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December 21, 2012

Introduction of Sean Lancaster; New Author

Sean Lancaster with the RX1

Hello folks. I am an amateur photographer who started shooting a photo a day on January, 1 of 2011 and I haven’t missed a day since then. When I started the project, I owned a Nikon D70 and some lenses including the 18-200 VR lens. However, I found it much easier to leave the D70 at home and shoot my photography with an iPhone and Camera+. I also used a Lumix TZ5 point and shoot camera instead of pulling out the D70. The big DSLR was a very poor purchase for me in 2004 and I finally sold it in the summer of 2011. By then, I was 6 months into my photo-a-day project and I was committed to continuing to shoot a photo each day. So I made a decision to get better and smaller equipment because the big DSLR was just too big for me to carry everywhere.

 

Sony NEX-5N

I was exploring Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras in online photography forums when a Sony NEX 5 troll of sorts posted some images he had shot with his NEX 5 camera. I was intrigued with the low noise even in lower light. Hmmmm, Sony, eh? I looked into the NEX system and the 5N was coming out that September. I put in my order and received my NEX 5N the day the camera started shipping from Amazon. My photography still largely consisted of snapshots where I would sometimes get lucky, but mostly captured just uninteresting snapshots like this:

Street scene of no interest

Simple Snapshot

I also decided to start learning what the various settings on my camera could do because I was ignorant. I decided to learn about S mode and A mode and what ‘aperture’ and ‘exposure’ really meant. I was tired of seeing neat images I wanted to take (e.g., a waterfall) and instead of snapping the shot with the water nice and smooth, I would end up completely freezing the action with a quick shutter all because I didn’t know how to operate my camera to achieve the results I wanted. I checked out books from the library and bought other books (e.g., Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera). I read and read. I watched YouTube videos explaining exposure and how shutter speed and ISO and aperture were related. This stuff didn’t come easy to me, but I stuck it out and continued to shoot at least a shot a day, often many more.

 

Eureka!

I spent most of April 2012 in South Africa with some university students studying abroad (also 2011, but that was with my point and shoot). When I had free time, I hit the streets of Stellenbosch and it was there in Africa where I started to see the world through the eyes of my camera. What a magical feeling. I had recently acquired a Sony Zeiss 24/1.8 Emount lens and it rarely came off of my camera. I love this focal length, which is roughly a 35mm full frame equivalent. I should point out that the lens did not make me a better photographer; rather, using a prime lens forced me to think more about each shot since I couldn’t just zoom in or out. Having only 1 focal length meant I had to plan a little more. But I was in Africa and everything around me was unique to me. I was walking around town and seeing potential photographs everywhere I turned.

portrait of 2 black students with 1 white student

Contrast in South Africa

By this time I was exclusively shooting A mode and I actually understood the technical stuff. I had a preference for trying to acquire subject separation from backgrounds and shallow depth of field in many of my shots. And understanding the technical stuff meant that I was free to start learning to see light and grasping the notion of composition. Learning decent compositional rules is easier than learning to see light; at least, for me this was the case. Compositional rules exist that can guide a person learning photography before he/she is able to better see composition without thinking about it. But I still was shooting fewer keepers than I desired. I studied my bad photographs to see if perhaps I messed up technically or whether I just selected a bad subject or scene. I wanted to improve. I still do and that means continuing to learn from my mistakes, which I make more than I care to admit.

I think I really started hitting my stride in about August of this year at age 42. That was when I started to take more shots that I thought about in advance and wanted to keep after I took the shot. August was a year and a half after I started my photo a day project. As you can see, I am just a slow learner. Heh. But once I got it, I like to think that I really got it such that I could approach any scene and come away with some nice images. Here is a September photograph where I felt I was turning the corner; it’s not perfect, but I liked how I prepared the shot and executed it.

