live slow, love nature, be adventurous

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Photography Journey | Schloss Wolfsgarten, Germany

Schloss Wolfsgarten is simply one of the most wondrous places I know. With a stately park that emulates my beloved English landscape so well and huge rhododendrons bushes submerging the gardens in pink and lilac blossoms each spring, I can’t think of any place that comes as close to my idea of countryside perfection and although I have visited countless times over the years already, I keep on coming back for more time and time again.

Schloss Wolfsgarten is located about twenty kilometers south of Frankfurt and was first built as a hunting lodge for the former royal family of the state of Hesse in the 18th century. Because the estate is still privately used, it only opens a few times a year and a visit therefore always feels like a special occasion to me, almost as if I am entering a sort of forbidden wonderland. Since I have written about Wolfsgarten and why I love it so much a few times on the blog already – you can check out last year’s post here! –, I wanted to explore the topic with a different angle this time around, though, and talk about one of my biggest passions in life instead: Photography.

Growing up, I always considered myself to be a writer. I found that vocalizing my thoughts and feelings by putting words on paper came much more natural to me than any other form of creative expression and I loved the feeling of seeing page after page filling up with my words and stories. I admired the photographs that other people took, but thought that I would never be able to take pictures like that myself unless I learned some super secret pro skills and so I didn't even try for the longest time. It wasn’t until I started this blog and wanted to be able to document my life and my travels visually that I started to truly develop an interest in learning photography, but from that point on falling in love was pretty much inevitable.

These days, I could talk about photography all day long: There are not a lot of things that get me as excited as discovering a new editing hack or taking a picture when the light is just right and as the copious amounts of photographs on this blog probably demonstrate, I tend to be very attached to my camera, especially when I travel. If I could go back to my teenage self and tell her how much I love photography now, she probably would be startled, but in the years that I have honed my passion I have come to learn that writing and photography are actually quite similar in their goal to evoke emotions by telling stories - and so maybe it isn't all that surprising after all.

Schloss Wolfsgarten has been important in my photography journey, because I go back in such regular intervals that it is really easy for me to see just how much my skills have improved over the years. I only have to look back at the pictures I took at Wolfsgarten last year to see a big difference, let alone the years before that, and I am sure the same is going to be true next year and the year after. Like any other creative discipline, photography is both a continuous learning process and subject to constant evolution of our personal style: Skills improve, preferences change and new memories become associated with our work and so we can keep on visiting the same places again and again and still walk away with different pictures every time - and I think that is one of the reasons why I find photography to be such a compelling tool for seeing the world.

Learning how to take better pictures really isn't all that hard. It does take some time and determination, but there are definitely no miracles involved and so today I wanted to give you a little bit of insight into how my love for photography has developed and grown over time and I hope that this will inspire some of you in your creative journeys as well!

My parents go me my first camera when I was sixteen and about to move to Canada as a foreign exchange student. My year in Alberta was quite certainly the most life-changing experience of my life so far, but it sure didn’t turn me into a photographer and I admittedly only used my small Panasonic point-and-shoot camera every once in a while to take random snapshots or selfies (this was before selfie was even a word, mind you) and when the camera eventually died, it was sad, but not particularly panic-inducing.

I got a new camera a few years later – a bridge camera which a type of camera model that sits somewhere between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR – and since I knew that I wanted to give blogging a go soon, I naturally became more interested in photography. My boyfriend and me travelend to Scotland the same year and visiting quaint old castles and hiking through the highlands inspired me to hit the shutter button much more often than ever before. I knew nothing about the technical aspects of photography and used my camera in automatic mode the entire time, but I began to see the fun in looking for great subjects and my interest was sparked.

I continued to take more pictures than before, but it wasn’t until I moved to Norway that I began to truly fall in love with photography. The Norwegian landscape with its rugged mountains and dramatic fjords was easily one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and I wanted to capture the sense of grandeur and wonder I felt by this encounter with nature and so I quickly switched my camera from automatic to manual mode in the hopes that it would help me to do so. Shooting in manual was an adjustment at first, but one that I quickly got used to and the results encouraged me to keep going.

I was traveling a lot that year and as a result I had the opportunity to take lots of pictures in lots of beautiful places and using my camera so very regularly taught me a great deal in a short amount of time. My pictures weren’t perfect, but they got better and better with each passing month and when the time came for me to leave Scandinavia I felt proud of the pictures that I could show my friends and family and post online. The more I started to develop a passion for photography, though, the more I realized that my equipment was holding me back and so I finally decided to invest in the DSLR I had been eyeing online for months.

Buying a more professional camera should never be the ne plus ultra solution for getting better pictures. If you want to become a better photographer, your first step should always be to learn how to make the most of the gear you already own and to only upgrade once you understand why your current camera is not allowing you to obtain the results that you desire. When I upgraded, I knew exactly what each button on my previous camera did and I felt confident that that camera had taught me everything that it could. And since I was also sure that my interest in photography wasn’t just a passing fancy, it was the perfect time for me to move on.

Not having a fancy camera at my disposal when I first started learning about photography felt frustrating occasionally, but it forced me to not just rely on the technical capabilities of my camera and in retrospect this probably taught me much more than upgrading earlier could have done. Nevertheless, starting to use a DSLR allowed me to take charge of the picture-taking process in ways that I just couldn’t before and was a pivotal point in my photography journey.

Updating my gear obviously did a lot for the quality of my pictures, but it wasn’t until I started getting into editing in early 2015 that I felt like I was making some serious progress. I used to believe that editing your pictures was somehow cheating your way in photography, but now that I’m (hopefully) a little wiser I know that the opposite is true: Editing is absolutely essential to not only make the most of your pictures, but also to add your own personal style to your images. These days, it’s easily one of the most important steps (& definitely the most time-consuming!) in my photography workflow and has helped me a lot in trying to coin what my photography is all about.

I do believe, however, that it’s important to not get suck into editing too early, simply because good photographs don’t just happen because of editing, but because the photographer understands how to use exposure, composition, light and subject matter in a compelling way. Lightroom can help you fix some mistakes, but it cannot turn a regular picture into an Anselm Adams masterpiece and therefore learning how to edit cannot really supplement learning how to take a good picture in camera.

I like to think that I have learned how to take decent pictures over the last few years, but I obviously still have a whole lot to learn and I’m far from claiming to be an expert. I’m really just an amateur photographer with a whole lot of love for the craft and in the end, photography is just another way for me to indulge my desire to try to capture the world. I may never become the kind of photographer that people like Steve McCurry or Chris Burkard are and, who knows, maybe I wake up next week and don’t feel like pursuing photography anymore.

But that’s okay. In the end, nurturing our interests and passions is the one thing that truly matters – and if we do so, we are naturally going to get better at things. If we develop a passion for running and continuously pursue that love, we might never run a marathon, but we will certainly be able to run faster and longer. And I don't know about you, but I certainly find this to be a powerful tool of motivation!

I'm sorry if this post was too self-indulgent – I know I have talked a lot about myself! I do hope there was something you could take away from this post, though, and if you have anything at all to share about your own photography journey or really any other personal journey you have undertaken than I would definitely love to hear about it in the comments!

P.S. I may not be a photography expert, but I have been thinking about starting a little series on the blog with tips on how to improve your photography. Is that something that you would be interested in? And, if yes, is there anything in particular that you would like for me to touch upon? I’d love to hear your feedback! :)

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