My Photography Journey | Christie Nelson

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My Photography Journey by Christie Nelson

My interest in photography started to simmer when I moved to Chicago in the year 2000. I purchased a book of “then and now” photos of the city and was mesmerized. It was then that I began to appreciate the power of photography to make time stand still.

Fast forward to 2007, when I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D60. Recently married, I began reading some blogs about a variety of topics which showcased some good photography. I wanted to be able to create the same quality images, and had the naive assumption that if I got a nice camera, the rest would be easy. I used that camera on Automatic or Priority modes for the next three years with mixed results.

Nikon D60 in Shutter Priority mode with kit lens, ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/250 sec

This is still one of my favorite images today.

In 2008, I took a photography course at the university here in Canberra, Australia. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be more of a photographic art appreciation course, when what I wanted was instruction and practice in technical photographic skills. So, I sought out a few good photography resources online, including Digital Photography School, where I began to learn the very basic fundamentals of exposure and light. Then, in 2009, my little girl Eliza was born and that’s when things really began to take off.

I took oodles of photos of her when she was a baby, and most of them were terrible! I loved using Aperture priority to narrow my depth of field, but I didn’t understand that in most cases, my camera wasn’t selecting fast enough shutter speeds to capture her motion. I ended up with a lot of photos like this:

Nikon D60 in Auto mode with kit lens, ISO 720 | f/5.3 | 1/30 sec

Looking at these settings now, it’s no wonder she was so blurry. However, back then, I had no idea why. It was really frustrating!

Nikon D60 in Auto mode with kit lens, ISO 320 | f/3.5 | 1/30 sec

It’s a miracle this one is in focus. I loved this shot – it was one of the first times I began thinking about composition, lines, etc.

I joined Clickinmoms (CM) at the end of 2009, but really just lurked for a few months. I picked up a copy of Photoshop Elements and began playing around. I also picked up a 50mm lens and began shooting everything at f/1.4. And again, I couldn’t understand why my photos weren’t tack sharp…

When I finally got the nerve to begin posting on CM, it became clear quite quickly from the feedback I received that I needed to take the plunge and begin shooting in Manual mode in order to get control over all of my settings and improve my photos. I took my first online workshop: Shooting 101. This was exactly what I needed and the instruction and exercises allowed me to understand not only the exposure triangle but also focus modes, metering modes, white balance, and light. And that’s when I think my photography interest officially became an obsession.

Nikon D60 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 200 | f/1.8 | 1/200 sec

This was back when Eliza happily sat still for photos! I practiced using Manual mode for the first time to achieve a sharp image.

Once it all started to click, I started taking even more photos. And, I soon wanted a new camera body… so I upgraded to the Nikon D90 which allowed me to more easily control my settings while shooting and to also shoot at higher ISOs in my dark house. Between 2010 and mid-2011 I cannot believe how much I learned about photography. And, the majority of it was from posts, tutorials and workshops here on CM.

Nikon D90 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 200 | f/3.2 | 1/320 sec

This was the first photo I took with an end vision in mind. I spotted this park when visiting my mom and knew I wanted to take some photos there. I knew just enough about Lightroom at the time to add some creative processing to enhance the feel of the photo.

It was obvious to me that there was so much I had to learn. This was a bit overwhelming! I decided to take things slowly and focus on one skill at a time. Here’s a rough outline of the order in which I approached learning things over about 9 months’ time:

  1. Shooting in Manual and the exposure triangle
  2. RAW / Lightroom Processing
  3. Photoshop Processing (Thanks to Photoshop 101)
  4. Skintones
  5. Creative Processing
  6. Bought my first and only action set (I got Michelle Kane’s actions, which I was able to pick apart and really understand what they were doing to my images. Very useful for learning! I still incorporate her actions here and there in my workflow.)
  7. Workflow and Image Management Process (e.g. backups, file organization, etc.)
  8. Composition and Creativity (I took Composition and Creativity course here at CM – it completely changed my shooting.)

