It all began with blue skies. It was the blue Perth sky that drew my gaze so deep that it almost did not break for minutes long, as I lied down on the soft, white sand of Cottesloe beach, facing upwards to the blank, clear, open, cloudless, deep, impossibly blue endless sky. There was something about Australian blue skies that can change the way you think and feel. It was there and then that I decided to shoot more and more with my point and shoot camera, Kodak Easyshare, and the journey of my photography began.
Yes, I started shooting with a digital compact camera. Does it really matter that I did not shoot with film, or never started photography with film? I will never find out. Was my learning process somehow skewed or was there anything missing from my adventures in photography? The film purists would have a long list of argument to bring forth and defend the reign and supremacy of film photography. It did not bother me so much. Photography is photography, whichever medium you choose to shoot. As long as the shutter clicks, as long as you create an image, you have gone through the process of photography.
I did not jump straight into DSLR photography. It took me four long years of wandering in the desert, discovering myself, the passion for photography, the joy of capturing moments, and the experimentations on the technical handling of the digital compact cameras before I finally acquired my first DSLR. By the time I had my DSLR, I already knew what shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings do, and how to control them effectively to achieve my desired photographic outcome. The learning process continues, from basic photography techniques to more advanced controls and execution. There was a constant struggle of being technical and the exploration of art. I took my time to learn, step by step. I was a slow learner. It took me years and years to improve, learn and become who I am, and do what I can do today, all beginning from a single, puny, humble, 3MP no zoom, no macro mode, no AF, digital compact camera, Kodak CX7300.
I did not take any shortcuts.
All images were taken with Olympus PEN E-PL1 and M.Zuiko 14.42mm Mk1 lens.
I made mistakes. I allowed myself to make mistakes. I learned from my mistakes. I studied my photographs, and continuously questioned myself how I can do better the next time I go out to take pictures. I read materials online, tips and tricks on achieving specific desired photography effects.
I experimented and I practiced.
I kept on shooting. I have killed three compact cameras in the span four years (2004 to 2008). I never said "oh I got tired of shooting" or this photography is getting boring. I did not give up when people said my photographs sucked (yes, you do not know how it hurt when it happened). I did not give up when my friends looked down on me when I first picked up my entry level Olympus DSLR E-410. People laughed, because it was not Canon or Nikon. People laughed, because it does not look like a serious photography equipment. People laughed again when the ISO performance and dynamic range of Olympus cameras did not match the offerings from peer competition. I was bruised and battered along the way. Yet I continued shooting. The will to shoot, the passion to create more images, and the joy of pursuing that better photograph never stopped. I walked on, and on. Who cares if I was only using a single kit lens, with slow F3.5-5.6? My peer Olympus friends talked me down on my standard 14-42mm kit lens. One friend (not sure if he was a friend at all) gave a cruel remark, saying "I sold off my 14-42mm during my first week of encounter with the lens, it was a crappy lens, I can't do shit with that lens. So much distortion, not sharp at all, totally useless in low light condition". Yes, it still hurts when I looked back at those tragedies.
Did I give up on Olympus and jumped to "better" cameras? I asked myself, will I be a better photographer by getting better cameras? Obviously the answer for the two questions are the same: NO.
I did not take any shortcuts.
Sometimes it annoys the heck out of me when someone purchased a DSLR or advanced camera system and immediately expected professional like image quality. They thought their skills would jumped up 30082% by using the same equipments that their idol photographer (insert some infamous photographer's name here) is using. They thought by subscribing to advanced photography magazines, attending photography seminar and workshops conducted by professional photographers and shooting something imitating the previous results of their idol photographer can make them the next big thing in the photography world.
If only photography is that easy !!
All the photographers (who made it big) have the same message to me, and I gladly share it here: it takes a lot of time, hard work, consistency and practice to get in shape, and be a good photographer. Never skip practice. If you have more excuses not to shoot even if you have the spare time, do not expect to improve much further. If you find walking under the hot sun just to do a simple photowalk a bit too troublesome and tiring, then obviously your passion has been misplaced. You do not need to have a solid reason to pick up the camera. You have a camera, and you shoot because you want to shoot. You shoot because you enjoy shooting. You improve in photography step by step, every single shutter click you make, you go one step further, no matter how small the step is.
The journey is long, and the learning process is incremental, at very, very unnoticeable intervals. It is a long term goal. It is like working out, you do not expect to trim down to a six-pack abs from a 45 inch waist in just two weeks !! No matter how expensive your gym equipment is, no matter how many steroid pills and fat burners you swallow, it still takes a tremendous amount of effort, energy and time to burn the fat, tiny bit by tiny bit away. It is a long, frustrating and painful process, but the end-result is worth it.
No, there are no shortcuts.
Professional tennis players do not become instant international top players when they suddenly decided they wanted to be. They have trained, long and hard since young, tender age. Professional photographers do not become famous and internationally successful overnight. There are many failure stories, multiple painful experiences, many bad turns in life that finally led to where they are that we all so admire them to be.
My encouragement is simple, keep shooting. You cannot improve if you do not shoot. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Do more trial and errors. Open your mind. Take in ideas. Explore the world. Enjoy photography as a lifestyle. You do not need to purposefully motivate yourself to shoot, you should be motivated enough to shoot if you intend to improve.
And always remember, there are no shortcuts.