Boy on laptop in coffeeshop

Boy on Laptop in Coffeeshop

And one of my favorite photos from this autumn:

Dog sleeping in autumn

Lazy Days of Autumn

 

Status Quo

I feel like I have outgrown my NEX 5N. I understand the external controls that I’d like to have on my camera and the 5N doesn’t have them without hitting the menu system and sometimes digging down. Meh. So, I bought a Sony RX1 Cybershot Full-frame Digital Camera. This is a dream camera for me. Full frame in a small package with a Zeiss lens specifically made to work with the RX1 camera body and sensor. An incredible little camera that can produce gorgeous images. Having this camera certainly makes me want to learn even more and produce images that are to the potential of this camera. I’ll still have my NEX 5N for those times when I need another focal length (e.g., fisheye or 50mm or beyond), but the RX1 is my main camera for everyday shooting. So, Stay tuned as I share my experiences growing in skill and knowledge.

 

About Me

I am a father of 2 kids (girl 12 and boy 11) and married to a terrific woman who is my boss at home and work. We are both professors at a public university in Michigan in the College of Education. My wife is my department chair. I teach technology to teachers and I am in year 13. So, I hope my profession and also my recency into photography allows me to have a nuanced method of writing that ensures that even the more amateur readers of my pieces will find what I write to be informative and worthwhile. I love shooting street photography, but I also like other urban shooting from scenes that are interesting to objects that strike my fancy. That’s me in a nutshell and I look forward to having dialogue with people who visit this site. Happy holidays!

Holiday Spheres

Holiday Spheres (can you see me?)

Click here to see 60 of Sean’s favorite photos from the last few months.

 

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About the Author

Sean Lancaster
I have had cameras stretching back to my first SLR in 1992 that my dad bought me when I graduated from College. I have owned a Nikon D70 and a few decent lenses. I started doing a photo a day project in 2011 (Jan. 1) and haven't missed a day since. But I didn't really start to learn photography until the summer of 2011 when I bought an NEX 5N. And even then I didn't have the lightbulb go on until later summer of 2012. I recently bought a Sony RX1 full frame 35mm beautiful camera and I continue to grow in my photography skills . . . always learning.




12 Comments


  1. Great intro and brilliant to have you onboard, Sean :-)


  2. Jay

    Sean,

    Fantastic introduction!! I learned a lot about your photography history which sounds remarkable similar to mine in a lot of ways. Especially the desire to learn part ;) I also read that book and also highly recommend it!!

    That South Africa picture “contrast” is amazing. Wall hanger if you ask me like so many of your Photos Sean!!

    Be sure to check out Sean’s Latest 60 Favorite Photos >>

    Thanks again for sharing Sean and I really look forward to seeing and reading all your future work!!

    Jay


  3. Welcome Sean! I really enjoyed the Bio Intro – well done.

    Man, you made a “Quantum Leap” in equipment from the 5N to the RX1 … Verrrrryy Nice! Can’t wait to see more from that bad boy. :-)


  4. thank you Alan, Jay, and Mike. I look forward to contributing more and being a part of this community. And, I look forward to sharing my experiences with the RX1 to see what kind of quantum leap it is.


  5. Hazel

    Beautiful photos!!!


  6. YPA Cuba

    I’ll try to learn from your experience as much as I can. Nice reading and wonderful pictures. I just bought a NEX 5R and only hope to make couple of photos like yours.


  7. Great to see you Sean again – since unplugging from the forum sites, it’s cool to see you and read your article. Well done and congrats!


  8. Hi Sean

    First let me say that I am french Canadian living near Montreal so pardon my english…

    I had to comment your photos and the way you work. I am very inspired. You gave yourself an obligation to photos every day and there is no better way to become an experienced photograph. Documentation in wbsites and books is great but it is far much better to go and take photos. Your’s are great !

    I just bought a Nex 6 and the 24mm 1.8 Zeiss len and will put in action your suggestion of at least one photo each day.

    Thank’s

    Paul


    • Paul, j’apprécie les commentaires. Le NEX-6 est un très bon appareil photo et j’adore le 24 Zeiss. Cette combinaison devrait bien vous servir. Bonne chance à vous.
      (translation: Paul, I appreciate the comments. The NEX-6 is a very good camera and I love the Zeiss 24. This combination should serve you well. Best of luck to you.)



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