Towards the end of this learning period, I realised I needed to take a step back and focus more on my shooting and integrating all of this new knowledge into daily practice. I started a 365 project.  When this article posts, I should be within 2 weeks of completing this project (hooray!). I highly recommend doing a daily photo project if you want to give yourself the time and opportunity to practice shooting in any/all conditions and with subjects who may not always be the most cooperative. It really helped me grow in finding new and creative ways to take photos of my daughter, since I have tried to get as much variety in my daily photos as possible. I can look at these images as a set and really see an evolution in how I approached processing, composition, and the use of light. Here is one of my favorite shots from the earlier stages of my 365:

Nikon D90 in Manual mode with 24-70mm 2.8 lens, ISO 1250 | f/2.8 | 1/160 sec

In October 2011, I decided to take the plunge and start a photography portrait business. I purchased my Nikon D700 and I set up a number of portfolio building shoots. I began learning a whole new set of skills, like how to plan a shoot, manage and pose clients, get variety in client images, etc. Portfolio building also helped me to establish a strong image workflow. At this time, I attended a 3-day workshop in Sydney with Tamara Lackey, which was an amazing kickstart in setting up my business plan and processes, as well as meeting and shooting with other photographers. Here are some images from my portfolio building sessions:

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 24-70mm 2.8 lens, ISO 200 | f/3.5 | 1/800 sec

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 24-70mm 2.8 lens, ISO 200 | f/2.8 | 1/2500 sec

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 24-70mm 2.8 lens, ISO 500 | f/3.5 | 1/500 sec

I started taking  clients early this year and so far, so good! I’m taking the business side of things really slowly, allowing myself the time and opportunity to learn and change things up as I go. With each shoot, I note things I can improve on and try to focus on those for the next one.

Another huge accomplishment for me this year was applying and getting accepted into CMpro. The idea of applying had been mulling around in the back of my head since I started my business, and I was waiting to get some more client shoots and experiences to show on my blog. I was also finding that a new sense of my “style” and my most favorite shots were emerging from my 365 project too. One day in February, I posted one of my 365 photos as a picture share on CM. This one:

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 200 | f/3.5 | 1/400 sec

I was feeling positive about the use of light and composition and then I read a response from Ashley Spaulding. She said, “Christie ~ This is amazing!!! The light, the moment, the little pop of color on her dress, and your composition are all fantastic! I just love this shot!” And that was it – the catalyst I needed – so I filled out my CMpro application, crossed my fingers and hit “Apply”. I included my blog as well as my 365 Flickr set in the application. Getting accepted was really rewarding and it validated of all of the learning, hard work, and practice I’ve put in over the last few years. So thank you, Ashley! A good testament to the difference positive feedback can mean to someone, and also the supportive environment you can find on CM.

Here are some of my recent favorite images:

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 2000 | f/2.8 | 1/160 sec

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 320 | f/2.8 | 1/800 sec

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 200 | f/4.0 | 1/8000 sec

Nikon D700 in Manual mode with 50mm 1.4 lens, ISO 1600 | f/2.8 | 1/320 sec

I hope this has been inspiring and helpful for someone just starting out in their own photography journey. It’s so challenging and rewarding. I love depicting the everyday in beautiful and creative ways, and maintaining variety in my images. I also love finding ways to capture beautiful light. There is a great deal more for me to learn, and I am so excited to see where this journey takes me next.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Christie!  Have a question for Christie?  You can check out her “Ask a Pro” thread on the forum!

my photography journey series on the Clickin Moms blog

33 Comments

  • valerie says:

    i loved reading this!!! so much inspiration for those of us at the beginning of our journey. Your work today is so stunning! congrats on all your growth and success <3

  • Desiree says:

    so WONDERFUL, Christie! Such a down to earth and realistic view of your evolution as a photographer (as evidenced by your chronological photo history in the article). I really enjoyed reading it and can relate to it myself. Congrats on getting to where you are now!! :)

  • Jenna says:

    What a beautiful story, Christie! Thank you for being open and sharing your experience. It really is helpful to others, like me, who are on similar journeys.

  • gigi says:

    I always love seeing your work Christie – your story and your 365 are so inspiring! I'm a big Eliza fan too of course and I love the way your capture moments with her – so creative and beautiful!

  • heidi says:

    I loved loved loved reading this! :) Beautiful journey, and gorgeous pictures-love your style so much!!!!!!!!

  • Nina says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey Christie! I always love seeing your sweet little one on the Daily Project. :)

  • Anna says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, very inspiring!! Your daughter is adorable and your photos are beautiful!

