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Back in 2015, I flew out to California for the first time, which was also my first flight alone, and I stayed with my stepmother Liz. At some point, she had purchased tickets for the Bill Pickett Rodeo being held in Hayward. I hadn't been to a rodeo before, so I tagged along with her. Her friend Yolanda also came with us and she had brought her camera to take some pictures of the event. I think it was a Canon EOS Rebel SL1. Anyways, I enjoyed the whole experience and after the rodeo was over, I asked Yolanda to see some of the pictures she took. In no way was she a professional, but I was fascinated by what she captured. At that moment, I knew I wanted to do that, too. That's when my interest in photography sparked.
After I graduated high school in May 2016, I went on an unexpected last minute vacation with my father Tony. He had driven down from Virginia to come spectate my graduation and I rode with him back home. On June 17, we took a trip to Target to see what I was going to get my mom for her birthday (she didn't come with me). I instantly gravitated to the camera section and looked at all the different stuff there. My dad Tony was on the phone for a while and I waited patiently for him to finish. It seemed like forever, but eventually, he hung up the phone. He asked me if I saw anything I liked and I pointed to this camera bundle, the Canon EOS Rebel T5 with the 18-55mm and 75-300mm kit lenses. I honestly wasn't expecting him to make the purchase right then and there, but he ended up buying the camera for me! I was so happy!
I started taking test shots with my new toy of random things in the house, and of course, I was shooting in auto mode. I even took pictures of the cars on the highway during car rides and I didn't have a single clue as to what I was doing. Eventually, I started researching nearby parks I may be interested in shooting in and I came across the Shirlington Dog Park in Arlington. I love dogs and I thought it would be a great place to practice shooting! My first few trips were just me and my two lenses. I kept shooting until I ran out of storage and then I would show the owners what I took and some even asked for me to send the pictures to them! Out of all the times I visited, only one person had an issue with me snapping away at her dogs and I politely followed her wishes. A few asked me what I was doing and I told them I was just taking pictures for fun since I just started getting into photography and everyone seemed to be cool with it.
I eventually got the idea to bring dog treats with me and boy did it help a lot! For the most part, I did ask the dog owners if it was okay to gift their babies with treats and 99% of them were okay with it. The other 1% was due to the pups having food allergies. To those with the allergies, I just got their attention with the treats without giving it to them. When I wanted to get the attention of one particular dog, I got the attention of several others. I actually frequented the park so much that the locals there called me the treat lady and I began to remember some of the dog's names. The more I frequented there, the more I began to fall in love with photography.
I started doing even more research as to how to improve myself, including photo editing. One editing technique in particular sparked my interest and that was changing the background to black. I watched a few to get an idea on how it was done, but none really showed me how to make it look realistic. It took a lot of trial and error practices, but eventually, I figured it out on my own.
I come back home to Georgia a few months after my unexpected, unplanned journey to Virginia and I began heavy research on photography. I came across Jared Polin's YouTube channel somehow and he's the one that influenced me to start shooting in manual mode and getting out of auto. After making that switch, I began to have a better understanding of the fundamentals of good photography and the quality of my work began to improve alongside my newfound knowledge. I had a dog of my own at the time and I started taking pictures of him a lot.
After about a year or two of doing photography, I sought out new gear to get. I first got a Neewer constant lighting kit and used that for several months before getting a flash unit. I watched several videos on how to light your subject with a speedlite and constant lights. After migrating to flash photography, I never looked back.
The photo above was actually taken with the first flash unit I got, which was an ESDDI brand. I got extremely lucky with this shot in particular because I had a very hard time getting my cat to sit still long enough to get a decent picture of her. If she moved just a little too much forward or backwards or moved her head the wrong direction, the shadows would be in all the wrong places. She had just stood up in this shot and I quickly pressed my shutter button. After editing, I became really pleased with the results.