Why I Photograph

Falling Back-Asswards Into A Passion.

It Began In The Stars.

Holiday Lights At Nubble Light.

Some of you know how I came to find a camera in my hands, many do not.

Here’s my story.

Unlike a lot of photographers, photography was never my “Thing.” I hadn’t been shooting for decades, born with a camera in my hands, lamenting the loss of film. To me film was pretty much a dinosaur from the past. Sure I’ve heard about it, even seen it before, but as far as I was concerned it belonged right next to the dinosaurs in a museum.

Digital was well established by the time I started looking for my first camera, so that’s the way I wanted to go. I was on a budget, and not having to pay for film processing was a huge draw.

Back in ’07-’08, I had a brief, expensive but brief, interest in astronomy. I had my own big(read lots of $$) telescope, and all the fancy gear that went with it. Looking through all the astronomy magazines I started thinking, “I could get some of those awesome photos through my telescope too.” So off in search of a camera I went. I figured I should at least get a camera that I could use to take snap-shots too, as opposed to a dedicated astro-imaging camera, a little box with a sensor in it that needed to be hooked up to a computer while taking photos. Something a little more practical.

I didn’t want a point and shoot though, had to be a DSLR. And since two friends were Canon shooters, I became one too.

A lone mute swan sits motionless on the still surface of the water, with a wall of brown reeds as a backdrop.

 

Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun.

Antique Side-by-Side On Autumn Leaves

Coincidentally, I was an avid hunter at this time as well. The passion I have for capturing images of the great outdoors now, I put into my pursuit of all things feathered back then. Ducks, geese, pheasant and grouse were my quarry of choice. And along with my dog Bailey, pursue them I did.

Dear Sweet Bailey

My dear sweet Bailey was the sweetest dog I’ve ever known, gentle beyond measure, my first daddy’s little girl.

Put her in the woods however, and she changed. Miraculously that sweet, cuddle on the couch, member of the family, was replaced by an all business, pure bird hunting machine. It was pure joy to watch at work. Those of you with any experience seeing a good bird dog work the woods know exactly what I mean, she was canine poetry in motion.

Sadly, around the same time I was in search of my first camera, Bailey was becoming too old to hunt. The desire was there, I could see it in her eyes, but what her mind wanted, her body could no longer deliver. While I continued to hunt, without her with me, my joy of time spent in the woods lessened considerably. Without my girl it just wasn’t the same. I started looking for reasons to stay home.

Yet a spark in the back of my mind had begun to glow.

Blue Mountain Layers

All those mornings spent standing in a beaver pond, or laying in a corn field, waiting for the first mallards or geese to come in, also held something else.

They held magic.

Surprisingly up to this point in my hunting life, as many times as I had thought, “this would make an amazing picture,” as I witnessed the world waking up, seeing nature come alive in ways most will never see or experience, it never clicked that maybe I should get a camera.

What can I say, I’m a slow learner.

Passion Is Born In 2008.

Long exposure image of an unnamed waterfall on the Mad River, Farmington, NH

Once I started taking my camera with me on my hunting trips, it really didn’t take long to convert my love of all things hunting into a love of hunting a different, and often more elusive prey, with a much different “weapon” of choice.

All the time spent in the woods, I was never blind to what was around me, but I didn’t really see it either. I had always felt deep in the forest was one of the most beautiful places I could be, but it took leaving my gun at home, entering the forest armed only with my camera, to really begin to see and appreciate my surroundings. It was then that perfect light became my quarry, and I was relentless in my desire to capture it.

So, I gave up hunting,  sold all of my firearms, and I’ve been focused, pun completely intended, on capturing and sharing the beauty of the natural world ever since.

Beauty most people will never see first hand.

On the plus side of giving up hunting with a gun, I don’t need to pluck a photograph. The downside though, they don’t taste very good either.

That was back in the spring of 2008.

I hadn’t set out to become a “photographer” back then, that was purely by accident. I never thought photography would become anything more than another in a long list of expensive hobbies.

I’ve never been so wrong about anything in my life.

Swiftwater Falls, Winter

 

So, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And for those of you wondering, I fell so deeply in love with capturing the landscape here on Earth, I ended up selling my telescope without ever having so much as mounted my camera on it.

 

What brought you to photography, I’d love to hear your story.

