Learning Photography: My Journey of 1000 Miles

Pick up a camera, shoot some film, and it will soon become apparent that reproducing on film what you imagine before firing the shutter is not a simple task. Two sets of concepts and principles have to be mastered to do photography well. First, one must learn the technical/mechanical aspects—camera, lenses, lighting, emulsions, focusing, metering, and such. Next, photographic principles come into play—depth of field, color theory, the zone system, and composition rules. Being a photographer requires integrating all of these and applying them at a moment’s notice. 

Like most, I’ve taken pictures most of my life, and, until now, “composition” simply meant making sure everyone was in the picture. Aside from not leaving anyone/anything out and having enough light, I rarely considered anything else. Now, however, with the garden as inspiration, I am eager to move beyond just taking pictures, which is harder than it seems. Using a camera and applying photographic principles seems simple enough, even obvious when reading a book. All that know-how quickly dissipates when lying on one’s stomach in sticky mulch while using a macro lens to get the perfect shot of a bee.  

Buying cameras through eBay nudged me into learning both aspects of photography faster than if I had simply gone to a camera store and bought a system. Since buying on eBay can be chancy, each purchase has to be tested. Test shots require something to shoot, so after the first roll of Fuji 400, I was stuck for test subjects. The need for subjects made me take time to think about what might be a good subject and why. So, I started reading photography blogs for ideas and inspiration just so I could do test shots.

My first ever 35mm camera was a fully mechanical Minolta SR-T 101 that died 35 years ago. So, after buying a Maxxum 7000i, I quickly learned that a prosumer autofocus camera was a lot more complicated than any camera I had used before. There were focus areas, focus modes, exposure modes, creative modes, and exposure compensation settings— all of which might affect any shot. Many of my first shots were messed up because I changed a setting without realizing it, or did not grasp what the setting did. At that point (about three cameras later), I decided that reading the instruction manuals was probably a good idea; then, I went looking for photography books. I opted for books because all the classes I could locate required a digital camera. Fortunately, there are tons of books, and like film cameras, books about photography that emphasize film cameras are also cheap. Here are a few topics I’ll be discussing as I continue this journey:

Camera/Lens Topics
Exposure modes 
Focus modes
Focus areas
Subject programs
Depth of field
Hyperfocal distance
Metering modes
Exposure compensation 
Zone system
B&W filters

Film Topics
Exposure latitude
Color balance and color theory

Darkroom Topics
Print techniques

Art Topics
General composition principles
Still life composition 

That’s a lot to learn! Who knows if I even have a talent for this? While anyone can be taught to use cameras and apply photographic principles, knowing them does not automatically lead to one being a great (or even good) photographer. When I started, the goal was better pictures of the garden—now, I want more. Having taken photos all my life, I want to develop an eye and master the craft.

A wise man learns from his mistakes, so I have no intention of hiding mine. Images from that first roll of film forward will appear in posts. I make no claim of being a photographer, only of trying to become a mostly self-taught one (please keep this in mind when commenting).  

I bought a camera to take better pictures of my flowers. So far, there only three or four images that I really like. Hopefully, my skills and images will improve noticeably as I learn. How much can I accomplish? There’s only one way to find out…


  1. I have seen your garden and I am pleased to see that you are still enjoying yourself with something that you Love to do. Only you and maybe one other person on Earth would Plan their Garden based upon the position of the Sun from March to September. Have Much Fun and Enjoy Yourself.

    Take Care, Alex

    PS, most people don’t know Minolta makes

    1. Thanks Alex,

      Mapping the sun…What can I say? 🙂

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