I have always been interested in photos. When I was younger, I used to pore through drawers of photos and photo albums that my parents made, looking at them, rearranging them and remembering the moment that they were taken.
I loved those photos. When I went to college and returned home for holidays and summers, I would always return to those drawers, collect the photos to view the new ones and to catch up on everything that had happened while I was away. When I looked at the pictures, I tried to imagine myself there and what I would have been doing at that time.
I was intrigued by photos because I felt that I could hold an instant of time, of emotion, a memory, right in my hands. I never really took any of the pictures when I was a kid, but I sure did appreciate the pictures in those drawers.
Little did I know that those pictures would someday help shape a great hobby of mine and something that brought me great joy: Photography. Over the last two years, photography has helped me live life a lot better and completely change my perspective on the world.
I wanted to share 10 ways that I think photography can help you improve your life. First I want to tell you my journey with photography, then I will tell you 10 ways I discovered that my camera helps improve my life.
1989: I buy an Olympus film camera. What a fiasco!
I was 21. I had just graduated from college and decided I had to travel. I bought an Olympus camera, some black and white Ilford Film and headed to Central America with my good friend and roommate Aaron. Aaron was a great photographer (a great artist, writer and poet actually) and I always wanted to capture pictures like him.
He always captured this incredibly interesting shots of things that were happening around him. He was observant and patient. I was not and I was young and lacked any attention to the details that matter. I didn’t have the patience to learn any of the basics – lighting, focus, composition.
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I used all the film up during the trip. I took so many pictures of so many interesting things. I was in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so many other interesting places. I wanted to take pictures of everything! We traveled by bus everywhere and stayed in hotels that cost 90 cents a night. We ate beans and rice and I still got a deadly stomach virus that made me drop 20 pounds. The trip was hard but we kept taking pictures and capturing all of those wonderful moments.
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An Olympus camera and some Ilford film. I thought I was so cool.
I was eager to get home to develop and look at my first pictures with my camera, and then disaster struck. While sitting in a bus station after a grueling 24 hour bus ride, one of my bags and one of Aaron’s bags were stolen by thieves. My journal and all of my pictures were stolen.
I had a couple of unused rolls of film and there was one in the camera. I was so upset, not necessarily because the bags were stolen but because all of the moments in time I had captured were stolen.
I felt like somehow the trip to Guatemala and Central America was all for naught. Just like how the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around makes no sound, a trip to Guatemala never happened without the pictures. That was my first experience with photography and I decided to abandon it. The Olympus camera was buried in a bag somewhere and I didn’t give a second thought about taking another picture. Well, that isn’t exactly true.
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Aaron and I in Peru. One of the few photos left after thieves stole our bag.
For the next 10 years I traveled the world without a camera. I was like a body traveling without a soul.
In 1999, I took a job as a consultant. The job promised to let me travel the world and it did. During the next 10 years I traveled the world extensively for work. I racked up over 1.5 million air miles. I traveled to London 40 times, to Toronto 30, to Taipei, Tokyo, Sydney Australia, Europe and just about everywhere in the US. I was a road warrior to the extreme.
I saw the world but I never enjoyed it. I just worked and I hardly ever carried a camera with me. I never captured any images of the world, of the places I had been to or the people that I had met.
Although I had traveled to all these great places and had so many great experiences, I felt that I didn’t really have any images to show for it. Once again, I had significant experiences that I barely felt I could remember. On top of that I felt like I never enjoyed a minute during all of those trips. I hated it.
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I traveled 1.5 million miles with it. But I had almost no photographs of the journey.
I re-discover photography. I am a man obsessed. But I am a man without talent.
In 2009, I made a resolution to buy a nice camera. Not a camera phone, not a point-and-shoot, but a DSLR camera with which I could change the lens. I ended up choosing a Canon D50, which was about $500 at the time. And that is when I went crazy. As Patrick, my brother said, “Frank has gone click click crazy,” referring to the way that I was constantly clicking the shutter of the camera.
I would shoot everything and anything. My motto was (and still is to this day, actually) that you never regret the pictures you take, just the ones that you don’t. I would shoot things from 10 different angles; stupid angles that made no sense. I would shoot things without paying attention to the light; shots taken in total darkness that would never turn out.
And all my shots were blurry — out of focus, “what’s going on” blurry. But it didn’t matter because I loved it. For every 100 shots I took, I found one that I liked. And for every 100 of those shots I liked, I found one that I loved. That one shot… that was worth everything to me.
I begin my quest to hoard more camera gear. I make an interesting discovery.
As I began to take more pictures, I started to crave better and better equipment that could increase my range. I upgraded from the D50 to the D700 to the 5D… and that was just the cameras. I bought and sold lenses for Canon until I had tried out virtually every lens and focal length you can imagine.
