A lot of people ask how I first started out in photography, so I thought I would take the time to answer this really important question. Some of you might already know from reading my bio and other articles that I first became interested in photography when I took my first photography class in high school. The year following, after it became clear to everyone in my family that photography was going to be [at least] a hobby of mine, my aunt gave me my first 35mm camera as a birthday gift (Minolta Maxxum 5) and the rest is pretty much history.
So how do I go from taking a photography class, getting my first camera, to all of a sudden taking awesome pictures? Well it really isn't all that simple. It takes a lot of practice to develop what people call your photographic "eye", which is basically your own unique way of seeing things and framing them with a camera. Some people are born with this sort of artistic talent and vision, others not so much; but regardless of which category you fall under there are certain guides and rules to follow which can help you develop your eye and improve as a photographer (more on this later). Be careful, though, not to place too much emphasis on rules - experiment and let your vision develop naturally through practicing and taking TONS of photos. That's exactly what I did. During my first summer with the Minolta I probably took hundreds and hundreds of photos, all my money went into developing negatives at the local photo lab. Trust me 90% of everything I took back then I would consider garbage now, but back then - the mere process of pointing, framing, and clicking - was vital in the development of my eye. I'd get the prints back from the lab, choose my favorites and throw out all the blurry shots. It's important when you are just starting out - to be a little tough on yourself. If it isn't good, throw it out. Progression as an artist only happens when your able to let go and head toward new goals. Hoarding 500 half-decent shots of flowers really won't help you in the long run - best to narrow it down to a few dozen and toss the rest, then go out and keep shooting and strive for better. Sooner or later you'll realize your collection of "good" photos slowly turns into "great" photos and you just keep getting better because you are forcing yourself to see and shoot in new ways in order to improve. But wait, what makes a photo good? I dunno, you tell me! The best way to learn what makes a good photo is to a) study the work of successful photographers you admire, and b) to receive feedback from people on your photos. Gradually you will catch on to trends that are working for those photographers you admire, and gradually you'll get a better idea of what people are attracted to in your own photos by analyzing their feedback.
When I was in high school I lived on small island in rural Ontario called Washburn Island, about 2 hours north of Toronto. Not exactly the epicenter of "cool", but on the bright side I was constantly surrounded by nature and beautiful landscapes. Directly out my front door was Lake Scugog and in my 2 acre backyard there was a wealth of flora and fauna coming and going at random. Mostly birds actually, but sometimes we'd get the odd red fox or deer (though I was never fortunate enough to have a camera handy when they came around). So naturally, my beginnings as a photographer were pretty much shaped by the nature and landscapes around me. That's really all I shot because, frankly, there was nothing else to shoot.
The thing I began to understand was that a photo needed to connect with the viewer. It's gotta say something, share something, tell a story or evoke some kind of emotion if anyone is going to care enough to look at it. So that became my greatest challenge - searching for things that I felt people could connect with. Whether it was bright and happy or dark and gloomy I tried to find ways to shoot and edit my photos to give them emotion. Sometimes a pretty picture isn't enough, you need a human connection, a human emotion. That's why a lot of my landscapes started to take on this dark gloomy silhouetted theme which you can see in a few shots still lingering on my website. If I didn't have a model or random person to use in a photo, I would put my camera on a tripod and use the 10 second timer and take a photo of myself instead. You'd be surprised how far you can run in 10 seconds if you really put your heart and legs into it :P
Anyways, that's how I got started. Shooting nature, and LOTS of it. Every day I possibly could, I was outside exploring my surroundings. Going kayaking to get close to Great Blue Herons, trekking in the snow to the middle of the lake to take photos of ice fisherman, hiking in the woods shooting families of Chickadees with a 300mm lens. You name it, I did it all and loved every second of it. Nowadays, my world is completely different, I'm living in an urban center and I shoot mostly people because I need to make a living and getting paid to take photos of nature is pretty much impossible. Not that I'm complaining, I love what I do now - but just goes to show you, you never know where your career path is going to lead you. So one thing I would suggest to you is take my example and start exploring your surroundings whatever they may be, and day by day, week by week develop your eye by experimenting with new perspectives and constantly growing by throwing out (or in today's digital world "deleting") any excess garbage.
All images, videos, text copyright © Matt Vardy, all rights reserved.