I decided to take up photography in September, 2011. Two things happened to prompt that. One, my arthritic hip was getting worse and starting to limit my activities. Two, my 12-year-old point-and-shoot camera with 3X optical zoom quit zooming. An online friend of mine, N, had recently purchased a Fujifilm HS20-EXR bridge camera with 30X optical zoom and I was impressed with the photos she was posting, so I bought one for myself. And that was the beginning of my photo-taking hobby.
At the time, I was blogging and posting photos on WUnderground.com. In the blogging community, I had a dozen or so online friends, including N. I went around snapping photos, of this, that, and whatever, with the camera set on Auto or EXR (whatever that was, I didn’t know, but it seemed to work good). I was fascinated by the powerful zoom. But there was rotating wheel with other things on it besides Auto and EXR. Panorama was self-explanatory. It didn’t take me long to figure out that SP1 and SP2 had a variety of settings for shooting sunsets, landscapes, sports, night, beach, etc. I had no clue what to do with Aperture or Shutter priority or Custom or Advanced and so I didn’t use them.
Then came the day when I posted some photos on WUnderground of nearby Mt. St. Helens and one of them got an “Approvers Choice”, which simply means that it was one of the photo moderators’ favorites of the day. I was stoked. And also baffled. To my eye, the wrong photo got the AC and I wrote about it in my WU blog. Others more knowledgeable about art and/or photography explained that the AC photo followed the Rule of Thirds, whereas my favorite had the mountain dead center and, while pretty, was not visually appealing because it ignored all the rules of composition. Wha….???
I bought a book called “Complete Digital Photography”, Seventh Edition, by Ben Long. It is a textbook and I studied it as one. I read a chapter, or part of one, and then practiced what it taught. Then on to the next section or chapter. I skimmed some of the chapters toward the end that were dedicated to using Adobe Photoshop, just to get a feel for the types of editing that can be done, but ignoring program specifics.
I downloaded a copy of the free and easy-to-use editing program, Photoscape, and discovered that not only does photoscape.org have a lot of valuable online help, there are a ton of how-to videos to be found on YouTube.
Over the next year, my photographs improved markedly. I now had some understanding of the basic concepts of composition and had learned to use Photoscape to crop and fine-tune my pics.
Because of the things I had learned in my self-study course, when I viewed others’ WU photos, I looked for compositional elements and commented about what I liked. Then, one day, a WU friend, S, emailed me to say how much she appreciated my thoughtful comments. She also speculated on the possibilities of persuading WU to have photo challenges to help us all learn to take better photos.
When WU changed their interface and uploading photos became increasingly difficult with my slow internet connection, I decided to give Flickr a try. In exploring that website, I discovered Groups. Hundreds of them. And saw how easy it was to start a group. So I emailed S and began a conversation about us starting a Flickr group of our own with weekly challenges and gentle critiques to help us learn to be better photographers. We invited N and other WU friends with cameras to join the group and picked a name, Compositionally Challenged.
S and I launched the group on June 22, 2014, and now, as we approach our first Compositionally Challenged anniversary, I look back at what I have learned over the past year and I amaze myself. The only time I snap a hurried picture now, is if I am shooting something in a hurry, like a bird that is going to fly away any moment. Otherwise, I compose my shots with an eye to Rule of Thirds, Balance, Darkness and Light, Point of View, etc. I almost never use the Auto setting on my camera. I have programmed the Custom setting. I frequently use the Manual exposure setting.
Today, I have upgraded to a Fuji HS50, a discontinued model bridge camera. I still use Photoscape. I use another free program, Diffractor, to embed captions and copyright info into the EXIF information of my photos. I am in the middle of a 365 photo-a-day challenge and continue to co-administer Compositionally Challenged.
A whole new world has opened up to me through this photographic journey, and yet I feel that it is just beginning. Because I am always looking for a photo opportunity, I find myself looking more closely at the world around me. I notice things I never noticed before. I see beauty in so many things that I couldn’t see without the aid of a camera’s zoom and macro capabilities.
I had a hip replacement in 2012, so I no longer need a camera to substitute for other activities. I don’t need to fill my days with photography, but I want to continue to spend a part of every day looking, really looking, at the world around me and not taking a bit of it for granted. My eyes have been opened to so much, simply by picking up a camera and putting in a little effort to learn something about photography.
Over the next two weeks, I am going to finally meet S in person as she travels through Washington state on vacation. And I am going to meet a serious and knowledgeable birder, D, who follows my blog. She offered to host me on a bird-watching visit to Grays Harbor. And Compositionally Challenged has flourished, attracting members in the U.S., Great Britain, and the Philippines while still remaining a small and friendly group. And none of that was planned. It simply happened.
My intent in writing this blog is not to dispense a photography lesson or to promote the CC group or Flickr. My intent is to encourage you to keep your mind open to the opportunities that life presents.
I did not set out to co-admin a photographic challenge group; I merely sought a new hobby that I could enjoy with my increasingly limited mobility. If my mind wasn’t open to other possibilities and new opportunities, my life would not be nearly as rich as it is now.
If you already have a hobby or pursuit that you are passionate about, bravo!
If you feel that something is lacking in your life, consider trying something new, and while you’re at it, keep your mind open to the possibilities. Something good might happen!
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