Now I'm Here (A Retrospective)

February 8, 2020

It's been a long road to get to this point. I'm not at my destination yet by any means, but this is an important stop along the way. I don't know exactly when I decided I wanted to go pro with my photography; I don't even know when I first started to enjoy it. It was a continuous evolution from being a wee lad seeing photos my dad took, to getting my own camera, to getting paid and published, but there are a few key steps along the way.

Ready for the Senior Race at Isle of Man

Ready for the Senior Race at Isle of Man

This all stretches back into the 90s when my parents would give me disposable film cameras to play with on hikes and trips. These cameras had no controls of any kind besides a shutter release and film winder. Their depth of field was a mile long, and the image qualty could be best described as "an image." It was impossible to do anything besides "point" and "shoot," and you could only do that 24 times per camera. Imagine! When my family got a computer with a bigger hard drive than 2 GB, I began having more of these photos developed to CD for easier storage. Here is the oldest digitized photo of mine that I have, from March of 2001. Feast your eyes!

When I got a digital camera of my own in 2002, a FujiFilm Finepix2400 (with a 32 MB memory card!), I started learning a bit more. Instantly seeing the photo I took appear on a tiny screen, without the cost of film, let me experiment a lot more directly and frequently. This is when photography went from "something I like to do sometimes" to "something I go out of my way to do." I began developing my eye at local car shows and hikes, with the help of some photo books and tips from my dad. While the equipment was VERY early digital, and I was still young and inexperienced, the seeds were taking root.

In 2003 I went to my first motor race, equipped with my trusty little FujiFilm and it's 118 mm equivalent lens. It was the 6 Hours Of The Glen, at the time a Grand-Am race. I was thrilled to get so up close to the cars in the paddock, and was very excitedly attempting to catch speeding cars on the track. I really had no idea what I was doing, but still managed to get a couple of ok-ish panning shots.

Also in this era, Gran Turismo 4 put its photo mode into the world. In this idealized environment, I could play with composition without the costs of tickets, travel, or equipment, and get perfect pans every time. Sharing photos with the online community also got me feedback and exposed me to a bigger variety of others' work than I'd ever had before. Looking back, it's interesting to see how similar some of those shots are to what I get today at real tracks.

In college I upgraded to a Sony Cybershot DSC-W55. It was smaller and five years newer (which is a literal EON for digital devices). It was fairly capable for its time, and being more feature-rich than my previous camera I gained some good general knowledge just from reading the manual. It served me well at more vacations, camping trips, and races (including ALMS at Lime Rock Park) and I even started doing some studio-style shoots of die-cast models.

Although I was too busy with Electrical Engineering homework most of the time to do a lot of photo projects, I did take one elective class in basic photography, where I really used a DSLR for the first time and learned some more fundamentals that I was missing.

In 2012 I borrowed my dad's Nikon D80 and went to the United States Grand Prix. This would be my first time using a DSLR at a race event, and there was a lot of learning through experimentation. I knew better what I was doing than at past events, but it was an unfamiliar camera and I was shooting in Program Auto mode most of the time ("P for Professional"). I was getting shots I liked (and still do like), but clearly had more to learn.

In 2013 I bought my own Nikon D7000. Simply reading that manual front to back doubled my practical knowledge of photography, and the equipment upgrade let me experiment more on my own and my work began to improve. The following year I started autocrossing, and brought my camera to every event. I would post albums to Flickr to share with the clubs, and as I started exploring more Flickr groups, I expanded my knowledge of what was possible with a camera. I started pushing myself even more with my camera than with my car. Between online groups and articles, and shooting events every couple weeks, I was learning more than ever. Within months I was consistently nailing 1/30s pans, where I previously was hesitating to even try shooting less than 1/320.

The sense of discovery during and after each event was thrilling. This is probably about the time when I thought I could make something more of this hobby. Not only was I really enjoying what I was doing, but people appreciated my work and seemed to think I was quite good at it. The clubs sometimes even let me do photography instead of regular course work. It was just like being accredited!

In 2016 I said goodbye to my local autocross clubs and moved to Belgium, right in the same neighbourhood as Spa-Francorchamps, Zolder, Zandvoort, and The Nurburgring. There I further honed my skills as I went to races every other weekend or so. In the course of two years, 22 race meetings, and about 45,000 shutter releases I learned a great deal about shooting at race tracks, how to get around them and plan my day, what worked & what didn't, camera settings to use, how to shoot at night, how to get good pans, and more.

Shortly after returning from Europe, I had a unique opportunity to try being accredited for the first time, at the Bathurst 6 Hour Race. I jumped at the chance, buying a 2nd camera body to take with me, and had a spectacular time. More accredited events and publication would follow, and I now find myself on an upward trajectory that I only need to put in the effort to follow.

As I said before, it's been a long road from this to this, but has been fulfilling and enjoyable all the way. I am constantly reminded of how much I still have to learn when I'm shooting alongside the likes of Jamey Price or Shawn Pierce, but I still have lofty goals for myself in this field, and I learn more and more at every event. Sometimes I still can't believe I get to stand on the other side of the fence.

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