I Used to Be a Terrible Photographer - Alison Heffington Photography


I Used to Be a Terrible Photographer

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Sometimes I get so frustrated with my photography. I’ll scroll through Instagram and see photo after photo from photographers who I deeply admire, then immediately start comparing my work to theirs. We are always our worst critic, so I’m sure you can imagine that the whole comparison thing doesn’t really make me feel too good about my work. I think it’s a really great thing to find inspiration in other photographers’ work, but we seem to forget that they once were beginners. They once took horrible photos or put an ugly preset on a photo or couldn’t quite master focusing.

That’s why I love to see the progression of photographers’ work throughout the years. It can be really fun (and encouraging!) to scroll all the way back on some of those famous photographers’ feeds to see where they started. It’s a reminder that they’ve worked really hard to hone their craft and that they got better.

A few weeks ago, I came across some photos from one of my very first photo sessions. I don’t have many examples of my work from back in the day since I’ve changed computers, lost external hard drives, or deleted files to clear up space over the years. It was such a fun surprise coming across some of my old photos that I thought were so good back in the day, but now they just make me laugh! So here’s my photography journey. Here’s where I began, and where I am now. I’m still growing so much, but I wanted to show y’all just how much you can improve if you put in a lot of hard work and practice!

2011: The middle school years

These were some of the first photos I took when I got my very first DSLR camera. It was a Nikon D5000 with a kit lens, and I was juuuust starting to figure out how to work Photoshop. As a Photoshop newbie, I loved playing will all the different filters and ~fancy~ lighting effects. Check out those crooked horizons, the way-over-sharpness, and those pee-colored skies!

2012-2015: High School

I started high school in 2012 and was given the chance to shoot photos on the sidelines of the first game of the football season for my school’s yearbook. I had never been to a football game before that night (sports aren’t really my thing), so I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to deliver quality photos of the game. To my surprise, I absolutely loved shooting the game. I loved the atmosphere of the stadium, the high-paced action of the game, and the challenge of shooting something that was so far outside of my comfort zone. I soon started shooting photos at every single football game, working as a reporter for a local radio station, and shooting images for a football magazine. Here are a few of my favorite photos from back then!

August 2015—July 2017: College pt. 1

When I decided to go to Baylor, I planned on being a journalism major and work for either the Baylor yearbook or newspaper. I found an application for the yearbook staff and applied, even though I was several months late for the deadline. There was only one job open for the year— as a writer. I took the job thinking that maybe I’d get the chance to shoot photos at the Baylor football games at some point. Then the unexpected happened— I hated my major (more specifically, I hated my Intro to Reporting class). I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist or a sports photographer, and that God was calling me in a different direction. I impulsively changed my major and quit my job with the yearbook, all while my camera collected dust in my tiny dorm room closet.

Not long after, a friend of mine from church asked me to take a few photos of her to use for sorority recruitment. It was probably only about a 20-minute shoot, but it made me realize how much I had missed photography, especially portraits. I soon asked some of my friends to model for me so I could start building my portfolio, and I loved it more and more after each shoot.

This time period was full of a lot of experimentation, both in my shooting and my editing style. I really liked the dark, moody, serious photos (I literally would get annoyed with my models for smiling since it didn’t seem ‘moody’ enough 😂)

August 2017—Present: College Pt. II

At the beginning of summer 2017, I began feeling incredibly uninspired. I wasn’t enjoying my major (again), and I just wasn’t very excited about my photography or future career. Every photographer I followed on Instagram had the same dark, moody look that my photos had, and it just all started looking the same. I felt like it was impossible for my work to ever stand out.I decided to completely redo my editing style and switched to a bright and airy look. I re-edited my entire portfolio, and I switched my major for the third time—back to journalism (this time with a public relations concentration instead of news-editorial!). At first, I took “bright and airy” to the extreme, and my photos really just looked blown-out with little contrast.

It’s taken me quite a bit of time (and a lot of wasted money on presets I now haven’t touched in months!), but I finally feel like I’ve found a happy medium between “bright and airy” and just a little bit “moody.” Looking back, I wish I could tell myself to stop comparing my work to other photographers’, and to just shoot and edit how I like it. I would’ve saved a lot of money and energy if I had just been true to myself and the style I was naturally drawn to.

I’m so excited to continue to grow as a photographer and to see how my work evolves going forward. I truly have such a long way to go, and I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely satisfied with my work. I’ll probably look back in a few months on the photos I shot this month and think they were horrible—and that may never stop!—but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come as a photographer since that first shoot. Hopefully this will encourage to never stop growing and practicing the art which you love!