The Origin of The Photo Flunky Show is How We Got Started in Photography
Now that we hit 75 episodes, I realized that we never discussed the origin of The Photo Flunky Show. We wanted to provide some background on our journey with photography. How we got started and why it matters to us.
Most importantly, we want to share what photography means to us and what we've learned along the way.
Lee and I have very different approaches to photography.
She's very focused upon her end result and driven by the purpose for her photos. If the photos don't serve her purpose, she's ruthless about ditching them. After all, what value is a photo that just takes up space and doesn't serve a purpose?
My approach is somewhat different. I shoot for subjects that may have a purpose sometime in the future. Every once in a while I have a specific need and I'll shoot for a purpose. Much of my photography is for the entertainment of the process. I simply like photography and being able to create something.
What Drives a Photographer?
We all have our origin story. What motivates you to be a photographer? Is it the desire to preserve memories? Is it because it's a creative outlet where you can make your own rules? Lee has an art background, but I don't. I had to learn the hard way, through trial and error. I'm also fortunate that I found good instructors at workshops and online.
We've both explored many genres of photography and found our place. Now that we're both quite comfortable, we've also found that it's rewarding to share the things we've learned.
That's the origin of The Photo Flunky Show and also this web site. Between the articles, the podcast, and now video tutorials, we want to share what we can in hopes that it will help you reach your comfortable place with photography.
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THE PHOTO FLUNKY SHOW: Episode 75
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William: Welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, episode seventy-five.
Today, for episode 75, we decided let’s talk about the origins of The Photo Flunky Show.
Hi everybody. My name is William Beem.
Lee: Hi! My name is Lee Beem.
William: And, believe it or not, we are your photo flunkies.
William: Before we get started I just want to let you know that show notes for this show are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode75 and you can get a transcript of the show there for free.
And of course there are links to subscribe on that page or on photoflunky.com which has a player that will show you this episode and all the others; in case you just want to spend hours upon hours listening to our shining voices.
Also, I’ve got a free eBook available for you. It is called Creative Portraits. It is about the creative and emotional side of taking portraits, rather than the technical side of it. So you can get your copy at williambeem.com/freebook or you can pull out your cell phone and text the word or phrase CPBOOK to the number 33444.
We decided that we’ve gotten up to 75 episodes and the first episode I kind of talked about why I came up with the name of this show, but we realized I never really told you much about us. How did we get here and why should you care?
Lee: You should care.
William: I kind of want to go back and get to Lee’s story of how she got into photography, my story of how I got into photography and really kind of how it’s led us to this place; so you know a little bit more about us and why we recommend some of the things that we do, why we make some of the decisions that we do.
We don’t really go hand in hand on everything. As a matter of fact we disagree probably more than we agree about photography, but we kind of want to give you a little bit of understanding about where we are coming from when we make our comments and suggestions.
Alright, Lee. You’re up first. Ladies first so you get to go and tell your story.
Lee: I grew up with lots of family photo albums. Terrible Kodak Instamatic photos, all kind of square … remember the original Instagram with those horrible filters that made everything look blurry and desaturated with a funny color cast?
William: Oh yeah! That’s why I was so late to Instagram. It looked like crap.
Lee: I was the same. But those were the pictures we had and I have memories going back as far as I can recall having family photo albums in a big book cabinet in the living room and we used to love looking back on pictures of ourselves as babies and past Christmases and birthdays and friends who we’d maybe forgotten. My parents were not really great at photography, but they were very good at preserving memories and that was important to them. I didn’t want to not have that.
I guess it really got more intense when Tové was born because I did not want her to look back and have no pictures. I look at my dad and when his parents passed – his dad passed after his mom – and he went to clear out the home and there were just so few family photos or so many gaps in the history in the family tree there. There was no preservation of the memories. It made me sad. I didn’t want that to happen for Tové.
So even though I was terrible at it, I made sure that I captured these moments and every calendar month I wanted at least one 36 exposure film roll of photos printed out and I did that.
Fast forward to 2008 when Tové and I took our first vacation together. When I came back somebody pointed out that I came back with about 1000 photos and I was in three of them. I just didn’t like being in photos and I said so. I think what got me thinking was when someone said, “Well how is your daughter going to feel when she’s grown up and you’re not here and she has no pictures of the two of you together?”
I think somehow, although I wasn’t buying a camera to take photos of myself, that’s where it started. So I got a Kodak bridge camera, took really good photos – the camera took good photos it wasn’t me.
William: It was the camera.
Lee: It was the camera. The quality of the photos that this camera turned out for somebody who really didn’t know how to do photography was fantastic.
About two years later I wanted to replace it and it wasn’t anything to do with the camera, but it took two AA batteries and it just burned through batteries so much that it was a pain in the butt to keep this thing running on the power source that was available.
