Let me start off by spoiling this entire blog post for you, Quentin Tarantino style. It was my time in the military that gave me the "Aha!" moments that really cemented photography into one of my passions and hobbies. But it's more of a slow, graduated build-up throughout my life that lead up to it.
When I was a child, maybe in the range of seven or eight years old, I used to spend the majority of my summers in Cape Breton with my grandfather while he rebuilt his childhood home into the cozy little house he lives in now. Every summer before going, my nanny (that's my word for my grandmother, for you folks picturing Mary Poppins) would save up barcodes/receipts from, I believe, film canisters. Back then there were promotions where you could trade in a certain amount of them in exchange for a free disposable camera. This was my photography gear as a child! And I really did love taking photos during my summers there. Mind you, I wasn't photography minded, being just a little kid with no concept of composition even being a thing, but I took photos all summer long anyways. It was always very exciting taking my disposable camera to the grocery store at the end of the trip, and finally seeing the fruits of my labour. There were a fair share of failed exposures in there of course. Such is the nature of a disposable basic film camera, but I was always joyed to show off my photos every summer.
A few years later, on yet another summer trip to Cape Breton, my great aunt purchased a digital camera! It was the first one I had ever seen, a Minolta. Basic as digital cameras now go, but being able to actually see what the exposure was going to look like before taking the photo was a game changer for me. I remember family members taking photos with it, and the horizons were always lopsided, or people were cut off... this is when I started to actually notice basic composition, as things like crooked horizons started to really bother me. I had begin my descent down the rabbit hole of photography, and unbeknownst to me, there would be no climbing back out.
Those basic photos of Cape Breton were my gateway, but I wouldn't really step through the gates and into the courtyard until I joined the army in high school. I had been working typical high school jobs; fast food, restaurant waiting and bussing, etc, but I wanted something more. Something challenging, something that would allow me to better myself. The army reserves was perfect, and I joined the Princess Louise Fusiliers infantry regiment in grade 10. It was a tough grind, but it was exactly what I wanted.
Right before the start of basic training, I purchased my own little digital point-and-shoot camera, a Sony. It was basic, but it was small, which was the key. It had to fit in a pocket. During my basic training course, I truly "discovered" photography for myself. When you're sitting in a dirt trench for hours, what else is there to do? I played with depth of field, I played with focal length, I focused on black and white photography for that gritty army look. I experimented. And looking back at my photos of my army courses with that little point and shoot, some of those shots are still some of my favourites. It really is proof that you don't need the best full-frame DSLR with the best lenses to get shots that you like. They do help of course, don't get me wrong, but your eye and technique are always king. One thing I do regret is not knowing what the RAW image format was, as I'd love to be able to properly re-work some of these photos. But then again, maybe that's part of their charm to me. They are what they are.
Looking back, I used the in-camera black and white option way to much. I felt it just worked well for the gritty military look, but it would have been much smarter to shoot in RAW, with colour, and convert to black and white later. Oh well. I didn't know any better at the time, which again, maybe adds to the charm of the photos for me. It's a slice of personal history, when I was teaching myself a bit of photography and trying to find out who I was during high school.
My final photography "revelation" came when I first held a DSLR for the first time. "You mean I have to look through the viewfinder? That seems so archaic!" Hey, leave me alone. We all say stupid things we regret. I was young and naive!
The control that a single-lens reflex camera offered was totally new to me, and I couldn't put it down for months on end. I went through a period of near constant photo-taking, even experimenting with studio lights and the like.
When I moved to Yellowknife, I took a photography workshop on the aurora, put on by world-renowned photographer Dave Brosha (seriously, look him up, he's ridiculously good). After the workshop, I had the shock/honour of being asked by him to be one of his assistants. I learned a lot from Dave, but in retrospect, I should have spent every waking minute pestering the crap out of him and picking his brain. But I digress, and this post is already getting way too long, so let's call it a day, and maybe continue this another time.
If you read all of this, seriously, pat yourself on the back and accept my thanks.
Until next time!