Harvard Hero Moment #25: Freedom to focus – developing a passion for digital photography
19 Mar 2020
I don’t remember when I first realised that I was in love with photography. But I do remember my first camera. It was one my mum had growing up but the fact I had been given a camera was enough for me. I had so much fun that summer taking photos of my friends and family.
Then I got “my” first camera, the first one that was all mine and hadn’t been owned by someone else. Tucked away in the attic are all the blurred photos I took before I learned I had to hold the camera still.
At school, I studied photography and used my first SLR camera. It was a Praktica and completely manual. It took 35mm film, there was no auto-focus and I had to set the shutter speed and aperture by hand. I loved every minute of using that camera. It was hard work but taught me all the basics.
I also discovered that I had a bit of a knack for taking photos that people liked. I was the official photographer for the school plays for a couple of years. Sitting in rehearsals, I would try and capture that moment when everything came together in the actors’ performance. Sometimes I got it. Sometimes I didn’t. And once I fell off the side of the stage and completely ruined the moment.
Sticking with film – or discovering digital?
In 2004, I treated myself to my first digital camera – the Canon EOS 10D. When I’d first started work, I had fallen out of the habit of taking photos. I now realised I was missing it. My old Pentax ME Super (which had replaced the Praktica I’d been using at school) clearly didn’t cut it anymore.
I had a choice.
Did I go digital – which was just emerging at an affordable price point for the consumer – or did I stick with film? My boss at the time was an avid photographer. We talked and he persuaded me that I was better off investing in a digital SLR rather than buying a traditional 35mm SLR, which would be out-of-date in a couple of years.
I took the plunge. It was a clear choice: the Canon EOS 10D or the Nikon D100. Both came out about the same time. Both offered similar functionality. Both were about the same price. I read the reviews, tried them out and decided I preferred the Canon.
And what did I discover? That I loved it.
If I wanted it to, the camera would do all the work! Auto-focusing. Automatically selecting the aperture and shutter speed. It became easy to always get a well exposed, perfectly focused picture. I could also tell immediately how the shot had turned out. And if it didn’t come out the way I wanted – or even if I wasn’t sure – I could take another, and another, and another, and another. Forever – or at least until the memory card was full.
Along the way, I also discovered that batteries can run flat, usually when you’re about to leave the house or are going to take the best ever photo of your entire life.
Focusing on the photograph
Now all I use are digital cameras. And I still love taking pictures. I even choose my mobile phone based on how good the camera is. Because forget anything you’d told – the best camera to have is the one you’ve got when you see the photo you want.
In some ways, using a digital camera has made me a lazier photographer. I don’t have to worry about getting all the technical aspects right. They are taken care of – unless I choose to exercise control.
But I also find using a digital camera has freed me up to be a better photographer. I am a street photographer. I enjoy trying to capture the world around me, whether it’s a street scene, a sunset, a landscape, wildlife or people.
I can happily spend hours walking around taking photos. The time just flies by and I am completely lost in my search for the perfect photo. And I’ve found that having a digital camera lets me concentrate on capturing what I see in a way that film cameras never did. That is what I enjoy and that is what my digital cameras allow me to do.