on photo – an introduction

My name is Stewart, I’m an amateur photographer, from the northwest of England. I photograph wildlife and landscapes, or anything else that’s interesting. I’ve been interested in photography since the 90’s, starting with film, then early point and shoot digital cameras, bridge cameras, digital SLR, micro four thirds, and now full frame mirrorless. This post is a quick introduction to who I am and my experience with photography so far.

My interest in photography probably started as a boy. My dad had a Practika SLR camera, and developed photos in a dark room he made at the back of the house. All of the stuff was shiny, and forbidden, which made it irresistible.

Growing up we had a few different cameras. There was a long flat one with a built in flash at one end, and my sister had a camera with disc film. I never had a camera of my own as a kid.

I bought my first camera while I was in the army. I had been around the world without a camera, but after a two month training exercise in Kenya, I realised what a wasted opportunity it was, so I bought a Canon point and shoot 35mm camera.

I carried it with me everywhere I went, and took photos on barracks in Germany, in America, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, on return to Kenya, and on my second tour of Northern Ireland.

The photos weren’t any good. They were markers in time, recording where I was, who I was with, and what we were doing. The sort of thing you would do with a mobile phone now. (Except you had to pay for a film, you didn’t know what the photo looked like when you took it, and you had to pay for it to be developed, before you saw it.)

I didn’t know anything about composition, shutter speeds, iso’s, and apertures, and I didn’t care.

I left the military in the late 1990’s, and got my first digital camera shortly afterwards. I can’t remember whether it was a 1.2 megapixel, or a 2.1 megapixel. I just remember being amazed that you didn’t need to buy a film or pay to get it developed. You could just put the pictures on the computer. I had a 12MB compact flash memory card that cost around £50, and could hold 24 photos! My interest in cameras and computers kept growing and I bought new ones as time went on, although I didn’t really have anything to take photos of, other than friends and family events.

After a few twists and turns I moved to a small village in Cheshire, which was close to a lake. The job I had at the time was shift work, throwing heavy things around in a warehouse. It meant that I would work late and have mornings off to wander around the lake and watch the wildlife.

I saved up and bought my first DSLR camera, a Canon EOS 10D (6MP), and a couple of basic kit lenses. 70-300 and a standard 18-50 zoom. By now I was reading photography magazines and learning as much as I could. And as I was out daily with my camera, I really started to understand how cameras worked. And more importantly I’d started to learn more about wildlife. I invested more time and money into photography. I bought better prime lenses, and upgraded my camera to a Canon EOS 30D (8MP), after accidentally smashing the first one to pieces in the Lake District. I even did some free wedding photography, for friends from work who could’t afford a photographer.

kingfisher

I tried all kinds of photography, to gain experience, and see which type I preferred. I went to motorsports events at Oulton Park, triathlons at Salford Quays, to anti-war protests in Manchester, and to live bands in the bars in Manchester. I took my camera on holiday, got up early to see the sunrise, stayed out to watch it set. I really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, just as I was getting better and better I hit some hard times. My camera body got damaged, and I couldn’t afford to repair or replace it. I kept hold of the rest of my kit as long as I could, but eventually I had to sell it all, as I needed the money, and I was back to a 2MP camera on my Nokia phone……….

It was a few hard years until I bought another camera. Just a point and shoot Canon IXUS, which was all I could afford. But, It sparked my interest in photography again. I took it everywhere, and learned how to force the (all automatic) camera to behave how I wanted it to. I carried it on hikes and camping trips, and out fell running, and rock climbing. The great thing with the small cameras is that you can take them anywhere, without any real weight penalty. Which makes it so much easier when you are already carrying loads of gear, or need to travel fast and light. And so I didn’t really miss having a big camera setup.

Then at some point in the last few years I started to get the itch for a bigger camera setup, and started getting interested in video and sound recording too. I was watching a lot of photography videos on YouTube which was probably the spark for it, and started looking for 2nd hand camera gear.

I found a used Panasonic GH5s which I then sold and bought a Panasonic G9. After a lot of video watching working, and saving, I traded in the Panasonic kit, and bought a Sony A7R4, 61MP monster which I still use. I bought the Sigma 24-70 f2.8, and the Sony 200-600 at the same time, and I’ve added a few lenses and gadgets since.

During the pandemic the quiet places got really busy, and so I started to get onto the hills at night, to avoid the crowds. Hiking at night is a completely different experience, and something I hadn’t really done since my military days.

I started taking regular trips into Snowdonia, whenever the weather forecast predicted clear skies at night. I took my first photos of the Milky Way, and watched the moonrise through low clouds in the valleys, and I was hooked.

I ended up alone on the peak of Snowdon at midnight several times, or around the horseshoe, I climbed onto the Glyders in the early hours to try and catch the Milky Way arch over the Snowdon Horseshoe and caught a few shots of the meteor showers.

Quite often I’d get up into the hills, and the weather would change, clouds would roll in making it difficult to get good photos of the stars.

This lead me into winter night photography, as the air is usually clearer in the winter, and (bonus) there are less people around. Winter night photography lead into solo winter camping. I even took winter skills courses in Snowdonia and Glencoe to learn how to do it safely.

The great thing with photography is that you don’t have to stick with any one subject. If you get bored of one thing, you can try another. Bored of landscapes, or the weather is bad, try street photography. Sick of macro photography, try some photojournalism, or sports, or seascapes, or whatever you have access to. It doesn’t matter. Just keep getting out there and trying new things.

I enjoy all kinds of photography. I want to keep getting out with my camera, and keep getting better, and learning more, and I’m going to use this blog as a record of my trips.