I had a couple of glasses of wine one night and I was looking on eBay and this DSLR came up with a kit lens. I didn’t know anything about lenses being separate to cameras and it was kind of equivalent to about $80 – maybe £80? I put in a bid, went to sleep, woke up the next morning and when I checked through my emails I saw that I’d won the auction. He’d posted it in a wrong category that wasn’t actually photography and nobody else had bid so I got the DSLR. Really, with that camera in my hands, some of the worst shots ever in history turned out of that camera. I had no idea what I was doing.
Those were my humble beginnings and the worse the photos were the more determined I was to learn how to take good photos.
William: You’ve got an art background as well.
Lee: I do.
William: Something motivated you to start getting more seriously into photography. You had the equipment that could take nice photos. The camera wasn’t doing it for you and suddenly you had to learn yourself.
Lee: I did.
William: So was it the art background that drove you or was it …?
Lee: You know that’s an interesting question because ability? I had no ability because I really didn’t understand how cameras worked. Now with art I think it was just ingrained in me. I understood so many of these basic rules that people get taught and I didn’t think about them.
I look at something and I kind of see the composition is imbalanced and I always say, it’s not that I see it; I feel it. It doesn’t consciously cross my mind. I just know to move.
So I wasn’t having issues with composition and things like that. I was having issues with how to set the camera to capture what I was seeing and the way I framed it.
William: So you already had a vision in your mind of what you wanted to create.
Lee: I did.
William: So you needed to learn the technical skills to do it. And once you did that, then what happened?
Lee: Well like they say, it’s a bit of a cliché, but the bug bit me. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. But I ended up getting sucked into this overwhelming wealth of technical information and I got very intimidated and almost panic stricken. There were a number of times when I thought, I’m going to sell this camera because it’s like work now. It’s not fun. Every time I needed to solve a problem somebody would tell me I need to spend $1000 on something to solve my problem or I needed to enrol in a course to learn how to solve this problem and I thought, this isn’t what I was trying to do.
William: And that’s kind of a key point in your journey. The answer isn’t always to spend more money.
Lee: It isn’t, but what it did do was it triggered something that is ingrained in me in my personality and my character and who I am – and that’s the rebel side! When people start telling me you have to do this, my instinctive reaction is: why?
And I don’t challenge it to be difficult; I challenge it because I cannot deal with something until I understand how and why. That enables me to progress through the journey and through asking why, I upset a lot of people, I got banned from a number of places, I got posts removed from forums, I had warnings put on and it was like high school. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. It was just that I need to understand the purpose of this. Are we wasting time investing this into this if the result is going to be mediocre?
That is really where I took a bit of a rebel’s journey into my photography and decided: what if I break the rules? Instead of going by what I know, I just roll with what I feel.
It’s been a bit of a roundabout journey, but I went from there through the process of buying things, selling things. I learned a lot. I think there are certain technical aspects that you need to understand. There are certain limitations that your equipment is going to place on you, but unless you’re getting into something very specific, that’s not much.
William: No, it really isn’t.
Lee: You know from where I was five years ago I honestly thought that when William and I finally – once we got married – and we were living together in the same home, I expected I was going to get more technical and get more into the – I don’t want to say professional side – but I thought that my photography was going to become less casual. I can honestly say that right now I am in the happiest place I have ever been with my photography. I love it.
And guess what? My photography is probably more casual now than it ever has been before. I got with what I feel.
William: And you’re using multiple cameras. You’ve got your DSLR, you’ve got your iPhone, we’ve got this new Canon G7X. It doesn’t really matter to you so much which one you’re using, but more which is the right tool for the job that you’re doing at the time? And you’re taking more photos now than you were before.
Lee: I don’t think I’ve ever taken as many photos on a daily basis as what I am now.
William: And you have a purpose for your photos.
Lee: I have a purpose for my photos and I think that is the other thing. I know. It’s not about having a purpose. It’s about knowing your purpose. I think if you are taking photos for a purpose you have a purpose whether you know it or not. Even if it’s just taking photos for the sake of having lots of photos. That becomes a purpose. I am taking photos for a purpose and I know what it is.
I also feel quite liberated in knowing that like most of us, I am not taking photos for photographers. I am taking photos for people who are interested in the same things that I’m interested in doing and my photos are a way to share, which brings me right back to my original motivation for taking photos. That was I wanted to preserve memories and I wanted to share.
Those two simple points are where I get my pleasure in my photos and I’m living it now.
William: It’s a wonderful story. But that also drives you with why you come up with certain things that are different than what I do in some cases. Not every case, but in some cases.
In my case, I started off when I was in high school. I just wanted to create something.
I’m not good at drawing, I’m not good at – I took piano lessons but honestly, I wasn’t very good at that either. I have a brother who is an outstanding musician and trying to compare myself next to him – he’s seven years older – so trying to grow up next to a musician like my brother I just shut down. It was not meant to be.
