What Was the First Photo You Took That Got You Hooked on Photography?

What Was the First Photo You Took That Got You Hooked on Photography?

If you were anything like me when you first started in photography, you probably took a metric ton of pictures of just about anything you could point your camera at. But what was the first photo you took that got you truly excited about photography? Did it change your path through photography or even life itself?

My first adventures with my DSLR generally consisted of me acting like a paparazzi with well, everything. Random average guy walking down the sidewalk? Call me a street photographer. Plain Jane rose bush? Let's get a nice closeup. Maybe we can add a little selective color to that later. And let's not even get into those HDR landscapes. Call me Skittles, because I added so much color that you could actually taste the rainbow in those images. 

Excitement Takes Skill

Do you think I was excited by any of these shots? For a moment, sure. Everything is exciting when you first have a camera. But did anything hit me on a deep level and really excite me, motivate me to tackle this complex and sometimes nebulous pursuit and take control of my work? Nah. That was for two reasons. First, I had no idea what I was doing. A lot of the time, the reward we feel for an accomplishment is at least partially based on how hard we worked for it. It feels good to reap the rewards of hard work. It is why getting a college degree feels more satisfying than doing the laundry, though I have to say that I am absolutely loving this Febreze Tide I have been using.

The second reason was that I had no idea what made a compelling photo. When you are discovering photography, everything is interesting, and that is actually not a bad thing. It motivates you to use your camera and to discover the joy of the pursuit. But it does not change the fact that there are millions of pictures of rose bushes and people on sidewalks out there, which means that in order to make a memorable image of one of those things, you either have to find a unique rose bush or find a way to photograph a normal one in a unique way. I did not know how to do either of those things, thus the feeling of mundaneness I felt coming over me every time the thrill of shooting wore off and I sat down to review images on my computer.

My technique was nowhere near the point of knowing how to turn ordinary subjects into interesting images; I didn't even have technique at that time. And I certainly had not developed an eye for interesting subject matter yet. This meant I either had to undertake the slow slog of developing technique (which I simply did not appreciate yet) or luck into an image to show me what was possible and to take me from enjoying the novelty of the nifty gadget in my hands to someone seriously pursuing photography. 

Luck Intervenes

Thankfully for me, luck was about to intervene. One day, I went to the farm to take care of my horse. I put him in a pasture with another horse, and of course, my camera was hanging off my shoulder. And that is when I finally got a shot worth talking about. 

The settings don't even matter here. The camera was on auto mode; I didn't make any conscious decisions about technical parameters.

Technically, it is a poor image. I did not know a thing about properly exposing a photo, which meant the camera was on full auto. If I had known anything, I would have at least dialed in some exposure compensation to properly expose my horse (the dark one) or just switched to manual mode entirely. Instead of standing 100 feet away on the other side of a fence, up a hill, I would have followed him into the pasture and gotten close and low with a wide focal length to show off the power of two 1,200-pound animals rearing into the air. That also would have saved me from having to crop so much of the original shot, causing me to lose lots of resolution. All that is only the tip of the iceberg; there are a lot of other things I can talk about with regards to improving the image, but that isn't really the point. 

The Transition

The point is that I had finally created an image that made me care about improving, because I saw the potential in it. I instantly saw that while it was still a snapshot due to my lack of proficiency, with more technique, it could have been a great image. It was the first shot that made me want to improve, that made me feel invested in photography. I was happy with my slapdash HDR creations up to that point because a boring landscape did not inspire me to want to output the best possible image. I had been cooking with the most budget cuts of beef and didn't care how they came out because they were such cheap cuts to start with. But now, I had seen a raw cut of filet mignon and known that I could create something special with it. Granted, I still charred that particular one to a burnt, dried out crisp, but now I knew the potential that was out there, and I wanted to learn to be better.

Up until that point, any joy I got from photography derived from some combination of delusion about the novelty of my images and the fun of playing with a gadget, along with the occasional dopamine hit from a kind friend throwing a like my way on Facebook. But now, the joy was in creating a memorable image. I had shifted from a geek with a camera to a photographer (in training). Ok, in fairness, I still like to geek out about cameras, but I now have the motivation to create memorable images too. 


Do you have any memorable images that took photography from a hobby to a true passion for you? How did they change your life path? Share them along with your story in the comments! 

Log in or register to post comments


Robert K Baggs's picture

This shot because it was the first time my images weren't just incidental. I had discussed creating a promo poster/album cover for a musician called Eye of the Storm. I had sketched out what I wanted in my mind and then set to work creating it. The shoot was me, the model, and her Mum as an assistant at 6am in -2 degrees at a local marsh. The final image is a composite of quite a few different shots but I was happy with the result at the time. I felt for the first time like I could come up with a concept and execute it.

Alex Cooke's picture

You should still be happy with that result!

I can't show you the first shot that got me hooked because this happen back in the 60's. But what I can say and show you was what camera I was using at that time.


Alex Cooke's picture

Ah, my grandparents had a camera like that! It looks like a lot of fun to shoot with!

