Finding an Outlet

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I’ve always considered myself a creative person. When I was a kid, I would spend hours on end drawing characters from my favorite games and television shows. When I was a teenager in the early 2000s, that focus turned digital. Back in the early days of YouTube, you could completely customize the background of your channel to personalize it to the content and audience. I managed to get my hands on a license to Photoshop CS4 and started making those backgrounds for creators on the platform. That eventually evolved into making tutorial videos, and then into being hired to design iPhone apps for the newly released iOS 4.

By the time I graduated high school, a lot of that creative energy had been put on the back burner. I stopped taking on client work and focused on getting myself into college. It took a few years of finding out who I wanted to become, but I eventually found myself back in the industry. However, this time was different. One of the limitations of my early design work is that I desperately wanted to take the screens and apps that I had designed and turn them into real, functional products. So that’s what I focused on. I started to build my software development skillset. As I learned more and more about how to build feature-rich applications, write tests, and ship products, the design-oriented aspect of my work fell back into the background.

Fast forwarding to today, I’ve been writing software professionally for nearly a decade. I wouldn’t trade that career choice for the world. And while my day-to-day work is primarily technical, developing robust and scalable software requires a lot of creative problem-solving. It’s incredibly rewarding when you can come to a clean, functional solution to a complex problem or difficult task. With as much as I enjoy my work, the itch to create for creation’s sake has never left. It was time to find a new outlet.

Enter the camera

I bought my first real camera in the summer of 2020. My wife and I were preparing for the birth of our first child, and like many fathers-to-be, I wanted to capture as many of those early moments as possible. So I did my research. I found a camera with the right balance of image quality and budget-friendliness and made the commitment. It was a gently used Canon EOS R in practically new condition. I cycled through a few lenses at first as I learned the system, but eventually landed on a Cannon RF 24-70mm f2.8L with its fast aperture and a great balance of focal ranges that suited my needs.

A photo of a Canon camera on top of a desk

After my son was born, the Canon ended up within arm's reach for much of those early weeks and months. Every time I used it, I became a little more comfortable with it. I started to understand how changing settings like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO could affect the image. Before long, I was hooked. I started to go out to take pictures just for the sake of taking pictures. I had found an outlet that let me step back from the computer screen and enjoy the process of creation.

And then there was film

It wasn't long before I got the itch to try my hand at shooting film. I felt confident in my abilities to understand how to capture a well-exposed image, and the unforgiving nature of film photography was the next step for me to hone my abilities with the camera. It started with 35mm and quickly moved into medium format before settling finally on a large format 4x5 view camera.

A photo of a large format view camera mounted on a tripod

Large format forces you to slow down. Each movement of the camera subtly affects the focus and depth of field of the image. If you rush the process, you'll likely forget to set everything correctly. The shutter might be too long. The aperture might be too wide. You may not have accounted for bellows extension and how the light diminishes as you extend the distance between the lens and film plane. A miscalculation more than likely leads to an unusable image. However, when you can focus on the composition and find the right light, the results are breathtaking.

A landscape scene shot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a large format view camera

Finding photography, and large format film photography has brought that creative energy back from the background. It is something that I have grown incredibly passionate about over the few years since I fell into the hobby. I think we all need an outlet, and I feel very grateful to have found mine.