Years later I picked up guitar and I was doing really well with that for a while, but I stopped that when all my guitar buddies kind of went on their own different ways.
Photography was something I could do that was creative and also something I could do either with people or without them.
In other words I didn’t depend upon having to go to piano lessons, I didn’t depend upon knowing fine control of my hand to draw. It was something I could pick up and explore and I did that for years until I got into computers.
Later in high school they came out with the first Apple computers and Radio Shack computers and I got really taken into them. I thought up to my senior year in high school that I was going to be a professional photographer. We were looking at photography schools. Daytona Beach Community College (now State College), Brooks out in California; those were on my list. I was going to go to one or the other.
Then I got bitten by this computer bug, which turned out nicely for me. I got a job in that field almost right away and it’s been a wonderful career for me and I put my cameras down.
It wasn’t until I went on a cruise in the early 2000’s up to Alaska and I wanted to take some photos. I thought this for me seemed like a once in a lifetime trip. I doubted I was going up to Alaska again and so far I’ve been right about that.
But I wanted to go up there and take some photos and I had a tiny little Nikon E775 point and shoot camera. This is one of the things where I got to learn the term shutter lag! The whale would come up, I would click the shutter, I would wait and wait, the whale would go under water and then the shutter would click and I’d see the ripples in the water.
I don’t think I got a picture of a whale the entire time I was up there.
Lee: It’s so frustrating.
William: Oh, it was incredibly frustrating. Again it was one of those things like I’d seen all these wonderful photos of whales breaching. And of course out there in Alaska there were moments when the whales were breaching. I couldn’t get them to save my life because I had a crappy little point and shoot camera. I was expecting too much of the camera, but I didn’t know that at the time. So that really triggered me.
It was because of those damn whales that I went off and bought a Nikon D70 and I thought I am going to learn how to master this. And I did everything wrong.
I started off with all the technical settings. Whereas you had the composition in mind and you knew what you wanted to do, I was going to master the technical issues because that’s what I am; I’m a technical person. I like to solve problems. And I solved the problems.
I have made some of the most technically perfect crappy photos you’ve ever seen.
I didn’t understand anything about my compositions and use of light and slowly I said, alright everything is in focus, everything is happening the way I want it; it’s not blurry. Why does the picture suck?
Well, it’s because of what I’m pointing at. I had to learn and teach myself. Some through trial and error, some through some wonderful courses I had over the years, both with workshops and with online training. Slowly I’ve kind of developed myself where I think I’ve got a much better understanding of both the technical and the creative side.
I’m tired of the technical side. The technical side really becomes second nature after you’ve done it enough, where you realize that the point of photography really is to create something. And that is what motivated me in the first place. I wanted to do something creative.
So now I’m more comfortable, I can go out and do something creative, but then there is this other part. I want to share.
William: There are people who helped me get along the way and I had this little running gag that I used whenever I helped somebody in the past, I’d say “I’m here to help.”
Lee: Yes, I remember that!
William: I just kind of whipped that out. Someone would say thank you and I’d say, “I’m here to help.”
And it was facetious. But over time it stuck with me and I really do enjoy helping when I can.
And that really is the origin of my website as it is today. It started off as a personal journal just to kind of document what I was doing, the photos I was taking and it’s changed because I want to be helpful. I want to share what I’ve learned and I don’t know everything yet, but I’ll certainly share what I’ve learned and you’ll see the things where I’m successful and you’ll see the things where I make a mistake.
And Lee is here also kind of guiding me. I don’t put a thing out now that I don’t first ask Lee to come look over it. Does it make sense to you? Does it help you in any way?
And if she says no, then I throw it away.
Lee: I think that’s really where we both benefit from our completely opposite approaches to photography. I mean there have been times where you looked at something of mine and noticed something is not technically perfect. And it’s drawn my attention to it.
You know what it’s like when someone points something out to you then you can’t stop looking at it. Sometimes I fix all of it, sometimes I adjust some of it and think OK, I am not driven by this urge to be technically perfect. I want the input and likewise, William has got everything. Most of the time your technical side is perfect. You are really good with your creativity as well.
Occasionally I’ll look at something, especially aligning things, and I’ll say I prefer things a bit more messy because it relaxes me more.
William: My creative side didn’t come to me naturally. I had to spend time and trial and error and put some things out that I later on wish I hadn’t done. In order to get to the photos that I’m creating today and sharing what I know, that is based upon years of experience and getting feedback from other people, yourself included. I like this, I don’t like that and I’ll ask why. What is the reason?
Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don’t.
One of the things that Lee and I do is we’ll sit here and look at photos, whether our own or someone else’s and we’ll just analyze them far more than they ever should have been.
