12 Feb

The Learning Curve: How I Got Into Photography

Posted by Brent Looyenga

I've been shooting photos for a very long time. Growing up in Spokane Washington, and later Coeur d'Alene Idaho i had many beautiful things i wanted to shoot, and ironically, weddings never crossed my mind. However, it was when we traveled that i really wanted to take control of the camera. I think the first camera i really got into was a Olympus Camedia, 3.3 megapixel digital camera. I then moved to another point and shoot, a 5 megapixel digital that could even take video. If you look back on family vacations when i was fourteen years old you would often see many, many photos of my family, but very few of myself. One of the more significant camera changes for me, however, was when my parents gave me their old film rebel camera. For the first time i felt like when i pulled the trigger, the photo i took would actually look close to what i was seeing with my naked eye. I actually felt like i could capture something much greater than i could ever describe. Photography for me was a passion that grew over time. 

While my passion for photography grew, my knowledge for the art did not. I had no idea how to make the waterfalls blur into smooth streams, or how to separate the subject from the background. I had no idea why sometimes my subject would blur like crazy while he was moving, or why other times the camera would capture him in perfect stillness. The technical aspects of photography were lost on me. This didn't stop me from shooting, or experimenting, as i did both all the time. But the first thing i learned was how to blur my waterfalls. While this wasn't possible with the digital point and shoots my parents had, it was with their Canon Rebel film camera. I learned how shutter speed controlled movement and light, and that getting an awesome waterfall shot without a tripod was a tricky balancing act. The longer the exposure, the more light and blur. 


Here is a picture from last summer during my second trip to the Czech Republic. The longer exposure captures all the light that occurred within the time frame that the "eye" of the camera was open. In this case, the headlights from a passing car. I learned this early on with that film camera, except with waterfalls (being that it was film, i do not have an example to show you my actual photo). 

In this photo i was demonstrating to the three guys in the photo (from left to right: Jackson Coleman, Stevie Sansone, and Mike Kamlade) how shutter speed effects a person within a shot (and yes, there are three people in this photo). While each person doesn't emit light, they still bounce light. This is how we see anyone in a photograph. In this case, I set my camera to a 30 second exposure. I told the person on the very left to hold as still as possible (which he did a fairly good job of doing). The person in the middle i told to move his head from side to side. The person on the right got up and left. What we got was everything that happened within those frames in that 30 second period of time. The person on the far right disappeared, as he didn't exist in that place long enough for the light reflecting off of him to be recorded by the camera. The person in the middle exists, but only a little bit, as the light behind him still made an impression. The person on the left, in not moving, ensured his existence. 

It would be several years after learning about shutter speed that i would learn the second way to create more light (the first being, a longer exposure). That is aperture. Although at first i didn't learn about aperture as a way of creating light, rather it was a way of blurring the background. Put simply, the aperture number (or f/ stop number) says how wide open the "eye" of your camera is. That is, the lower the number, the wider it is open (and thus, the more light), the higher the number, the more "squinty" the eye gets, and thus, less light hits the camera sensor. It was just before i graduated from Multnomah University that I learned that the smaller the f/ stop number, the blurrier the background would be. I was finally able to create photos that i felt looked "professional" (as it seemed a blurry background was the thing that separated phone pictures from the professional ones). While there is a lot that goes into creating a good depth of field, that was not the focus of my excitement, nor did i know how the distance to my subject and the focal distance of my lens played a factor into creating that blurring background. It started simple (and thus, that's the way i am going to keep it in this blog). In short, the smaller the f/ number, the blurrier the background.

This is a very early picture i took with my parents' digital rebel during my first trip to the Czech Republic. Here i was demonstrating to Erik Mendoza (the subject) the effect aperture had with regards to background blur. At the time i was shooting on aperture priority, meaning i only controlled the f/ stop number, and nothing else (however, looking back, the fastest way to learn your camera, is to shoot full manual all the time. Which is exactly what i do now). 

Back then i never would have dreamed i'd be shooting weddings on a very regular basis. I just wanted to capture a moment. I shot thousands of photos. It was all about experimenting with what i had, and learning my camera. It was my college basketball coach, Curt Bickley, that would foster a lot of growth in me. While my father and various friends such as Brent Billings, would teach me a lot about photography in general, it was my coach that allowed me to take thousands of photos on our various basketball trips. He was one of the first people to pay me for my photography work, and one of the people that would allow me to showcase that work. I would create video recaps of the season with my photos and videos in them, which opened up encouragement from the players and their parents. In the end, it was friends that brought me into photography. At an engagement party that i attended (with my camera in hand, of course) for my friends Tristan Norris and Kari Anderson i took several hundred photos and placed them online. It was then they talked with me about shooting their engagement photos, and then after seeing the results, their wedding photos. 

Tristan and Kari's wedding was one of the first ones i ever shot. At the time, rocking my Canon Rebel T3i with a 18-135 EFS lens and the "nifty fifty" 50mm f/1.8 lens. 

Over time i began to experiment with different lighting techniques, and i got to see parts of the world. But unlike so many others, i had the opportunity to capture it all. 

A portrait of Steven Bustrin that i took for the Multnomah Basketball team. Steve is a senior this year and the starting point guard. 

During our trip to San Francisco, i was able to capture this photo, one of my favorite to date. Only possible with a long exposure. 


Looyenga Photography is a northwest based studio in the Spokane Washington, Coeur d'Alene Idaho area that specializes in wedding, engagement, family and senior photography.

Back to top
Web Analytics