About 16 years ago, I decided that I wanted to take a stab at learning photography. I knew at the time it meant upgrading from my Olympus point-and-shoot to the kind of camera where I could switch out lenses, but at the time, I had no idea what I wanted or what would be a good buy. So I contacted a friend of mine, Josef, who is a professional fashion photographer.
"What kind of photographs do you want to shoot?" he asked.
"I dunno," I said. "Something like what you do."
"You want to shoot fashion?"
"Well, no..." I thought some more. "I just ... one day, maybe, I'll have a family. And I want to shoot decent photographs of them."
"Okay," he said. "Well, there's two things: first of all, you're not going to spend less than $500."
I gulped. At the time, I was unemployed, and really didn't have that kind of money to spend. Still, for some reason, I was compelled to follow through with this. I become very stubborn single-minded when I need to.
"Oookay," I said. "What's the second thing?"
"You're going to buy a second hand camera."
After getting over the shock of the idea of spending five hundred 1994 dollars on, God-help-me, an old camera, I decided to trust Josef. We went to the best camera store in Houston, and ponied up to the counter.
"Now," said Josef, "you're going to want to purchase either a Nikon or a Canon."
"Okay," I said, "why?"
"Because they're the best," he said. "They've been around the longest, they have great gear. The professionals only use Nikon or Canon. So we're going to try one of each, and you're going to play with them, and see which feels right."
"What do you shoot with?"
He smiled. "I only shoot Canon. But you decide."
The sales clerk brought out two second-hand cameras -- a Nikon FE series film camera, and its equivalent Canon counterpart. I picked each up and started playing with them, despite the fact I had no idea what I was really doing. And yet, instantly, I knew.
"I like Nikon," I said.
"Really?" Josef seemed mildly surprised. "You don't like the Canon? Are you sure?"
"Nope," I said. "Definitely prefer the Nikon. The gauges seem more intuitive. I think. Anyway, I'm not sure why, but I do. I prefer the Nikon."
He smiled. "Then get the Nikon," he said. "Because the truth is, when you know, you know."
(As I type this, it dawns on me that buying a camera is sort of like when Harry Potter got his wand -- he "didn't choose his wand, the wand chose him." It really is the same -- when you know, you know.)
I wrote a cheque for $501.00 for the 10-year-old Nikon camera body, and an even-more-ancient 50mm lens. And then over the next few days, Josef and I went out and about around Houston to practice shooting.
Since then, a lot has changed: I've stopped practicing law, and I've started making a living as a photographer and a writer -- but the one constant is that I've always -- always -- used Nikon equipment. I don't shoot with that film camera anymore, but I've owned several digital Nikon camera bodies, and purchased many more lenses. I love their products, and dreamed of a day when I could possibly work with Nikon. But, as it happens (and despite my best efforts), Nikon is pretty particular about who they work with -- in fact, I was starting to feel like I was in one of those 1980's John Hughes films, you know the ones? Where the ordinary-looking-yet-quirkily-attractive girl (often played by Molly Ringwald) pines for the really good-looking guy (usually played by some random member of the Brat Pack), but for most of the movie, you feel like it's just never going to happen?
Yeah. It was like that. I'd pretty much given up hope.
Then one day last month, I received an email.
Hi Karen (it began),
I would like to introduce myself as the PR contact for Nikon. I came across your bio while reading about guest speakers for the upcoming Evo Conference. I have read your blog and have since become a fan. I was wondering to myself what camera you use to capture such beautiful photographs, and to my surprise you are a Nikon shooter!
Are there any lenses that you might want to test?
Needless to say, I jumped all over this opportunity. So after some back and forth emails, Nikon agreed to let me take a couple of their lenses out for a spin: a wide-angle lens (since I'd never shot with a wide angle before) and the modern-day equivalent of that ancient lens I'd purchased so many years ago. Understand, these lenses aren't gifts -- I don't get to keep them (unless I pay for them) -- but I do get to play with them for a little while. And play with them I certainly will.
It's kind of like how eventually Molly Ringwald managed to get the guy in the end!
Well, okay, not really, but sort of.
Anyway, that's how I ended up in possession of two pretty amazing lenses. I'm obviously having a lot of fun with the 50mm, but since the EVO conference is coming up at the end of this week in beautiful Park City, Utah, I'm hoping to really put the 10-24mm to the test and see what that puppy can do. I can't wait to share the results with you.
* * * * * * *
Speaking of Utah -- remember Justin Hackworth, the Utah photographer who took those portraits of me back in January? Well, back in April, he did this great thing: for the entire month, he photographed 30 portraits of people he didn't know, waving his session fee in lieu of a donation for a local Provo shelter for women and children in crisis. His work is astounding, and if you happen to be in Provo, you're in luck: on July 2nd, there will be an exhibit of his work -- you can go see the exhibit yourself and sign up for your own portrait session, the proceeds of which will also be used to benefit the shelter. Which is fully awesome. So if you go, please email me and tell me what you thought -- I'm hating that I'm missing it.
And on that note: have a wonderful week everyone.
Images: Several of the beautiful faces with whom I spent my weekend (including my parents -- the last 2, above!), all photographed with my Nikon D300 and the 50mm 1.4 lens Nikon lent me.
Song: In your eyes by Peter Gabriel. As you listen to this, imagine I'm wearing a trenchcoat, holding a camera above my head. Nikon, this is for you.