  • Sarah says:

    LOVED reading about your journey Christie! Thanks for sharing your story. I immediately related to your perspective of "…the power of photography to make time stand still." I'm in the beginning stages of my photography journey and it was inspiring to know that I could be in a similar place that you are in just a few years with dedication and practice. :)

  • skye says:

    Wow. How inspiring. Sometimes I read about photographers and can not wrap my head around them because they are so advanced and talk in tongues. Your description of how you started out and progressed is something many of us (at least I can speak for myself) can relate to. It actuallly made me feel like if something happened to my current job (god forbid) then I would want to try and go down the same path! Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  • Janeen says:

    I *loved* reading this. I am at about mid-way (hopefully) through Step 1 on your list, and have been really struggling with seeing progress in my photography. But the other day, I realized I was driving down the road and composing my ISO, SS, and f-stop in my head and 6 months ago, I wouldn't have had a clue. (Six months ago, I didn't even know my camera could adjust ISO!) While I have a long way to go, CM has been wonderful on that journey. And one day, I just might work up the guts to post one of my own photos.

    Thanks for sharing and it's amazing to see your progress. Lovely images – even when you weren't sure what you were doing.

  • Esther says:

    What an inspiring story. I am amazed at how far you have come in such a short time. It gives me hope for my future ;).

  • Ashley says:

    I've been following the CM blog for awhile, but haven't taken the plunge to join the community. Your blog post made up my mind for me and I joined. I have followed a similar path to you and I hope I can experience the same growth by being part of the forum. :-) Thanks!

  • I loved reading about your journey Christie! I have always loved your work. Your 365 project has been very inspiring to me. I can never get enough of your little cutie!

  • Carol Davis says:

    Your story is so inspiring! I love how you outlined your journey, as well as the photos that went along with it.

    I gasped when I saw the photo of the pregnant mom and the large flowers over her belly. STUNNING!

  • Michelle C. says:

    I loved reading this Christie! Such great images, beautiful journey and I absolutely adore all your updates on CMPro Daily! Love it!

  • Natalie @MamaTrack says:

    I love hearing about this journey. I feel like it shows me where my own can go. Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Hello, and thanks everyone! I've just woken up on this side of the world and it is such a joy to see all of your sweet comments. :-)

  • Paramela says:

    I am inspired by Christie's journey daily. I love to see her passion through her photography. She beautifully captures the personalities of those she photographs and I am often in awe of the story I can see in each shot. Thanks, Christie, for sharing your journey with us and inspiring us though your eyes.

  • Saray Murillo says:

    Congratulations…!! Love your work and thank you for share your special journey with us…..

    Best regards!!

  • Marianna says:

    Thanks for your story. So much of it I can relate too. I am at the stage where I've been taught manual mode but it now needs to sink in so I can understand how it all works so thank you for giving me the inspiration to keep going. Love your work. Thank YOU!

  • Ann says:

    Loved reading about your journey Christie! Thank you for being so open and honest with us about your experiences. Such an inspiration! And I just love your style!!

  • LaShawn says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey! Very inspiring!

  • Jennifer Vititoe says:

    And I really do love this entire series. Christie, this is an amazing and inspiring journey. Thanks for sharing.

  • This is truly inspiring Christie! I loved reading more about your journey, thank you so much for sharing!

  • Sara says:

    Christie, I love your work and enjoyed your article. It’s all very inspiring to me!
    Thank you!

  • Aimee says:

    This was such a joy to read. I don't know even know you Christie, but I feel so happy for you. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. I love your images!

  • Renee says:

    What a beautiful and inspiring story. I can really relate with the way that you have gradually progressed with your learning – and your pictures are amazing!

  • Leah Cook says:

    what a journey, Christie!! loved reading your story and I'm so happy you're contributing to the daily project now…thank you for sharing and inspiring us all.

  • Crysti POtter says:

    This is great and it shows we all have started some were and had to learn so much,,,this is really inspiring and thank you so much for sharing,:)

  • Cristin says:

    Christie-THANK YOU so much for being so humble! I'm in the beginning stages of my journey, and it's frustrating sometimes when more accomplished photographers seem to have forgotten where they began! It's not easy sharing our "before" work, but it's what makes us authentic and vulnerable. Others, like myself, look at this as a source of inspiration and joy, not comparison and defeat. :)

  • jodi says:

    wow, christie!!! i loved reading about your journey! my favorite pic you shared is the one with those cute little pig tails but i'm really loving your composition in those latest pics. wonderful interview!

  • Colie J says:

    What a fantastic journey Christie!

  • Tina Hursh says:

    What a wonderful story Christie!! Congratulations on your accomplishments!! :) LOVE the photo of your little one walking with her red boots.. too cute!!

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