My photographic journey has lasted for about 35 years now, and has taken numerous interesting twists and turns. Over the decades, I have had numerous high-tech and low-tech tools at my disposal to help me capture and express my artistic vision.
I really like a line that the Santa Maria Camera Club put on their Web site: "all the members are legends in their own minds and world famous at home." That pretty much sums up my life as a wanna-be photographer! Ah well — I do what I can, and let the photographs speak for themselves.
As I was going through a box of my old photos recently, I came across some 3½ inch square pictures. My memory is very hazy, but I believe that my parents gave me some sort of Kodak Instamatic camera when I was 13 or 14 years old. I still have a stack of photos I took with this camera at various locations in California: San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, the Freedom Train in Santa Barbara, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (my old photo to the right — a composite of two separate pictures) near Avila Beach, my family in Santa Maria and Riverside, my pets, Disneyland in Anaheim. I would estimate that these photos were taken sometime during 1975 and maybe into 1976.
Around this same time, when I was in junior high, two things happened which began to fuel the fire of photographic passion. The first catalyst was a photography class I took at school. Can you believe it? I don't think a junior high would ever offer a class like that these days! I don't remember if it was a special after-school class or during normal class hours. But I do recall that it was a great class, I learned a lot, and I really liked it.
Minolta 16 II "spy" camera. I'm not sure who he gave it to — my dad, or grandfather, or someone. Whoever it was decided to give it to me, probably because of the photography class I was taking.
This photo of my sister, Kristin, is one of the first photos I took with my new little "spy" camera. As you can see from the photo to the right, which shows the camera in its extended, picture-taking mode, it really is pretty tiny. When the extended part is pushed back into the camera, it is miniature indeed! I started taking the camera to school, taking photos of my friends and teachers. It was an exciting way to get started on the adventure of photography.
While in junior high I was earning money with a paper route. I was saving up that money, plus any other money that might come my way (birthday, Christmas, etc.) to buy myself a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. Once in a while I would go down to Weaver's Camera Store and drool over the cameras behind the display glass (which kept them dry!). One day I saw a nice camera on sale at a good price. The salesman told me that the store had recently been broken in to, and some of the camera equipment had been stolen. The police recovered most or all of it, and the camera for sale was one of those that had been stolen. Only a very slight scratch on the metal part of the camera body kept it from being sold at full price. The price reduction brought it within my reach, and soon I was the proud owner of a Pentax SLR. I'm not one hundred percent sure of the model, but I'm pretty certain is was a Pentax Spotmatic F.
During high school I took all sorts of pictures all over the place. I kept saving my money, and over time I was able to add telephoto zoom and wide angle lenses, as well as a huge Honeywell Strobonar flash to my kit. Eventually some opportunities opened up for me to spread my photographic wings and put my abilities to greater use. A couple of months before my 17th birthday my cousin Susie asked me to be the main photographer at her wedding (seems like she was definitely doing things on the cheap!). I was pretty nervous, but it went well and I got good shots. Also, during both my junior and senior years of high school I was on the yearbook staff as one of the principal photographers (as documented in the picture to the left).
During college I didn't do any "official" photography like I did during high school, but I continued to take quite a few photos while I attended Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria and Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. It was during that time that I took this self portrait in the bathroom at my parents' house. I angled the mirror on the medicine cabinet door so that my image reflected in it and the large mirror on the wall at the same time. You can vaguely make out my bushy hair and my Pentax camera.
When I finally graduated from college in 1985, I made plans to attend a Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission in Scotland. I wasn't going to be able to lug my bulky and heavy camera equipment overseas, and I needed to raise money for the trip. So the melancholy day arrived when I sold my entire camera system, lock, stock and barrel. But I had not abandoned photography!
In order to travel light, yet still take quality photos, I invested the proceeds from my camera sale into a new camera, not too much bigger than the "spy" camera I had started with, but of a much higher quality. The Olympus XA was one of the smallest 35mm rangefinder cameras ever made. I took hundreds of slide photos while on my six-month trip to Europe. But once I returned, my passion for photography started to fizzle. Maybe it was because a pocket camera just couldn't compete with a full SLR camera system. Or maybe there just wasn't much going on in my life worth photograhping in those days. It was probably a combination of both.
Four years later, when I moved to Switzerland in 1990 to marry my Swiss sweetheart Catherine, I started taking photos again in order to capture the incredible beauty of the Swiss landscape. But after a few years the photographic passion dwindled again.
It wasn't until about nine years later, once we had moved back to my home town, that my interest in photography started to revive. It was at the beginning of 1999 that I made the leap into the future and got my first digital camera, a Kodak DC260. By today's standards, a mere 12 years later, this camera was quite large and clunky, and its pitiful 1.5 megapixel image size would be considered a joke compared to modern 10 or 20 megapixel images. But back then it was quite cutting edge and high-tech, and it did take very nice pictures — nice enough that over the eight years we used it before it died, we took over 7,400 pictures with it!
