This is one of the last pictures I took with our old point and shoot camera, about 4 years ago, right before I received my first DSLR as an early Christmas gift.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I know it’s easy to look at this and think, “Goodness, why would you need an upgrade?” It’s truly spectacular in all it’s grainy, blurry, poorly exposed glory. But, well, I had a hunch I could do better.

Here are a few of my favorite most recent pics…

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

It’s been a long 4 years, and I still don’t consider myself an expert at any of this. I look at pictures I take now, and still see so much room for improvement. It’s why I hesitate to write too much about the technical side of photography over here. I just don’t view myself as someone who knows enough to tell others how to do this.

But, even I can see how far I’ve come, and at least I can share that with you all.

This is a popular time of year for leaps into the wonderful world of DSLRs. I know how exciting it is to get your hands on that big, heavy camera for the first time. There is so much joy that comes from seeing simply the pictures that come from it on auto, but then that tends to turn to angst as we try to figure out just a fraction of it’s vast capabilities.

I think so many get overwhelmed by where others are in their photography journey in comparison to themselves, forgetting that it takes a lot of work and time to get there. So here’s a not brief at all history of my photography journey.

This is one of the very first I took 4 years ago with my Canon Rebel T2i and 50 1.4 lens, right after I got my battery charged and knew NOTHING about how it worked.

DECEMBER 2010 – Canon Rebel T2i, 50 mm 1.4, iPhoto

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

This picture was PERFECTION to me then. And it still is. There was no way I could pull that off with any other camera I had at the time.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I was quite happy with these pics for a while, and was even happier when I figured out how to set my camera on AV (aperture priority) with my aperture set around 2.8.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Leyna was born just weeks after I got the camera, and I was thrilled with the pictures we got of her first few hours, and days…

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

And weeks.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

In the beginning, I obviously didn’t have much time to learn about photography beyond keeping my fancy camera on AV. The newborn and toddler at home were keeping me quite busy.

As time passed, though, I found myself experimenting with light and composure a bit more.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I quickly learned that the pictures I took in natural light looked best. I struggled with low light and artificial light. White balance issues plagued me from the start.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Around March of 2011 I read the book Understanding Exposure, and forced myself to put the camera on manual and never let it go back to auto again. I was determined to wrap my head around the exposure triangle.

It was also around this time I began to immerse myself in the tutorials section over on Clickin Moms. To this day, I owe so much of what I know about photography to them.

It took a couple months of a lot of really awful pictures, and a few beautiful ones, for me to finally grasp the way shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work together to properly expose a picture.

MARCH 2011- Shooting on manual 100% of the time, Clickin Moms tutorials

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I was still missing focus and ending up with soft pictures quite a bit (mostly because my shutter speed was often way too low since I was afraid of pumping my ISO up).

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

But I was finally starting to find the light, and learn how to position my subjects to take advantage of it.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

That summer, I also took a Beyond Snapshots workshop with the amazing Rachel Devine, and practically memorized her book.

It would be a while before I found a consistent personal style, but you can see hints of it start to peek through my early pictures as I played around with back lighting, bright colors, and composition.

SUMMER 2011- Beyond Snapshots workshop and book

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

At the end of 2011, just about a year after I got my camera, I got Lightroom for Christmas, and my first set of presets (similar to actions for Photoshop). This opened a whole new world for me. Post-processing remains one of my favorite steps in the photography process.

I took these pictures for our Christmas cards that year. (You can learn more about how I did them here and here.)

DECEMBER 2011- Lightroom and Clickin Moms presets

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

So now we’re up to 2012. This year was when I really started experimenting, not just with techniques, but with my style. I also added a new lens- the Sigma 30 1.4.

FEBRUARY 2012- Sigma 30 1.4

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I was intrigued by posed/propped photography, and even contemplated setting up a mini studio in our office, complete with lots of cute backdrops.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

The lifestyle stuff continued to draw me in, though.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comBy this point, I had a pretty good grasp on how the exposure triangle worked, and many times I got great images after just a little thought (and a lot of chimping- looking at the back of my camera after taking a shot).

