Rocky start to photography: LAPC

For me, it was a rocky start to photography. As I mentioned on my About page, I dropped out of Photography class in High School. I was failing the class. My focus was still unclear during those rebellious years.

College and beyond

A rocky start to photography
Maidenhair fern printed in my darkroom

In college, everything changed when I roomed with two Photography majors. In one of the places I lived we converted a bathroom into a makeshift darkroom. I spent a lot of time in that room, unrolling spools of film in semi-darkness and immersing prints in sharp-scented fixatives.

I also served as a part-time muse since the college required Photography program students to take one roll of pictures a day. The infrared picture of me below, dressed as a lion, was taken by my roommate Jill.

Infrared lion with wine
Me dressed as a lion with wine in infrared

During one winter break, we left our rented house to spend time with our families. I arrived back at the house days ahead of everyone else. A catastrophe greeted me. Unbeknownst to me, my out-of-state roommates neglected to pay the electric bill—they assumed our rent included electricity. The electric company turned off our power when no one was in town, and the house was ice cold. The pipes had broken in the ceiling, releasing a steady stream of dripping water. My first thought was, “Her photos!” I scrambled to salvage my roomie’s pictures from her drenched room. String zigzagged from wall to wall and I hung up the saturated prints.

In contrast to that chaos, I organized slides taken while working outdoors after graduating from college. Each category has a paper tab and I used bright colored pencil markings for subcategories, including where they were taken. Most survived seasons of living in a tent, but mold blossomed on several in the unpredictable High Desert weather. If only my current pictures were so well organized!

  • a rocky start to photography - slide box
  • June at Hart Mountain

A nature photography class

Years later, I took a class from a professional wildlife photographer. He was a wonderful photographer, but I cringed when he spoke of what he did to capture the “perfect” image. With my training as a wildlife biologist, I had a hard time believing it was okay to set up scaffolding right next to an owl nest full of fledglings. I vowed not to go that route.

Great horned owl vignette
Great horned owl vignette

During one class, we climbed over large boulders piled along a Puget Sound beach. Somehow, my camera, with its 400mm lens attached, tumbled out of my backpack. NO! I set aside money every month for a year to buy that Olympus OM-1 camera. I saved for another year to buy the lens. Though neither one broke in the fall, it damaged the connection between them. From then on, I squeezed them tightly together every time I took a picture.

Finding the right tools

As time passed, I used the damaged camera less and less. I bought a couple pocket-sized Canon PowerShot Digital Elphs and now use a Panasonic Lumix and a Pixel phone. Sometimes I attach them to my spotting scope.

Every pixel tells a story
Every Pixel tells a story, don’t it?

Maybe the broken connection between my giant lens and camera happened for a reason. There is creative freedom associated with having a grab-and-go camera small enough to fit into a pocket. We can take pictures anywhere at anytime.

My rocky start in photography took many unexpected turns, but now my photos are often artistic, reflecting more of who I really am.

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

Ernst Haas
Juniper muse in June 2020
My juniper muse in June

Lens Artists Photo Challenge – My Photography Journey

35 thoughts on “Rocky start to photography: LAPC

  1. I had a similar “false start” with photography, too. It’s so interesting that our heart and minds have to be in sync in order to truly “dive” into an artistic pursuit. I cringed when I read about the accident with your beautiful, expensive camera and lens. I had a similar disaster when my Canon fell out of my bag and into a stream when we were hiking…I went smaller too as a result. Your last shot is gorgeous. I love the colors and the light and the eyes on the horned owl are mesmerizing.

  2. It must be a heartbreaking experience to see your camera and lens tumbled out of your backpack.
    I’m in awe with your last shot, and the owl is a cool capture. The image of you dressed as a lion, precious! Thank you for sharing your memories and journey!

    • Yes, it was terrible when my camera crashed onto the boulders. Glad you liked my owl and tree shots. It was fun playing dress up for my photographer roommates. 😀

    • Thanks! I bought it from an artist on Etsy. I couldn’t believe how much it looked like my favorite juniper tree in my yard.

  3. Loved your story this week Siobhan, especially the twists and turns! Your story about the broken pipes, followed by that of the fallen lens made me shudder! I KNOW what that kind of equipment costs and how heartbreaking it must have been at the time. Good for you in hindsight for knowing it led you on a different path to artistic freedom. I’m sure it was a difficult lesson indeed but the evolution of your journey has been the perfect one for you as your art is amazing. On a similar note, we had a group meeting with 8 or 9 Fuji camera users last year. One of us (not me) had a brand new 400mm lens in her backpack as we were studying the cameras. The backpack fell from the shelf where she’d placed it and we all heard the sound of shattering glass. It was a terrible moment. Hopefully, she found a similar positive result from her disaster.

    • Thanks, Tina! Yes, I’ve had my share of twists and turns. I feel so bad for the person you mentioned who lost their lens! At least mine still functioned. 😐

  4. You sure have an interesting story here, Siobhan. Terrible turns and terrible accident with your camera and lens – but it made you chose another direction. Freedom – reflecting who you really are. I would love to say that of my own images, but…
    Love your owl, and yourself as a lion! And your last image!
    I have many friends shooting wildlife, and I know there are less nice stories of how they go about it. Or – how they tell me some others go about it. So many brilliant shots are rigged – for example there is no way of getting three or four eagles fighting over food unless you have put the carcass there yourself.

    • Thank you, Ann-Christine! Yes, sometimes bad things happen so you’ll consider going a different direction. Sorry that some photographers go to great lengths to get a “natural” wildlife picture. I try to keep my distance, even if it means not getting the best shot.

  5. Pingback: Using digital magic to edit photographs: LAPC - bend branches

  6. I loved reading your photography journey with all its twists and turns. I could easily picture that string criss-crossing the room with damp photos dangling from it. I hope many survived? And I had to empathise with your wish that you were as organised these days with your digital photos as you used to be with your slides. Nowadays it’s all too easy to keep taking more photos rather than pause and sort what we have, whereas in the past the cost of film enforced that downtime and ensured we had relatively few to keep track of!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.