Once I experienced the liberation of digital photography, I knew that I could never go back to film! No film to buy, no developing costs, instant images instead of waiting to get the film developed, being able to take as many photos as I wanted and it wouldn't cost me anything but dirt-cheap hard disk space — wow! I was sold!
I can only imagine what my amateur-photographer grandfather would think about the miracle of the modern digital darkroom. What a person can do with pictures in a program like Photoshop does border on the miraculous! I don't know why my grandfather decided to sell all of his darkroom equipment in the mid-1950s, but I can easily imagine that after a decade or two of developing and printing his own photos, with the time, effort and cost involved, he probably just got fed up with it all. From that point on he took mostly slides, and sent them off to be developed. Photography sure has come a long ways from the days of soaking your hands in dangerous chemicals for hours on end just to see what your most recent batch of photos looks like!
Catherine and I shared the Kodak as a family camera, but when it finally gave up the ghost after eight years of faithful service, and I was contemplating which camera to replace it with, I realized that she and I had quite different photographic needs. In order to accommodate Catherine's desire for an easy point-and-shoot camera, we got her a Canon PowerShot SD550, which has been an excellent camera and is still going strong. To help fulfill my loftier photographic dreams, I turned to the popular fixed-lens Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50.
At the very beginning I was somewhat disappointed with the FZ-50 — it seemed like the images were not that great. But after some experimentation, I learned how to get the most out of this outstanding camera. I had had the camera less than two months when one December evening I took the photos of the moon from which I assembled the coppery composite photo which graces the headers and menus of this Web site.
Over the four-and-a-half years I used this camera I took over 5,000 photos with it. The results have been impressive enough that I have made five beautiful 13 x 11 inch photos book through Blurb.com — you can take a look at one of my more recent ones. Pretty much all of the 700-some photos in my online photo album collection that are dated prior to 2011 were taken with the FZ-50. I even had about 12 of my best photos printed at 20 x 16 inches and then framed — many of them are hanging in my office and elsewhere throughout the house. I also made calendars with these photos for a few years. All in all it's been a great time with the FZ-50, but recently my aspirations were calling me even higher.
Although the Lumix has been a wonderful camera, it also very definitely has its limitations — the most crucial of which is its small sensor size (only 1/1.8"), which can lead to images with quite a bit of digital image noise. But pretty much the only way to have a larger sensor is to move up to cameras with interchangeable lenses. A popular option these days is a Four Thirds camera. But as you can see from this camera sensor size chart, moving up to only that level would be a compromise solution, since the Four Thirds sensors are still somewhat on the small side. Down the road, I would likely want to make the transition from Four Thirds to a bigger sensor, so it would make more sense, and be cheaper in the long run, to go ahead and take a big step now rather than a little step now and a little step later. Full-frame 35mm sensor cameras are professional-level cameras that have numerous features I don't need, which greatly increases the cost. Therefore, it seemed like the best solution was a camera with the fairly-large APS-C sensor.
In February 2011 I sold my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 and associate equipment. This month, March 2011, I have been putting together a system of high-quality lenses and other photographic equipment centered around a Sony Alpha α55 translucent mirror digital SLR camera. This is the first SLR I have owned since I sold my Pentax in 1985. But I skipped the low-end lens that Sony offers with the body — I opted instead for a very sweet Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 zoom lens to use as my "everyday" lens, as show in the image to the right. By the way, that's not a photo off the Internet, but an actual picture of my camera which I took today. I've also been acquiring some additional equipment to put together a complete camera system.
Now that I've been getting more deliberate about my photographic equipment, I'm also going to be more intentional about my picture taking. Rather than just taking photos only when we happen to go somewhere picturesque, I am planning on taking many trips, near and not so near, for the express purpose of taking pictures. Oregon is a very beautiful state, with a rugged coast, the majestic Cascade mountains, and the arid eastern deserts — an incredible abundance and variety of photo-worthy subjects. The main problem I'm having right now is Oregon's typically wet winter and spring — day after day and week after week of rain is keeping me indoors. But on the bright side, at least I'm getting this Web site made!
I've also been investigating some local camera clubs. I've found two: the Corvallis Photography Meetup Club (mostly to arrange group photo outings), and the more formal Valley Viewfinders Camera Club right here in Albany. It will be interesting to see what develops with these groups.
Well, after all these years my photographic journey has come full circle: I pretty much started off with an SLR camera, and now 35 years later I'm finally back to an SLR — a modern digital one this time. I have high expectations that this will be a great year for photography. As always, I will be displaying my best work on the Internet. You can find my online photo album collection at ByrdPhoto.com, and you can visit my brand new Web portal at BrianByrd.com for one-stop access to all of my Web sites, both those relating to photography, and those on other subjects.
Thank you for taking the time to relive my 35-year photographic journey with me — the best is yet to come!
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