One of my goals for my time in Chicago or at least the first year of our stay, was to exercise a different part of my brain to potentially discover new hobbies and areas of interest. For over a decade, I dedicated most of my energy to working fulltime, and there was not much headspace left to explore many other areas of life.
Outside of maybe fiddling with PowerPoint in preparation to a meeting, I was not attuned to using my creative abilities or realizing if I even had any. Taking time off work now gives me the freedom and time to try new things and to get to know myself a little better.
In one of my earlier posts I already shared that learning to play an instrument was at the top of my list of new things to check out. I had never actively engaged in music (listening yes, playing no) and wanted to find out if this is something that I might feel passionate about.
I will report back on progress of my guitar journey closer to the end of the year when I am planning to share how my time so far in Chicago has been overall. (Spoiler alert: chances are high, that it will turn out to be one of the best periods in my life.)
With the launch of my blog I also discovered – very unexpectedly – my pleasure for writing. I never thought of writing as something particularly fun, mainly because I hardly ever wrote about things that were close to my heart.
While I had initially just planned for my blog to be a one-stop-shop where everyone who would be interested could go to for news and pictures (basically so I wouldn’t have to send dozens of individual emails or texts), I realized quickly that writing is also a great way for me to reflect.
Am I planning to ever publish a book as some of you have suggested I should do (I do love your encouragement!)? Probably not if you ask me now. But I enjoy the process of jotting down my thoughts and perhaps even inspire some of you by how I see the world every now and then. Thank you for the awesome feedback I have been getting from many of you throughout my blogging journey and for continuing to follow along!
I was prompted to delve into yet another creative area, when my brother in law handed me his Nikon DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera before our departure, along with the motivation to bring it with me to Chicago, figure out how this thing works and to take many cool pictures throughout our adventure. What a lovely surprise and a challenge I was totally up for.
Those of you who own a DSLR will agree that there is no real benefit in handling such a device in auto mode (though it is tempting to do just that at first). If you are an ‘auto mode’ photographer and wonder why your pictures look no different from the ones your phone can make, here is the secret: change to manual, learn how your camera operates, practice, and you will soon be rewarded with the most amazing results.
A DSLR in auto mode is like a race car that has never seen a racecourse: a total waste of resources. It does however require a significant effort to figure out exactly what your camera can do, because the technical breadth of this device can be truly intimidating (it was for me).
As I am not too keen on learning things on my own, it became clear that I had to find a photography school and let the experts teach me how things work. I signed up with Richard Stromberg’s Chicago Photography Classes, which is an amazing community of like-minded people who share the passion for great pictures.
There are classes for every level of interest and expertise, and the owners and instructors always take the time to meet with you outside of the regular hours to explain something you may have difficulty understanding (I did take advantage of that a few times). Because it is rather informal, it feels more like a family than a place you just go to for learning. You even get a key, so you can come and edit and print your artwork at any time you like.
I have so far taken four individual classes and spent hours hearing about and practicing the technicalities of aperture (changing the focus in an image between near and far), shutter speed (showing that something moves, like water or vehicles or people), ISO (changing the sensitivity of the sensor to light and with that being able to take pictures at night and under difficult light conditions), composition (being mindful of what to show in an image so it doesn’t look boring) and many more of the must-know features for shooting great pictures.
Have I lost you non-technically minded folks? No worries … back to normal language…
Photography is more than just capturing a moment in time. It is art that can tell a story and truly win the viewer’s attention if done properly. It is also a way for the photographer to express themselves. Some might enjoy shooting landscapes, for others it is food, sports, architecture, people or fine art.
Either way, there is no great photo without great editing. I have started deep-diving into Photoshop and Lightroom, which are both Adobe photo editing programs with Lightroom offering a place to also organize all your images (which is nice once you start shooting more frequently and need to suddenly store hundreds or even thousands of high-resolution images).
It is also fun to see how the true beauty of a photo emerges as soon as you take away some noise, sharpen the image, up the exposure or increase the saturation. I also now know how to whiten teeth, soften the skin and straighten stubborn hair. 😊
Quite different from picking up my phone to take a merely spontaneous picture of a situation (which I still do whenever I don’t want to carry around what feels like a rock in my purse), a DSLR makes me look at my surroundings through a different set of eyes, always on the look-out for a great shot.
And often this great shot is not a famous building or sight, but instead some small detail, a cool combination of light and shadow or a unique pattern. There is still a lot I do not know and will practice and discover over time. But here are few of my early pieces of work:
What I realized from my experience with writing, photography and guitar-playing, is how important it is to get passed the stage of horribly sounding chords, boringly written paragraphs or terribly shot images.
Observing your motivation drop due to the lack of immediate success (however one defines success) is just a necessary part of the process, which by no means implies that you should quit or have not got talent. Stick with it for a while and figure out if this new hobby (or job, or partner, or place to live …) really is not meant for you.
Imagine yourself on a strenuous hike where half-way to the top you decide to turn around. Would it not be a lot more rewarding to at least first enjoy the view from the summit and only afterwards decide if you wish to toss your hiking boots into the corner?
What you might dread in the beginning, you might end up enjoying after all. Do not call it quits too early as a summit might be closer than you think. And so might be a new passion which could accompany you for life.