After going through the Canon line-up, I switched to Nikon and went through their high end D3 and D4 lineup and all of their lenses. I tried everything to make sure I had the best equipment. I mean, I turned into a chronic buyer and seller on Amazon, eBay, Adorama, B&H Photo and anywhere else you can imagine.
I always thought that the better the camera, the better the pictures I would take. I would soon realize that I was sorely mistaken. Sure the cameras helped to a certain extent but even after I upgraded a camera my images almost always looked the same as before. Maybe photography was less about the camera and more about me? Could that be the case?
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My latest gear. I have bought and sold so many cameras and lenses. It was fun but didn’t make much of a difference
I learn the great irony – Photography isn’t always about what you share but about what you don’t
My photography really changed when I took a significant step in sharing it. I stopped posting thousands of marginal looking pictures to Facebook every month and focused on building my own website and a photography blog. I heard something from my friend Aryo (another brilliant photographer that I always try to emulate) that good photographers learn that it is more important to learn what not to share than what to share.
In this day and age of Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter people are inundated with pictures.
In short less is more and how you present your photographs is just as important as the photography itself. Good photographers know that less is more. Don’t show everything. Show only your best work. Put your work into a larger context that tells a story. Keep your work interesting.
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I started my site through SmugMug. I had about 12,000 visitors to it my first year. It was exciting.
I begin to live by the motto “Practice, Practice, Practice!”
My blog was a huge help. I started posting photos and stories behind them 3 times a week. The blog taught me to take photos with a purpose and to make sure that the photos were able to support a story or, better yet, to tell the story in and of itself.
The blog helped me add context to my pictures and helped me practice. And that was the key: Practice, Practice, Practice. I began shooting everyday. I began to read the camera manual to figure out how to control the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO. I slowed down, took less shots and put the camera into full manual mode.
As I slowed down and became more thoughtful I took less pictures. Surprisingly though, as I took less pictures on each outing, I began to take more good pictures. I was shooting more often, taking less pictures each time, but keeping more good pictures. I was learning and I was happier with the result.
I ask the question To Photoshop or Not to Photoshop? There was never a question.
There is no question that Photoshop can change your photography and skills. Photoshop and editing became 50% of each picture I took. I started to practice every night for at least 2 hours. I started learning and using techniques to make my pictures look better and more interesting. I learned that Photoshop was an absolute must if I wanted my pictures to become more interesting.
I found plug-ins like Color Efx Pro and Viveza which I could use to make my photos look more professional and vivid. While I am not an expert in Photoshop by any means, I learned that if you want truly interesting pictures that you have to edit them before you post them online. Even if it is a tiny edit you can almost always improve your photos a bit with Photoshop.
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The pic on the left is straight from the camera. I enhanced it on the right with some basic edits.
Learning a lesson. Pointing the camera at the world, to reveal pictures of me
After the obsession, after the hoarding of gear, after shooting every day, after blogging everyday and learning everything I could about Photoshop, I always question myself: “when am I going to be where I want to be?” I look at other photographers pictures in awe sometimes and have no idea how they do it. The only thing I can do is try to copy them and I do just that shamelessly at times.
But gradually over the last year I find myself becoming more accepting of my photography – of what it is and what is not. I have learned to accept what I am good at and what I am terrible at. Through all this, I like where it has taken me. I have discovered that photography has pushed me to live more, to see more of the world, and to become more understanding of what is important to me.
I am not a fashion photographer. I am not a landscape photographer. I am not a photojournalist. I am not a street photographer. I am not a professional photographer. I am only me and can only see the world in a certain way. I take pictures of the way that I see the world and of the way I see people and who they are. I take pictures of where I am and sometimes of where I pushed myself to be.
The more I point my camera at others, the more I find out about me and what is important. When I take pictures of others, I am really just revealing small pictures of myself for others to see. To see the world through my eyes is to see more of me and who I am.
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When I point the camera at others, I begin to reveal myself
Every click of the shutter reveals more and more of me to me and it is changing my life with each picture I take. I guess photography for me has not only been a journey of discovering the world but of discovering myself and what is important to me. I learn something new about others, and about myself every time I pick up the camera.
A camera can change your life too. Maybe just a little, but it can.
It’s amazing how the Internet and all its sharing tools have democratized photography. Sharing a photo takes literally an instant and requires nothing more than your phone and an Internet connection. Sharing a photo is as easy as dialing the phone was just 20 years ago, and instead of communicating with a single person, you can communicate to the world.
Absolutely anyone can share a photo and have it viewed and admired by millions. Photography is about sharing and never before have people been able to share their work with so many so quickly.
