After a brief stint pursuing a degree in construction engineering, I decided that having a monetary stable future wasn't as exciting as struggling and being able to do something I enjoy like coloring...er, I mean, art. I began taking drawing an photography classes thinking I've always been decent at art so this will be easy.
I was wrong.
I didn't have an Ah Ha! moment with the first photograph I ever took. A lot of photographers will tell you that they remember the very first photo they ever took. As some way to prove their love for photography had to be unlocked by this one instance when they pushed down the shutter button, the symphony arose in the background, and the narration of Morgan Freeman described this perfect moment in time.
Okay, we all back now? Good.
Most of us have handled a camera once or twice before we actually knew what we were doing with it. So to say that your very first image was this great inspiring work of art is something I have a hard time believing.
I do remember walking into my first photography class and our teacher handing us a Holga camera and saying "You will learn to create images using this before we will ever get into digital photography."
A Holga camera is a about as basic as you can get when it comes to cameras. It uses 120mm film, is made almost entirely out of plastic and usually has to be taped at the seams to prevent light leaks from reaching your film. They are a lot of fun but they can also be very frustrating.
So we studied how film works, about aperture, shutter and ISO settings (even though a Holga only has one aperture and two shutter speeds). We would take our cameras out with us around town and the campus and practice shooting with them. Searching for interesting subjects and trying to capture the scene as best as we could.
Once we got through a roll of film, we'd pile into the darkroom and learn about the development process and then came the magic.
I'd take my newly developed film out of the darkroom eager to hold it above me head to see what beautiful images I had created and were going to pay for my student loans after I became a world famous photographer...
They were blank.
Well, not really blank. More like uniformly black squares stretched across a piece of tape. What had I done? What went wrong? I showed my teacher and she simply replied, "They are over-exposed."
Well, that P.O.S. camera messed up my film and now I don't have an award-winning image!
You see, I did what everyone does and I gave the camera too much credit. Remember all of that time you spent learning about film, aperture, shutter speeds and ISO? Did you apply any of that? Uh, no.
I had forgotten about fundamentals. There are fundamentals in every artistic medium that we always seem to forget about. Anyone can buy a paintbrush...doesn't make them a painter. Anyone can smash a rock...doesn't make them a sculptor. And anyone (especially now) can own a camera...doesn't make them a photographer.
Another one of my photography teachers would always say "who's smarter, you or the camera?" Which I think is why I have such an extreme reaction to the common "Oh that's a great photo; you must have a really nice camera" comments I hear a lot. Basically what you are saying to me is that I am not as smart as this pile of glass, plastic and metal I'm holding in my hand. Seriously? I dare you to say that to anyone in another profession and see if it doesn't piss them off.
So I went back and I looked at where I went wrong...and overexposed my film again.
I would say this happened continuously for the better part of a week of constantly going outside, shooting, running back inside and developing overexposed black pieces of tape.
The problem wasn't the camera, the film, the sun or any other bullshit reason we so often try to blame other than ourselves when something isn't working the way we want it to. The problem was me.
I wasn't taking the time to actually think about what I was doing. I was wanting instant gratification but wasn't getting anything at all except a leg workout.
I had to make myself slow down and think about all of these things that go into creating an image. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO...and when you have to think about all of those things the first thing you ask yourself is, is the image I'm about to create worth thinking about all of that?...and:
What is the subject?
How is the light?
What is my composition going to be?
What do I intend to capture?
You have to think about it because remember, you only have a handful of frames (12-16 with a Holga) and film costs money.
So I walked out of the back of the art building and got about fifty-feet from the building and looked back. The walkway leading to the building was framed by the branches of leafless trees and I have always appreciated older architecture so I thought I would give it a shot.
I adjusted my camera, found a basic composition and pressed the shutter.
When I brought the film back in to develop, I remember I took it out of the canister and didn't see the series of black squares I thought, oh great what the hell did I do now. I could see darker areas and lighter areas but the black was gone.
It wasn't until I held it up and looked at it in the light that I had realized that start to finish, capture to develop; I had genuinely created my first image.
Thanks for reading and take care of each other.