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47 thoughts on “Why I Photograph

  1. I enjoyed your story very much. I am an advocate of hunting if you eat what you shoot but there is something innately more satisfying in shooting that Moose licking his lips with a camera, than eating him! My religion lies in nature and I grew up in the woods and I am an artist so it was an easy segue many , many years ago !

  2. That is a great story, Jeff! Hunter turned photographer…..I can see the similarities. I don’t do any hunting myself but have heard hunters describe the long periods of sitting and just being in nature, taking in the beauty around them.
    I developed a passion for photography in the late 1970s when I learned to develop black and white pics in a real darkroom. It was fun. But I really enjoyed when digital photography came along. I never allowed myself to take 1000 or 1500 shots before when I had to pay for film development. Now, if I get a handful of really nice pics from all of those shots, I am very happy and contented. I also love the control of Photoshop processing since I am not really a technically educated/gifted photographer. I call myself an intuitive photographer and then make up for what’s missing in Photoshop. 🙂
    And now that I have a better camera and zoom lenses, I can definitely see what I couldn’t do with my old camera. Wow, I am beginning to believe in “gear”….

    • Yes, exactly. The enjoyment didn’t come from the killing, in fact I was equally as happy to come home empty-handed. The enjoyment was found in being there.

      I couldn’t imagine taking 1,000-1,500 shots with film, unless your were independently wealthy, but it was a possibility with digital, with no additional cost either. The best part though, the better I’ve gotten at the craft, the fewer times I actually press the shutter while increasing the number of “keeper” images from any given shoot. Rather than the “spray and pray” method as we’ve all done in the beginning, I find myself being much more deliberative with my shooting. Part of it is knowing what I want and how to capture it, but part is also pure unadulterated laziness. The more I shoot, the more I have to go through when I get the images uploaded into Lightroom.

      Just remember, as David DuChemin says, “gear is good, vision is better.”

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Jeff. I really admire your “conversion” and hope that you continue to awaken passion for our planet in others by circulating your amazing images. I, for one, am very glad that you shoot in a less violent way these days!

    • You and my wife!

      I haven’t in any way become anti-hunting, far from it. But I also don’t miss it, not even a little. It took putting down my guns and picking up my camera to realize that it was the being there that mattered, not the game I might bring home.

  4. WE are often surprised at the roads we travel to build our back story. I think that you were training your eye during that time, especially exploring Mother Nature. Your photographs depict her in abundance and glory and majesty.

  5. Hi Jeff, although I am a writer and no photographer, I hope you and your followers will enjoy my latest blog post which explains why I write and it also coincides with the launch of my latest book out today in time for Valentine’s. The photo on the blog, which is also my book cover, I took myself – the blog explains it! Wishing you continued success with your work. Here’s the link: http://marciajkenyon.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/presenting-shades-of-light-and-dark/

  6. Wonderful story and thank you so much for sharing. I picked up a DSLR a year ago and found myself at peace trying to capture what my mind’s eye sees and I especially enjoy nature/landscapes. I can only hope I’m half as good as you once I’ve been at it for 5 years.

    • Thank you, and you’re welcome!

      If I may offer some unsolicited advice on becoming “half as good as me in five years.”
      Never use your new camera on fully automatic mode.

      EVER!

      Don’t be afraid of Manual, it isn’t that scary. (Though I admit to using Aperture Priority 90% of the time).

      Look at a lot of photographs, both good and bad. Try to figure out why they work and why they don’t.

      Sleep is for suckers! Half the reason I’m “as good as I am” isn’t some super secret skill. It’s because I’m willing to forgo sleep in order to be where I want to be when Mother Nature is really showing off. That means no less than 45 minutes before sunrise, and stay at least that long after it sets. Trust me, the best light often happens 20-30 minutes before the sun rises or after it sets. That often means hitting the trail at 2 in the morning, or a long hike out in the dark. If you’re serious about it, showing up at the crack of noon is not going to get you the best photos. No matter how good your camera. Half my hiking time is spent with a headlamp on, hiking, sometimes for miles, in the dark.

      Lastly. One word – TRIPOD.
      Get a good one, (yes you will have a heart attack when you start shopping) and never, ever, ever, ever leave it home. Did I say never? Tripods slow you down (a very good thing)and make you think about your composition. And you will never hold your camera as steady as a good quality tripod and ball head will. resulting in much sharper landscape shots than you could ever hope for by hand-holding.