My first photo that grabbed me was one I took of my brother jumping into a swimming pool in about 1966. I shot it on my Dad's Argus C3 at 1/300 sec (we knew that was important, didn't really think about aperture, probably not sure what it was). We were delighted because we could freeze a moment of fast action.
I will see if I can find it and post.

What really sealed the deal was watching the image appear on a sheet of paper in a darkroom. Even today the smell of the darkroom makes me happy.

Alex Cooke's picture

Would love to see that photo if you can find it! I have an Argus C3 on my bookshelf!

Stoopy McPheenis's picture

I can't give you an exact photo, but I got a throw away camera when I was around 5 and I've had a camera around me ever since.

Jerome Brill's picture

I got my first digital camera in 2001. I took many photos to catalog my life but they weren't really creative. Although when I started seeing landscape shots on varies wallpaper sites, that's when I got into it. I wanted to take those kind of shots. In 2012 I bought my first DSLR. This was the first shot I was really happy with and helped me continue the hobby.

Alex Cooke's picture

That's a lovely shot! One of my first photos that got me hooked was morning fog over a lake as well.

Terry Waggoner's picture

It wasn't any image that I shot.......it was my grandmothers. She was an avid shooter when she was in her teens to when she was in her 30's. Her images were wonderful and I wanted to be able to do the same. She gave me my first camera for a birthday present.....

Alex Cooke's picture

What a lovely gift!! My high school graduation gift was a camera as well.

Aaron Lyfe's picture

Probably these 2 in Italy in 2011 with my iPhone 3. Still need to dig up the originals as these are snips from my old IG profile

Alex Cooke's picture

Oof, what a beautiful country.

Przemek Lodej's picture

I was 12 years old, way back circa summer of 1985. We were still living in Poland and I had my parents brand spanking new Russian Zorka 35mm camera with an East German ORWO color film. I was hooked. Have to dig for some of those photos. :)

Nathan Burns's picture

I took a photography class in highschool as a bullshit senior class, but had a lot of fun in it. However, when it comes to the photo that made this something I was passionate about, the defining moment was during an assignment when I saw a frog and placed it on an artist mannequin. It was a simple photo with a simple point and shoot camera, but it kickstarted my love for photography. I still go to the zoo twice a month and am glad that "bullshit senior class" turned into an one of the best decisions I have ever made. :3

Alex Cooke's picture

I had a class like that in undergrad! I ended up liking it so much that I declared a major in it!

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

it was this one :
I wanted to do astrophotography (because I like astronomy a lot), so I borrowed my brother's D70. It was the first time I used a DSLR, I didn't know what I was doing back then (I'm not really better now...) so I shot in Auto.
One month later, I bought a little D3100 and since then, I can't go out without my DSLR.
I only wanted to do astrophotography but now I take pictures of eevrything that pass before my eyes :'D

Alex Cooke's picture

Holy cow, what a gorgeous car! Love that you take your camera everywhere!

Scott Choucino's picture

I was looking at this a few days ago for an article. Same as Robert K Baggs , this is the first shot that I took with any real planning. We sketched the shot, had a stylist chose the outfits and I even had an assistant!

Elio Rivero's picture

It's a really good one, congrats!

Geting Ralph Fiennes to sit for you was a major coup.

Alex Cooke's picture

Beautiful shot, Scott!

Unfortunately I don't have the pictures but I still remember my first shot. It was a friend's wedding and I was very jittery cos I didn't want to disappoint. At some point I showed I was an amateur cos the pictures were blurry and the couple didn't like most of the pictures. I'm actually thankful for where I've got to in photography presently.

Steven de Vet's picture

Probably this shot. Taken when I was like 15-16 I think.
Taken from the cockpit of a plane on the way to Panama. We passed a few storms and I had my first "good" camera with me. Some old canon Powershot.. compact camera, can't even recall which one. But probably the first camera I had where I could manipulate shutter speeds and stuff. I took like 100 pictures of just black space and maybe a few lights in the thunder. trying out different shutter speeds and settings. But this was the first full on lightning strike that I got. Obviously I had taken images before, but this was the one that really did it for me and got me far more excited about taking pictures.

Alex Cooke's picture

I remember my first lightning shot too! It was such a thrill!

Chris Fowler's picture

This wasn't the best photo, but it kind of told a story about how we observe the beauty of nature through the fences we build around ourselves. That was when I realized a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Alex Cooke's picture

Beautiful metaphor!

None. Just these ones that I see here. I love photography but never thought so much about it. Right now, I'm thinking about indulging for fun.

Greg Milunich's picture

I had a point and shoot in college and that peaked my interest. I really didn't catch the photo bug until I got my Rebel XTi. this is shot from my first weekend with my first DSLR about 12 years ago. Its been a interesting journey and there is some HDR and Topaz Adjust phases I'd like to forget but it was all a learning experience

Alex Cooke's picture

Haha don't worry, I have an HDR phase I'd like to forget too!

More comments