Over the last couple of years, I have found many ways that my camera has helped changed the way that I experience life. They are simple things that almost anyone can do if they have a camera. Since it’s the beginning of 2013 and people are making resolutions to make it a great year perhaps the camera can help.
Here are 10 ways to use and enjoy your camera. 10 ways to use photography to start a new life. A life with richer experiences.
1) Take Photo Walks – Go out and see the beauty of the world without distraction.
Shut down your computer, turn off the TV, grab your camera and go on a walk. A Photo Walk is just what it sounds like: you go on a walk somewhere interesting and take photos if anything looks amazing or interesting. I do at least one a week and they can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours.
The trick to a good Photo Walk is to not set expectations too high. The point is to take a walk first to see the world, and the second is to take pictures if anything comes along.
I have tried doing photo walks where I made up my mind that I wanted to take great photos. That never works. I come home frustrated and not too happy with my pictures. It’s important to let the walk guide your pictures and not the other way around. You might come home with zero good pictures but you will always have a great walk and that is important.
I usually take walks around sunset and along the beach. I was walking along sunset cliffs in Ocean Beach when I saw this beautiful scene unfolding before my eyes. The golden sunset was casting colors on the sandstone rocks and it looked beautiful against the crystal blue waters. I was living life, seeing beauty and appreciating the world around me.
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2) Open a magazine, see a beautiful picture of somewhere amazing and then go there.
Photography gives you the freedom to go anywhere in the world with a purpose. Last year I bought a Life Magazine that showed pictures of the 50 most beautiful places in the United States. I pored through the magazine and saw pictures that blew me away. I wanted to go to some of those places, so I did. If I didn’t have a camera I probably would have been content to browse the pictures and move on. But I didn’t.
I started choosing places out of the magazine and visiting them with the intent of capturing beautiful images from those places. I visited Banff National Park; Arches; Yellowstone; Monument Valley, Arizona; White Sands, New Mexico and many other of the most beautiful places that I saw in the magazine.
I didn’t just visit those places, I went there to find beauty and capture it – I had a purpose and it kept me exploring. The camera can make you an adventurer, an explorer of the world.
I took this picture in White Sands. It was calm, peaceful and beautiful. I was alone in massive white sand dunes with my camera while the sun slowly set. There was no sound, just the click of the shutter as I snapped this picture:
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3) Do something uncomfortable. Push yourself to the edge of your limits.
There I was. I was standing on the edge of a massive cliff looking down at one of the most amazing views I had ever seen. I was not sure if it was fear or awe that was taking my breath away. I was breathing quickly and half of me wanted to slowly back away from the edge, and the other half made me reach for my camera to capture the moment forever.
I was in Page, Arizona looking down at the iconic “Horseshoe Bend” where the river makes almost a complete circle. It is no secret that a few (and sometimes more than a few) photographers die here each year when they get too close to the edge and slip off. I am massively afraid of heights and this was a photo that I felt compelled to get.
I was pushing myself to my limit to test myself but also to capture something that I found to be beautiful. I felt alive and exhilarated and after I got the photo-triumphant.
The camera can give you a purpose to push yourself to your limit. Find somewhere that test your comfort zone. Whether it is taking a picture of a stranger, an activity, or somewhere slightly dangerous, the camera can give you a purpose to conquer the fear but also a trophy and a story to tell others about your experience.
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4) Tell a story with a picture to help someone in need.
A picture paints a thousand words, and photos often tell a story that words cannot. Many photographers spend time helping non-profit groups get their story out there so they can raise money or awareness. The feeling you get by taking a picture of someone in need to help them tell their story is amazing. In these busy days, people may not give words a second glance but they will look at a picture and at times be moved enough by that picture to do something.
It was Christmas. We were in Vietnam and we heard of a little known orphanage on the out skirts of town in a former run down prison. We arrived and saw the abysmal conditions and when we opened the rusty gates to enter we were greeted by the happy screams of beautiful but forgotten kids and babies inside.
Each orphan had a single pair of clothes and most slept right on the floor in rooms that used to be prison cells. I felt that pictures were the only way to tell the story. The pictures could show the world these kids so that people would go to visit, perhaps adopt them or perhaps just give them simple things like the milk and food they needed. We used the pictures to setup a Facebook page and tell the world the story.
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5) Meet a stranger, learn their story. Appreciate how blessed you are.
As I do sometimes, I was walking around taking pictures on the street and looking for interesting situations and people. I saw him in the distance and knew I wanted a photo of him. He was well dressed while others were casual. He was walking with a binder and seemed to have sense of purpose.
I took a picture of him and he stopped to talk to me. He told me he was an English teacher many years ago but not anymore. The Vietnam War had ended his career as well respected and highly paid teacher. I learned later that even though he had not had a job in over 30 years teaching, that he awoke each morning, put on his work clothes and walked outside making his way to a job he did not have. He went through the motions each morning to go to work to give his life a sense of purpose.