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

But I was often making mistakes like underexposing…

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Or overexposing…

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

And trying to fix these things in post or cover them up with the use of presets and black and white conversions.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Mostly, though, 2012 was a year of pretty fantastic growth for me. So much magic happened once I was really comfortable with putting my camera in manual.

Plus, at this point, I had a pretty good grasp on how to edit pictures in Lightroom beyond just slapping a preset over them, focusing on keeping skin tones as natural as possible.
My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Though I did experiment quite a bit with some creative post-processing techniques. I spent a lot of hours learning the ins and outs of Lightroom that year. I also really loved me some vignetting. 😉

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

OCTOBER 2012- Upgrade to Canon 5D MK II and 50 1.4 lens

After nearly 2 years with my trusty Rebel, I was ready for a big upgrade- to a full-frame 5D MK II. This upgrade meant I had to get rid of my favorite lens- the Sigma 30 1.4– and was back to just my 50.  In the beginning, I was so excited about the possibilities, the clarity, the low-light capabilities.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

 

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

While I still struggled with things like white balance, that were entirely my fault… (Hello, green daughter.)

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I was also missing focus. A lot. To the point that there was no way that was 100% my fault.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I’m pretty confident I got a rotten refurb from a company I’ll never endorse again.

I struggled through the rest of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 with that camera body until I finally gave up and got a new Canon body I’d heard a lot of great things about- the 6D.

FEBRUARY 2013- Canon 6D and 50 1.4 lens

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com
My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

It was pretty immediate love between the 6D and I. I feel like I found my camera soulmate. It was so easy to get the technical stuff right with this camera, that I was finally able to focus on overcoming the more advanced hurdles I needed to work on.

Around the spring of 2013, I replaced my 50 1.4 with a DREAM lens- the Sigma 35 1.4. 

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

It was time to perfect my editing, and hone in on my personal style. I knew I had to start working on mastering white balance to get the colors I truly wanted.

But first, I had to have a baby.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Having an immobile, ADORABLE infant really helped me get my photography mojo back. I spent hours practicing with him, and learned how much I truly love a crisp white bed as backdrop.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

And sun-drenched little toes and fingers.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

But I continued to struggle with that pesky white balance on occaision , relying on auto WB way too much since it was simply impractical for me to haul out a gray card all the time, and Kelvin WB hadn’t quite clicked for me yet.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

FALL 2013- Canon 6D, Sigma 35 1.4, added 40mm pancake lens

I finally felt like I had a good grasp on my personal style. The muted, vintage filters and presets no longer felt right on my work. I enjoy bright colors, some contrast, lots of light, with a focus on life’s littlest big moments.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

In the fall of 2013, right after the government shutdown (putting my gov. employed husband on furlough for a month), I experimented with the business side of photography, taking on a few clients for holiday pictures.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I quickly learned, though, that while I love taking pictures of other people, I don’t enjoy doing it as a business model. I just like to call my friends up when I get an idea, or when I want to practice, and offer them a free session in exchange for their willing participation.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

2014- Mastered Kelvin White Balance, added 85 1.8 lens and 40 mm pancake lens, and 430EX II Speedlite

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

I’m happy to say 2014 is the year I’ve finally figured out my White Balance issues! And the answer is KELVIN!!

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

Of course, it had to be the one approach that took the most time to figure out and store in my brain, but it’s there permanently now. No having to rush around and look for a disc or a gray card every time the lighting changes.

You can read more about Kelvin White Balance here, to get a start.