William: I mean we can look at something and say if you look at this thing as a whole, it’s fine. I really wouldn’t worry about this little detail or that. You start pixel peeping then you start finding little areas and flaws and yes, it’s good to know because the next time you do something you don’t want to leave that there in case someone is pixel peeping your photos.
But when you back off and you look at the image as a whole and say does this work? And we say the answer is yes, then that’s a good photo.
Lee: It is a good photo and also to point out that we usually do that as learning from somebody else’s photos and not learning from what they’ve done wrong but we are pixel peeping to see how we should analyze – looking more at William now because I’m a lot more laid back about my photos.
Other people’s photos are enormously helpful as a resource just by being out there.
William: And we are not out looking for photos to tear the apart. Not as a destructive thing or reason to find flaw with something that is otherwise beautiful. We are looking at photos that we admire and that we enjoy, saying OK, what brought all of this together.
Lee: Yes and what would I change if I had to try and create something with this in mind, but my style and my take on it?
William: We are completely on board with the idea of seeing something that we like and then stealing components of it to use in our own or learning from it so that we can use the ideas. I think that most of the artists out there in the world are going to do that. They are going to look at their contemporaries and peers and say, oh there’s an idea!
I love it if I can come up with something that I think is original. These days, who knows if it really is original, but if it’s original to me, I am proud of myself.
But I actually get more satisfaction if I see what someone else did and I can deconstruct it and create it myself, maybe with not the same subject matter, but I can use the technique. I think I learned something today!
William: And that’s really what I like, is I want to be creative. I want to learn things and I want to share those so other people can be creative with what I have learned.
People pass things along to me; I want to pass things along to others as well.
Lee: Absolutely. You know I was just thinking something that changed so much. I remember about five or six years ago going back, and maybe even more recently than that. Looking at my DSLR and all my lovely lenses, many of which I eventually sold because I wasn’t using them enough to justify hanging onto them.
I would get frustrated and think OK it’s the weekend. I should be going out to shoot something. And my mind was trying to … I was almost getting stressed thinking I’ve got this camera and I need to justify using it. What can I go out and shoot?
I am the complete opposite now. Now I go out and keep seeing things and thinking I need a photo of this. What camera? Oh well, it’s just my iPhone. That will have to do.
It’s the complete reverse. Where instead of going and looking for things to shoot I’m seeing things and just naturally thinking: there’s a shot.
William: You are not trying to find things. You’ve got a purpose and that leads you to your subject and then you think alright, what’s the right tool to use to capture this.
Lee: It comes down to that I know what my passion is right now.
William: In both of our cases, a lot of people get stuck up on the idea of a professional photographer.
If you are off taking photos for clients, no matter what your skill level is, you can call yourself a professional photographer. We don’t take clients in. I have had a couple of clients in the past; I knew I didn’t really want to have clients and I kind of proved I was right.
I didn’t enjoy the experience and yeah, it’s nice to earn money that way. I earn money from photography in different ways. I’ve been able to sell some of my prints, I’ve been able to sell some licenses and I’ve had a couple of eBooks from years past that I’ve sold and I’ll probably come up with more of those again.
As a matter of fact I’m already thinking about products, whether they be training resources or technical tools that people can use, I’ve got some ideas of that. So that will continue in the future. But those are designed for people who want to improve their photography rather than those who are saying, I want to get into the business of being a professional photographer.
So that’s kind of why we are The Photo Flunky Show.
As I said, Lee and I have very different ways of doing things. She doesn’t like to work with external lighting, she doesn’t like to work with Photoshop. I do both of those and I’ll share both of those when I can, but also even her view of how to use Lightroom is completely different than mine. And yet I understand exactly why she does things the way she does.
She doesn’t necessarily import everything and then look through them. She’ll just only import the ones that are going to be her keepers, she’ll process those. The rest of it gets thrown away and I cringe at that.
I’ve got old photos that I’ve kept for years because when I take photos I have ideas of how they could be used, but not necessarily … they don’t always have a purpose to be used right away. So I may go back and pull something out of a photo that I’ve taken ten years ago. It’s amazing when things will come up and be used and when they won’t.
It’s not necessarily that everything has got a plan for it right away today. Whereas you’re kind of the opposite. You are taking the photos that you know you want to use.
Lee: I’m taking the stuff I need to use now and a lot of my photos are actually taken with the purpose that they are right now for today. What I don’t use, I don’t need.
William: So there you go! We’ll cover your bases. What you need today and what you can take today and maybe use in ten years from now.
We just wanted to give you a little background on us, how we got to where we are and that we can offer you a couple of points of view. Thanks so much for joining us and we’ll see you again next week.
Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. Show notes are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode75 And of course, you get a transcript of the show there for free.
We are now on iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry and Stitcher Radio. You can find that on the show notes or go to photofluky.com You’ll find our player there and links to subscribe. Thank you so much. We’ll see you next week.