When I received my first digital camera in 2007—a Canon PowerShot A460, a cute little guy—I knew nothing about photography. I’d grown up under my mother’s watchful eye (and lens), so I was used to posing for photos—but never taking them. That camera was a college graduation present, unveiled just before I went to Italy with my family, so I had no time to adjust to the new point-and-shoot. Not that I really needed to.
I was recently thinking about that Italian vacation, the photos I took—and where they were. In an era pre-Flickr, Shutterfly and the iPhone for me, my photos were all burned to CDs and removed from my old laptop. By some miracle, I found the two CDs with my Italian images and started looking through them this week. What an eye-opener.
In the years since that vacation, I’ve upgraded to a “big girl” camera, joined the Calvert Photography Club, met countless photographers and learned tons amount about style, composition and the technical aspects of getting a winning shot. Though I have much still to learn, where I am now is a wide leap from where I was in June 2007.
More than understanding exposure and shutter speed, I’ve learned about what makes a photo . . . nice. I’ve developed a personal style and love playing around with vintage filters. My Photoshop skills have increased tremendously—but more than that, I’ve learned how to take a better photo while I’m actually taking the photo. Everything I didn’t know in 2007.
As I was clicking through the pictures, I kept thinking, “Man, if only I’d had my Rebel.” Looking at the gorgeous scenes of Venice, Rome and Florence made me wistful for what I could have captured had I been interested in photography beforehand. But then I realized, hey—as Guy always says? The best camera is the one you had with you.
And since I can’t re-create that trip and the magic of my first time traveling abroad, I decided to fake it.
Opening the pictures I thought had potential, I made my way through the shots armed with my new knowledge and taste. The Calvert Photography Club has definitely sharpened my critical eye. I cropped out power lines I’d never noticed—along with the clipped masts of ships, the stray arm of someone just off-screen. I fixed the white balance in many, darkened the “blacks” with the levels to make them pop, cloned out unattractive signs in the backgrounds of portraits. I leveled the horizons – something I never, ever noticed until club members began pointing them out in critiques.
But beyond the technical quirks, I thought about what makes a compelling photo to me now. I love vignettes, drawing the eye to action, the serenity of a simple landscape. I’m drawn to paths and bridges and walkways. I love epic mountains, peaceful water, laughing people. Those were the pictures I singled out from the 500 I took on that Italian trip.
Only five hundred photos—in a week and a half. Makes me laugh. On a just four-day trip to London in 2009, I took almost 1,200. And in California this year? About 1,600.
After playing with my old photos for an hour or two, I couldn’t believe the results. What I’d considered basic, “blah” point-and-shoot shots from my vacation had morphed into something else entirely. Though far from an expert, I was impressed with how much I’d been able to change them. Without setting foot in busy, bustling and fume-clogged Fiumicino Airport in Rome, I’d “revisited” a beloved place—and emerged with fresh images.
Though, you know, I’m totally cool with a wealthy benefactor sending me back to Italy—this time with my Rebel. It’s no problem.