Yeah, titles don't get much more cliche than that, but it's straightforward. My aim is simply to delineate how I got into photography, why I've stuck with it, and the evolution of my style over time. It's my own little story, and one I hope can shed some light on why I've come to love photography as I do. Pardon my patchy writing; this was originally a hastily composed forum post written as a stream of consciousness.
The Cellphone Era
Pinpointing where it really began for me is tricky. Like many, I went through certain phases. That said, I think I'm unusual among serious amateurs in that I started with dedicated post processing before I knew anything about actually taking a photo.
See, when I was in middle school and high school, I liked to mess around with graphics software and would edit random photos I found online for fun. My first foray into photography came in 2007(my junior year of high school) when I got my first cellphone, a tiny Palm Centro. It wasn't a dedicated camera or even a decent phone-cam, but it was an imaging device nevertheless. When I went on a trip to Italy later that year, it was all I had with me to take photos. I tried doing some basic editing to add a personal touch, but looking through some photos on Google images online, I started to wonder how come everyone else's photos looked better than mine. I noticed the "blurred background effect" of professional photos, and at some point came across a plug-in called Alien Skin Bokeh, which lets you imitate shallow depth of field on your computer. Mind you, I still had no idea what "real" bokeh actually was or how it worked, but I did know I liked how it looked.
When I downloaded the trial for the plugin, I also came across a different plug-in from the same company which recreated the aesthetic of various types of film: Alien Skin Exposure. I grew up in the digital era, so I had no clue what real film looked like. Still, I liked what I did to my photos so I stuck with it too. More importantly, I realized that the heavy filters and grain helped mask the otherwise poor quality of my photos. I was doing Instagram before it ever existed.
Even though I still new nothing about composition, lighting, exposure or any part of the traditional image-making process, I think just taking some more time to work on my photos made them look a little better than your average tourist snapshots.
So then college comes around and my new MyTouch 3G's camera is almost as bad, but I get a little better at the processing. I wasn't taking photos that often, but when I did, I took my time. Thankfully, I'd also developed a bit better of a sense of how not to be so tacky with the effects.
Towards the end of my junior year of college, I wanted a new phone, and the MyTouch 4G Slide caught my eye largely because of its camera(one of the best phone cams at the time). In trying to find out what made it so good, I read its specs, learned about its fast aperture. With some physics knowledge and a bit of lazy research, I started to get a stronger idea of how this influenced images, and started to compare my images to those of skilled folk.
So now I'm armed with a better phone, but more importantly, I have a better sense of what makes an image good. Mind you, I still know nothing of formal photography basics other than what my brain learned through observational conditioning. In any case, instead of just processing images after taking them, I started to take images with an idea of how I would process them later. Again, they became much less tacky. For the most part I became more subtle with the processing (I also seem to have picked up the rule of thirds without noticing).
Changing Lenses, Expanding Knowledge
Fast forward to the end of my penultimate semester of college, at the dusk of 2011. I was helping some friends with a project, they asked me to take photos. One of them lent me her brother's DSLR--a Nikon D80 I believe--and though I hardly knew how to use it, my photos were obviously coming out a lot better. It felt much more powerful, a tool actually intended for the job I made it perform. Seeing as I only had one semester left of college to go, I wanted to document the memories I'd create as much as possible and decided it would be a good idea to actually invest in a decent camera. It was one of the best choices I've ever made. It's when it all really started, when I got serious.
I did research on DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras. I ended up with the Micro Four Thirds system because the size meant I could carry my camera in my messenger bag along with all my schoolgear. I bought an E-PL1 originally, but replaced it right away with a G3 because I wanted something more futureproof. From there, things moved very quickly. I did a ton of research, reading countless online resources and some books. I picked up Lightroom, started shooting RAW after a month or so. Like everyone, I started with a kit lens, but given my longstanding fascination with bokeh I quickly moved onto adapted manual focus lenses in order to get a fast prime lens. It was just a cheap C-mount 35mm f1.7... but it gave me bokeh:
Not too long after that, I purchased Canon FD 50mm F1.4, which acts like a 100mm on M4/3. It was with this lens I probably learned most of the basics and became adept at manual focusing. I hardly ever used the kit lens anymore because this lens produced images of such superior quality, so I left usually left the former at my dorm. It forced me to learn to compose rather than just lazily zoom.
I get the 20mm f1.7, a normal prime on Micro Four thirds. I sell my kit lens, and I'm working with basically just two focal lenths. Several people start asking me to shoot school events, some even for pay. I didn't feel comfortable accepting pay from anyone given I'd only been really shooting for a couple of months, but it was flattering. I try to develop a personal style, both with my shooting, and my processing.
So here we are today, over a year since I started to take photography seriously. I've taken a dozen or more assignments, and was even honored to have an article published on PetaPixel. I've shot with other systems, APS-C and full frame; sometimes for fun, other because I had to. Though I'm still new to all of this, I've learned a lot in the past year.
Photography is something that's become an essential part of who I am today. After I got my G3, I virtually never left my home without my camera, and with my new OM-D this is even more true. To me, photography means telling a story about the visual world around me, but even more significantly, it's allowed me to see the world around me as more beautiful than ever before.
As I go on, I've been focusing more on the basics I never took the time to learn when I first started: exposing perfectly before post, shooting in good light rather than trying to artificially create it. Some habits die hard; after all, I learned Photoshop before I learned to take even photos. But as I continue snapping away, I try more and more to turn my photography into a skill and an art rather than just a hobby and kitsch. I can't wait to see where it takes me.