgraded my Canon 60D to a Canon 6D. The large purchase made me feel inclined to shoot, and from that boost of motivation I decided that in given time I'd be ready to take this on as a full time job. However the new equipment was just an ego boost, it didn't make me a better photographer, sure my images had more pop, but my composition and timing needed much work. People with kit lenses and Canon Rebel's were out performing me using pure skill. I blamed my lack of shooting for this, I was so busy trying to pay the bills I could barely get out and shoot, it was frustrating, I felt trapped, enslaved, I needed an out.
In August I was fired from my job, initially I was a bit disgruntled, but the time off gave me a chance to shoot more. I was convinced then that being fired was a blessing, that it would allow me to take on photography full time without any distractions. I wa so optimistic, yet so ignorant. I didn't have any clients, and I had nothing to shoot. I spent my first 2 weeks in the house, shooting NOTHING! I emailed an old coworker of mine, a part-time photographer, explaining my frustration, he linked me to a TED talk that revitalized the way I thought about the photography business. If you're interested feel free to watch below.
For those of you who didn't have 16 minutes to watch the footage I'll give you a quick briefing. The video went on to talk about how working for free could land you more paid jobs in the future. It all made sense, but at this time I wasn't privileged enough to do such a thing. I had bills to pay and needed income! The back and forth emails between the two of us led to me working as his assistant. I didn't get to do much shooting, but I learned how to hold the hell out of a monopod and softbox. All jokes aside the work was very rewarding, it only paid $20-30 bucks, but I also got to see a live perspective of someone elses workflow. It showed me that trial and error was normal, and that not everyone was as perfect as their images/
By this time I had assisted on 5 projects, 2 for businesses, 1 engagement shoot and 2 weddings. I was learning a lot, but I wasn't shooting at all. I told myself that since I was home all day, I would wake up each morning and go on a photography walk of my own to help increase my skill. My first trip was to the park behind my apartments, I fired off a few shots of the scenery, but for the most part the atmosphere was pretty boring. Before I went back to my apartment I took a shot of a bench, I don't know why, but something about it appealed to me. I came in to edit the shots and the only one I kept going back to was of the bench, the image looked lonely, it was empty, much like my life. So I went with that one, I uploaded the edit to 500px and it hit over 1000 views, it even went to the popular page. It doubled the amount of views of any image I've ever posted... Looking back at it I see that it isn't such a bid deal, but in the moment this was HUGE for me.
Not only did it uplift my spirits as a photographer, but I fell in love with my kit. I had 2 lenses, the 35m and 85mm from Rokinon. The optics they produced for the price point were amazing, I didn't feel the need to have 10 lenses, to effectively create. These 2 were it, and as someone who suffers from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) this relieved a lot of stress. The following week I attended the Red Bull event with a few friends of mine, I didn't expect to get much out of my images, given that this event is always crowded, but I took my camera anyway. We arrived a little early, and across the street was another event, which till this date I don't know the name of. Anyway, the entire warehouse was full of abstract art. Upstairs was a dark room that had a webbed themed room (i think) and a chair... It looked dark to me, like it could have been in the seen of a horror movie. A friend of mine sat in the chair and I continued to fire away, but the image wasn't working for me, it wasn't until she left the chair that I fell in love with the look. It reminded me of the bench above, both lonely and kind of dark, depressing, I liked it! I adjusted several times for both composition and exposure and came out with this. Till this day it remains my most popular image on 500px.
On September 6th 500px hosted a global photography walk, I was uber excited about this, especially after the responses I got from recent images. I felt like I would be the most experienced photographer there, it's amazing how we go from zero to hero after a few clicks of the shutter.
