Autobiography of an Amateur Photographer (The Beginning)

I’m an Engineer by trade.  I’m a techie by heart.  I still have to maintain a regular job just like everyone else to pay for the daily grind.  I always been a huge photography fanatic.  But back in the film days, it was just too expensive to learn.  I remember taking one of my first decent photo of a sun setting while on the EuroRail traversing from Paris to London.  It was probably the first picture that I was proud to develop and actually hang on the wall.  Back then, I had no idea what all the adjustment does.  Read through the manual numerous times but still didn’t quite grasp the idea.  Regardless, play with the knobs and the picture turned out stunning (at least in my eyes).  That was over 10 years ago on a Olympus IS-3.  I got that camera because it looked cool in one of the episode of Japanese Anime Bubble Gum Crisis (original series).  Of course, in the series, the camera was digital.  At that time, digital camera was way out of reach.

Fast forward couple of years later.  Digital point and shoot camera was coming on the scene.  Price point was high, memory was expensive, but it was cool.  I can shoot pictures and don’t have to worry about the bad ones.  I can start to learn about composition.  Of course at this time, I still had no idea what all the settings were.  It was helpful that my Sony Cybershot P-5 had all these auto modes.  The tiny low resolution preview screen give you an idea of what you were shooting.  That was when I foray into shooting cars.  I went to car meets with my fixed up BMW, taking pictures of cars and other people’s cars.  Loading them up in my pc afterward and drooling over the 3.2 Megapixel on the computer screen.

Then one day, I met up with one of my car buddies, Chad.  We decided to go watch the American LeMan’s race at Sears Point.  I always knew he was an avid photog, even back in the film days.  Heck the guy used to shoot for a magazine (even though the magazine is now defunct I think, or maybe it’s still alive?)  Just happen he had an Sony F717 (or was it a 828, can’t remember).  That camera reminded me of my Olympus.  Cool, High tech, and in my eyes, almost a SLR.  Of course, he also had a Canon 1D MKI.  So off we go to shoot some fast moving cars.  Me playing with his Sony, and Him, with his Pro dSLR.  I remember feeling disconnected using the Sony since the view finder was digital.  At the same time, I was learning to do the follow pan.  So, every-time I pan and press the shutter, I already missed the car completely or cut off the car some how.  And of course, the view finder being digital doesn’t help with the lag.  Adding insult to injury, the camera was set at auto.  The camera is doing it’s job of metering the area to create the perfect exposure under it’s preset formulas.  Aparently, the formula doesn’t account for the follow pan and capturing motion.  It would always freeze the wheels or the shot becomes under expose, over expose, or just plain blurry.  At the time, I was just trigger happy and giddy with joy to even be able to capture the moving cars.  Essentially, keep snapping away until the memory card was filled.  Post event, I downloaded the pictures.  out of hundreds of shots, surprising, I had one good shot.  It was a center on shot of a red Ferrari racing by.  I was hooked.  I knew I needed a better camera than my small cybershot.  Evern more so, after comparing my shots with the ones Chad took, I knew I wanted, (no, I NEED) a dSLR.

19 August 2004.

“Canon has today revealed the EOS 20D, the eight megapixel successor to the EOS 10D. The new sensor is however only half the story the EOS 20D has a slightly smaller and lighter body, a brand new 9-point AF system, near instant power on time, 5 frames per second continuous shooting, support for EF-S digital lenses, true RAW+JPEG, a B&W mode and USB 2.0. In total we’ve counted approximately 30 noteworthy improvements on the EOS 20D. Naturally we have a detailed eleven page hands-on preview of the EOS 20D and will have sample images available in a few days time. Price on the street around US$1,500.”— DP Review (

All I saw was 8 FREKIN MEGAPIXEL and 5 frames per second.  Rest of it was blah blah blah.  I didn’t understand it nor did I care.  This magical beast is gonna improve my car shooting quality.  I’m gonna shoot like a pro cause this was like a pro camera that’s almost affordable…

Soon, I started scouring craigslist for people that pre-ordered “extra” just to see if they want to sell it.  Soon after, I found a guy in SF that just happen to have 2.  Thus the negotiation starts.  Phone call to Chad, “If you buy one, I’ll buy one, you in?”  “Hell Yeah” was the response.  Thus this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship and my grand entrance into the photog world.

Shortly after, I start to learn the tough lesson of having the privilege  of being a member of the photographer’s world.  It was a world full of spend more money on this, spend more money on that.  Of course, It was useless owning the latest state of the art body if I don’t have any lens to make the pretty pictures.  Now I was on the quest for lens.  There was so many options, so many price points.  It just happen that my Photography mentor was using the latest and greatest Canon L lens.  Thus I was introduce to the world of the white barrel and red rings.  He let me borrow his lens while I was hunting down my own.  I scour local craigslist, ebay, and anywhere that sell lens to find that perfect lens that I want.  At the same time, my other riding hobby was wanning.  I had a Ducati 996 just sitting in the garage collecting dust, thus I decided to sell it to fund my new found hobby.

Since I was shooting primarily car racing, all I know is that I want long reach.  I had no idea what f-stops were, shutter speed? what’s that?.  Just give me a camera with the biggest zoom lens and let me loose on the track to get close to the cars.  So I thought I found the perfect lens.  The price was right, the range was unbeatable, but it wasn’t white, and it didn’t have the red ring.  But I thought I didn’t care.  Just wanted the range.  I found it on craigslist, picked it up and went over to Treasure Island for it’s maiden voyage.  I didn’t have a tripod yet so I anchor it on top of a newspaper dispenser, aim the lens towards the tall building and fired away.  I downloaded the pics right away after I got home.  I was so amazed at the how far it reach.  I was able to see the conference room layout and chairs through one of the office windows all the way from Treasure Island.  It was amazing!!!  I couldn’t wait to use it at the track.  This was my Bigma.

I few stint at the track made me realize how heavy this lens was.  It’s not a hand held lens if you want sharp pictures.  Heck, it’s not a hand held lens if you want any decent picture.  Shortly after, I invested in a monopod to save my back, shoulder, and arm.  The pictures turned out great.  The range was perfect for the track.  I have the 50 all the way to 500.  Plus I have the 1.6 crop factor of the 20D.  I was in reach heaven… 800mm reach.  All was well until the first night race was announced.  I knew the f4 was not going to cut it.  I knew I couldn’t get a good pan at the night race without a faster lens.  This was my introduction to the famous 70-200 white lens…

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