An open letter to beginning photographers

Dear beginning photographer,

If you choose, you are at the beginning of a beautiful journey. There is no destination, just a journey.

If I may, I would love to say a few things to you.

Relax, have fun and play

That thing you have now? It’s a sophisticated bit of equipment. Even if it’s your smartphone, well, that camera does a lot. You don’t have to know everything about the camera. Explore.

Relax. Have fun. Play.

A fun scene in the Mojave Desert at night. This is definitely a case of relaxing, having fun, and playing, all done with a handheld light during the exposure.
A fun scene in the Mojave Desert at night. This is definitely a case of relaxing, having fun, and playing, all done with a handheld light during the exposure.

The world will look more beautiful

I was unprepared for what would happen when I began taking photos. Photography made me experience the world differently. I paid attention to sunsets, starry skies, trees, flowers, people, sure. But I also began noticing how the light hits something beautifully, how it backlights my wife’s hair, how peeling paint can be gorgeous, how long shadows look amazing and how a chair in front of a window is mesmerizing. 

The world will look more beautiful to you. And more interesting. That is the gift of photography.

I can drive well; I just can't park. There's beauty even in the abandoned, the cast off, and the absurd.
I can drive well; I just can’t park. There’s beauty even in the abandoned, the cast off, and the absurd.

Don’t get hung up on gear

I know, I know, we sometimes talk about gear here. I’m not saying that cameras, lenses, software, and accessories aren’t important or don’t help. They do help. 

All I’m suggesting is that you don’t get hung up on it. 

See, here’s the thing. That camera, whatever you have, is considerably more sophisticated than cameras of yesteryear. They’re capable of taking some great photos. Yes, even that tiny smartphone in your pocket. 

Photographers used grainy film. They used lenses that weren’t as sharp. 

But look at the beautiful images they created. We’ve seen them. Life, National Geographic, Time. We’ve seen amazing, timeless images seared into our brain. Even on a much smaller scale, I’ve photographed with an old used 2013 camera and had my photos printed in National Geographic books, Westways Magazine and elsewhere.

Don’t let them grind you down

People are odd sometimes. They can make comments that sap your creative energy. 

A long time ago, I picked up a guitar while camping in Carpinteria Beach. I I knew a few chords, so I played. A girl who was camping with me said, “Oh my gosh, Ken, stick to piano.” 

I put the guitar down. After a week, then realized, “Maybe I sounded awful. But I’m a beginner. I like playing guitar. I think it’s fun.” I then played whenever I felt like it, which was often. I’m still not the greatest guitar player, but does that matter? I’ve had fun playing in bands. And not that it matters, but I’ve even gotten my music in movies and MTV. Good things came about because I was relaxing, having fun and playing.

Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads. This is a long exposure night photo showing the celestial movements over a long period of time.
Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads. This is a long exposure night photo showing the celestial movements over a long period of time.

You might post a photo on social media. Most people are encouraging. A few people, maybe not so much. Some people sometimes feel better because when they offer negative comments, they feel like they know something that you don’t. This elevates them. This makes them feel better, perhaps superior. “That camera’s no good.” “That picture is no good.” “Do something else! Why do you only photograph pictures of your cat?” 

But you know something that you don’t. You’re having fun. It’s your camera, not theirs. You know that you are relaxing, having fun and playing.

Embrace constructive criticism, sure. That can be immensely helpful and supportive.

But negative comments? You don’t need to let that bother you. 

Join supportive, positive communities

There’s plenty of supportive, positive communities. Look for people who will encourage you so you can flourish.

This can be your family. When I say “family,” I mean friends as well because, after all, friends are simply family that you choose.

watching this magical light show...that's a great way to pass the time while my camera clicks happily away, searching for streaks of light. This is one of the gifts of photography.
I laid on my back for a couple of hours looking up at the sky during the Perseid meteor shower. Laying in a mountain forest watching this magical light show…that’s a great way to pass the time while my camera clicks happily away, searching for streaks of light. This is one of the gifts of photography.

It can also be your local camera club, a friendly Facebook group, or others. And actually, there’s a friendly group called the Photofocus Community. There are people of all different levels who are friendly, helpful and want to see you succeed. And it’s a good place to share, comment, and yes, relax, have fun and play.

You’ve been given this incredible box that collects light. Let it do that instead of collecting dust.

Warmest Regards,

Ken

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review, thanks!

SOCIAL MEDIA:
Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)
Instagram

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

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