This is the first installment of “From the Vault” where I’ll dig up some old “treasures” from my past.

I’ve been taking photos for a long time.  My very first camera was a Kodak 110, and I can remember snapping images of my grandma’s cats and dogs, and pretty flowers when I was 10 or so. My dad bought himself a new SLR when I was about 12, and he gave me his old one (a Konica) to play around with and taught me some basics. The camera was all manual – the only electronic gizmo on it was the light meter, but it could be set to either aperture or shutter priority.  I mostly shot at F5.6 or maybe up to F8, and focusing was (gasp!) all manual.  I didn’t experiment too much. After all, slide film and processing were expensive, and I was still a kid and my allowance didn’t stretch very far!

By the time I got in high school, I was shooting fairly well, but still doing mostly silly portraits of me and my friends and the family pets. At this point in my life, I hadn’t yet discovered the great outdoors, although my best friend went camping and hiking all the time. She hadn’t convinced me that this sort of activity could be fun, so I didn’t join in with her.  Even though my photographic skills were pretty decent and I knew how to operate an SLR properly, I was a little irked when I joined the Yearbook staff my senior year and wasn’t given the opportunity to shoot any photos. Only the popular kids got cameras. But I got my revenge – I wrote a LOT of copy for the yearbook that year – and the authors of the copy were given by-lines.  The photographers were not credited with their photos! Ha!!  I still get a little satisfaction about that after all these years.

In 1984 my family traveled to Galveston, Texas for a brief vacation. We had been there several times and really enjoyed the beach, the palm trees and ocean breezes.  I took several shots that year that at the time I thought were really stellar.  “Wow! Look how GOOD that is! ” I bragged when the slides came back from the lab.

Galveston Beach

Of course, now I look at the shots and see everything that is wrong with them. This shot looks a little underexposed, the depth of field is a little shallow, and I totally cut off the rocky foreground at the bottom of the frame. That being said, I do still like the composition, especially where I caught the flying gull. That was total luck – I know I didn’t strive for good composition back then!

Gull on pilings

Although the midday light is harsh, the exposure is ok on this one, but I needed more depth of field to get the pilings to be more in focus. I also should have composed a little differently to try to eliminate the wires in the front.

Gulls on beach

This one is overexposed (again, harsh midday light), especially the sand. I also should have been paying attention to the horizon – it’s crooked. If I would have used hyperfocal focus, I could have gotten the sand in the foreground to be sharp. But back then, I had no clue what hyperfocal focus even was. Honestly, I’m still trying to learn how to use it properly even now.

Did I take crappy pictures back in 1984? Sure, lots of them. Do I take crappy pictures now? Sure, lots of them (only now I just delete them).  But I’ve learned a lot about photography since then, mostly by trial and error.  With every out of focus, overexposed or poorly composed image, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.  Practice makes perfect, right?  Well, I’m still far from perfect, and the learning process will never end, so I keep practicing. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I need to slow down, assess the scene and make a few decisions before pushing the shutter button. That more than anything has helped me improve. Joining Nature Photographer’s Network in 2007 was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done for my photography. Seeing the images posted there, reading the critiques and comments, and especially commenting on the images of others, has made me more critical of my own work and has forced me to slow down and ask a few questions before just shooting like crazy.

I’ll be posting more images from my vault so please visit again. My scanner is broken and will have to get a new one so I can dig through more of my old slides. I have boxes of them! It will be kind of fun to go through them and remember old times.