I had all the numbers memorized for various lighting situations in our old house.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

This is also the year I added the Canon 40 mm pancake lens, which is my go-to travel lens.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.comMy 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

And the 85 1.8…

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

(not my kid, but a willing participant who couldn’t walk/run yet)

I dipped my toe in the flash waters with the 430EX II speedlite when I was hired to photograph an event for Flipside Experience with Grumpy Cat.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

And that brings me to now. Now, I’m having to refigure everything in the new place, and having to re-find the light here, learning where it streams in at what time of day, and how it reflects off the top of my children’s heads and bounces off their eyes.

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

There is always something about photography that challenges me and keeps me on my toes. In 2015, I look forward to telling a more unique perspective through my images.

For those of you who’ve scrolled through all of this, I hope you enjoyed it. If you get your first DSLR this month, go easy on yourself.. but not too easy. I mean, try to start challenging yourself as soon as you can, but also let yourself make A LOT of mistakes, and trust that they are all a part of the process.

Don’t you let that fancy camera stay in auto too long!

 My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

My 4 Year Photography Journey | BabyRabies.com

16 thoughts on “My 4 Year Photography Journey”

  1. I would love a DSLR camera. So many missed opportunities with my eight month old, and my stupid Kodak digital. Grainy or blurry always.

  2. Great post! I’m on year 5 or 6 of my photography journey and I’ve still got a long way to go. I love your photos, and it’s encouraging to hear your story! Thanks for sharing!

  3. OMG… I just love every aspect of your journey. You have grown so much with your photography and I can hardly wait to see what comes next! The photos make me feel as though I am a part of what you are expressing.

  4. Jill,
    I LOVED reading about your photography journey. Mine started almost 4 years ago when I married my husband and “acquired” his Nikon D90. It was on auto until about a year ago and I started putting in on Aperture Priority.
    About 3 months ago I started putting it in full auto and was felt like I was just figuring out the exposure triangle when we decided to upgrade to a full frame. We bit the bullet and purchased a Nikon D810 and it is a dream! I am still figuring out where all the buttons are (they are in slightly different places than the D90) but I am loving every bit of it!
    We have only had this new camera for 2 weeks but I am looking forward to all the opportunities to take pictures and learn over the next few weeks with Christmas and lots of family time.
    I started a family, food and travel blog just shy of a year ago and I am looking forward to stepping up my photography game and really capturing the beauty of where we live in Puerto Rico and where we are from (and our family lives) in SW Florida.
    My next step will be to start taking a few online classes. I think I am finally at the point where I understand enough that the classes will make sense.
    Thank you again for sharing!! It makes me feel better to know that the journey can be slow sometimes but you need to keep pressing on!
    Ashley

  5. I got my DSLR a year ago. It’s been a progression of auto to AP and finally to manual. Sometimes I put it in auto though just because I’m afraid of missing a good picture to risk a ruined one on the off chance I might get a great one. At least in auto I know it will be decent. Manual for me is still such a toss up. Like you, I love to play with light. Focus is my biggest problem. I really love your style–to drink in the colors and the perspectives and the frankness without a trace of brooding. Your pictures are light but honest, happy but real. Just really refreshing. I can’t wait to see what you do in the next year. Thanks, Jill.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this story! I’m sure a lot of people (including me!!) feel like going off of auto is such a scary thing (i’m still a AV,heh). But knowing you did, over years even, is very reassuring! I remember reading your blog years ago thinking how lovely your photos were. And yeah, you have a nice camera, but it’s the time, patience and education that really makes the difference: )

  7. Oy, I feel like I have a good grasp of manual, but when shooting outside I still tend to use AV or TV because lighting changes so quickly I don’t want to risk missing the picture! (You know how it is with active little people). I’ve had my Rebel T3i for 4 years too and haven’t made nearly the improvement in my photography that you have!! I also need to master WB, I tend to just do AWB and adjust in PSE later since I shoot in RAW it is simple, though I know not the best practice.

  8. Thank you so much for this post!! I plan on getting my first DSLR this year so I can practice before we have kids. Thank you for not being ashamed of your early work and posting for us to see your progress.

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