I later learned that several years ago he suffered tragedy when his wife was hit and killed by a car while they went jogging at night. His life was empty but he filled it with hope that things would get better. He thanked me over and over and over again for taking a picture of him even though he never expected to get a copy of it. He was just happy that someone found him interesting enough to take a picture of him.
Going out in the world with your camera can oftentimes lead to an introduction of a stranger. Their story might interest you. You can look at the world with a bit more compassion and you might appreciate how blessed you are for your own situation.
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6) Make someone feel good with a picture you take.
A picture can make someone feel beautiful, or feel loved, or feel like they have a wonderful life. Your picture can be a mirror back to that person of what their life is and it can make them feel wonderful about they have.
I have found that people are often hesitant to let you take picture of them because they have had a bad experience in the past. Maybe someone has uploaded an unflattering image of them on Facebook for the world to see and they just don’t want that to happen again.
Whenever I take pictures I am always aware that I need to be sensitive to how the picture will make someone feel when they see it. You can use your camera to take a beautiful picture of someone and they just might feel good about their life and what they have when they see it.
I took this picture of my brother and his daughter Isabella. I think when he saw it he must have felt that he had the best life of anyone in the world.
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7) Start a photography blog to enrich your life and tell your words and pictures.
I can honestly say starting my photography blog was a huge step in improving my photography. The blog was a personal way for me to put my pictures into a context with a story that would be interesting for others to read. The blog also helped improve my life too. 3 to 4 time a week I will post a picture and reflect upon what has happened in my life.
The blog might be a picture and few sentences but the habit of writing the blog keeps me focused on taking pictures and journaling my life. Over the past year, I know have a diary of where I have been and what I have done. When I started only a few people would read it. It is still small but everyday I get about 100 readers that look at my post. It makes me feel good to tell my story.
My first blog post was about my nephew Geno and ever since he has been the subject of many.
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8) Wake up early. See the sun rise over the world.
Waking up at 5am while it is still dark to take pictures while everyone else is soundly sleeping may not sound like fun but it can be extremely rewarding.
It’s no secret that the most beautiful light of the day for photographs is either sunrise or sunset. Since the sun is so low in the horizon, it gives your pictures color, clarity and contrast that you can never get in the middle of the day.
Your camera can motivate you to pull yourself up out of bed early to capture a beautiful scene. When you get home others will be just waking up, but you will have already accomplished something extraordinary that day.
It was dark, it was cold and I was tired. It was 4am in Banff and I was in a car on a dark road on my way to take pictures of sunrise. There was frost everywhere and I just felt like crawling back into bed. I got up too early, actually, and found myself waiting around for about an hour at a beautiful lake, waiting for that perfect sunrise picture.
There was no one around. I had the place to myself (and maybe some bears but I tried not to think about that). I set my camera on the tripod and took this picture of the serene boat house. Its light was on. There we were, the boat house and I anxiously waiting for the beautiful sunrise that was just on the horizon. Life was good. I wasn’t tired anymore.
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9) Experience winter, spring, summer and fall
I never appreciated the changing seasons until I had a camera. Living in San Diego, California, our seasons are subtle and most days seem like either spring or summer. Sure we are blessed, but half of the beauty of the world is in the way it changes over time. Your camera can help you experience each of these helping you see and capture the beauty that each has to offer.
For example, I could never fully appreciate the beauty of fall until I looked at it through my lens. I learned to love the changing colors of the leaves and the beauty that I was able to capture with a photo. I feel like I am really living each season and anticipating the beauty that I will find in each.
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10) Do a 365 Day Project.
One of the best things you can do with your camera is to start a 365 Day Project. Photo sites like 500px, SmugMug, and Flickr have communities set up in which you post a single photo that you take each day. Other people will look at your photos and comment or encourage you.
A 365 day project is only a commitment to try to take a single photo each day and post it. It will force you to practice everyday and share everyday. The more you practice and the more you share, the more reward you will get from photography. The best thing about a 365 day project is you have a site that you can go back to for years which chronicles your daily journey though life.
I started my 365 day project last year. To be honest, I probably only post pictures 4 times a week, but the site has become one of my favorite places to go to see what I was doing each day.
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Start living life. Let Photography push you to experience life.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my personal journey through photography. I hope that you got some interesting ideas on how to use a camera (any camera really) to help you live life more fully.
If you immerse yourself in the world of photography you will be amazed at everything that it can offer you. It is not easy to take the time for pictures everyday but even if you take the time once a week you might be surprised out how much you can improve your life experience. You can stare at the world, or you can take a picture – it last longer.