  7. I never doubted one bit that your love of nature and “shooting” will wear off. This is the first time I saw your gun photo 🙂 – even that looks poetic. A wonderful collection you chose to support your story! Pure beauty in all of them!!!

    • As always, you’re far too kind Paula.

      That photo was made for a 52 week photo project I was participating in, the theme that week was “Antique.” This is also the one and only firearm I still own. Due to its age though, it is nothing but a decoration.

  8. I’ve owned a camera for as far back as I can remember. A film SLR back in the early 70s sent me down the path of capturing the beauty of this land around us. Now it’s digital, but I didn’t get the total thrill of sharing my images until blogging came along. Your images are breathtaking. So happy for all of us to get to see and enjoy them.

    • I often wish, the more seriously I pursue becoming a full time professional, that I had picked up a camera much earlier in life. My “career” as a photographer could very well have been nicely established by now.

      It certainly would have been a lot more work back in the film/pre-internet days to have achieved even the modest success I have now. My blog, my website, and my Facebook fan page have put my images in front of many more eyes, much more easily than I wold have been able to do “back in the day” had I been shooting film.

      Of course that ease of sharing is a double edged sword. There are now thousands, tens of thousands even, of photographers easily able to share their photos just as easily as I can.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story with us…it is encouraging and inspirational for those of us still floundering. I must say that I have always been interested but never driven about doing photography. Last time I had a decent camera was when film was the only thing around. Now, budget is scarce and interest is high. While I save up for a decent camera, I will have to use point and shoot for now. I do use my tripod and can set up still shots okay. It’s the action ones that kill me…moving birds to be specific and tripods really don’t help. So far it’s been spray and pray with not much success. I think I am going to have to get a higher quality camera for what I am trying to capture. I don’t mind the evening shoots…not quite up to the wee mornings, though they would be nice, I’m sure!

    • Those images are great, Jeff. There’s something to be said for the right level of gear! But of course, the person behind the camera is the most important element.

      What drew me, no, drove me, into photography was losing most of my sight to macular degeneration. Going blind may not sound like the ideal career advice for a would-be photographer, but tackling it my way has certainly worked for me more than I could have hoped.

      The camera can see better than I can in most situations, and I have learned so much about the world around me that I didn’t know before.

      I wanted to capture some of the world’s beauty while I still could, and also the clash in the city between nature and the human-made environment.

      I’d call myself a sensory photographer or a blind photographer if you like, in that sight isn’t the whole story. One of our posters here said “mind’s eye”, which captures it perfectly. As I trudge around my city, guide dog on one arm and a camera at the end of the other, all kinds of sensations alert me to the possibility of a photograph. Sounds, smells, vibrations, textures under my feet, gusts of wind are as informative as seeing something that could be interesting. Other people who practise sensory photography urge you not to use your sight, but that’s not realistic for me. I have to work my eyes harder, that’s for sure. I daresay other photographers get clues from all their senses, and I’m not pretending this is anything special.

      This has become a real passion with me, and although I’ve had a lot of fun with photography, I now want to use some better equipment. I started with disposable film cameras, which gave me better results than I probably deserve. My version of spray and prayis using a small camcorder and selecting frames, either by taking screenshots at the right moment or using software that can drop still frames out of video files. The camcorder is pretty good after dark, and gives me a degree of night vision.

      Because most cameras are not accessible to someone like me, and I don’t have a hope of being able to cope with the displays on most of them, the most obvious answer is to use an Android phone or iPhone, which nowadays can be made to speak. Android cameras look like a promising departure, too.

      I’ll probably never win any awards, but the photography bug will definitely boost my quality of life!

  10. It was interesting to read about your journey into photography and the photos are spot on like they always are.
    I shot some film photos back in the days, but never developed my own films. So when I got my first digital camera, that’s when I really started taking photos.

    • I did in fact dabble with film back in the ’80s, but my sole motivation was that I thought it would be cool to have an SLR with all the fancy interchangeable lenses. Even though I did get lucky with a few very nice landscapes, I don’t included it on my journey into photography because it was nothing but a fad. It was very short lived, with no real interest in the craft.

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