I arrived at the event, and the first thing I noticed were 2 photographers who had the Sony A7, I knew the A7r had focusing issues, so I used that as my opening line to start a conversation. They let me test hold the camera and it was so sleek, the lenses looked amazing, I was impressed by the construction, and the form factor. I met another individual who was shooting with a T1i, very old camera, and an 18-55 kit lens without IS. His equipment wasn't updated at all, but that didn't stop him from shooting with the rest of us. That walk was extremely important to me, it made me realize that equipment matters, but it shouldn't be the basis of who you are. Often I'd quit, or didn't even start projects because I didn't have the high-end shit. I learned that those were just excuses because I lacked confidence in myself and my work. On the walk, I did come away with one photo that I truly enjoyed. It was off this lighthouse downtown, prior to the walk I didn't even know this Lightroom existed in my city, so you can imagine my excitement when I was finally able to upload it.
In the fall I spent most of my time wandering the streets of Detroit, I had no destination, but I walked for miles and miles. These walks taught me so much, I learned my city, I learned how to interact with strangers, and my shot selection changed drastically. I took my time shooting, and I stopped looking at my rear LCD for confirmation to see if the shot came out correctly, I shot based off of feeling and I knew what and how I wanted to frame things in camera. I left room for cropping if needed be, and I learned when to over or underexpose. I thought my edits out while shooting, not when I uploaded them. Shooting was my therapy, I loved what the streets offered, there was something new to shoot every day, but eventually I got bored. I walked these circles countless times, I wanted something new, something inspiring.
In the beginning of November I decided I would take a small trip to Chicago. It was the only time I have been out of the city on my own, I would have loved to go with family or friends, but I didn't want anyone to slow me down, my agenda was to shoot, and that's what I did. My 6D was equipped with a newly purchased 40mm f/2.8 STM lens from Canon, at the time it was my only auto focus lens I owned. It focused slow, but it increased my work flow. I loved the streets of Chicago, it beat Detroit in so many ways, we have potential, but we aren't even close. The amount of people, and things to shoot were overwhelming at times. I left my room at 11 everyday, and literally walked the streets for 12 hours, it was fascinating, I told myself when my finances allowed me I would travel at every possible chance.
Later that month I made the switch to a mirrorless body, one of the greatest decisions of my short photography career. The Fuji X-T1 is a major compliment to my shooting style, with its small frame, huge viewfinder and focus peaking. The move is something I talk about often on this blog and I can't wait to everyone else around me makes the switch. I didn't just jump to Fuji because of the cameras ergonomics, I also made the switch because I'm a slave to materialism. I've typed so much now that I'm not sure if I touched on this, but I was a sucker for Canon's marketing. I felt that I had to have L lenses, red rings were an expression, I couldn't settle for semi-pro lenses, or Rokinon branded versions, not with Canon. With Fuji it's mentally easier for me, I can use legacy glass, XF glass, whatever glass, and feel confident in myself as a photographer. My kit later became The X-T1, XF 18-55, XF 18, Helios 44-2 58mm, and Super Takumar 135mm.
The month was coming to an end and I noticed that I really didn't make any real income this year, I wasn't shooting enough. I purposely shied away from portrait shoots because I didn't know if my workflow, compared to other photographers, would be accepted by models. I did a shoot with Jesmina, someone who I knew through social media, I've seen her in person a few times but it was always the "does she even know me" vibe. I told her I needed help building my portfolio and she agreed to help. I was scared as shit, but I didn't cancel and we made magic happen in my opinion. It really boosted my confidence as a portrait photographer. I couldn't wait to shoot more, but life happened, and I was slowed down by some wonderful news.
December rolled around, I spent the first 3 days of the new month in the hospital, and finally in the afternoon my daughter was born. It was life changing in so many ways, to spare you further reading (if you made it this far I applaud you) I wrote a post about it here. I view things from a more mature perspective now, how ambitious I am affects us, I have a family to look after... With that being said she is my motivation I want to work harder, push myself to new levels and do right by her, and her mother. I'm hoping I can do this all with my camera, 2015 will be the deciding factor and I can't wait to share my progress with you all!
Favorite Captures from 2014
Thank you all for reading this post, and I hope you all continue to view the blog for 2015, I want to dedicate myself to posting more, rather it be my personal life, my experience as a new photography, or even news about your favorite cameras. Feel free to post your year in review in the comments and may you all have a safe and happy New Year!