I mentioned in previous columns that I am a photographer, and have been for more than six years now.

Growing up, all of my family members always had cameras in their hands and I was no exception. I would choose to photograph nature — a pretty flower, glistening snow, a mountain landscape.

It wasn’t until I signed up for an Instagram account (back before Facebook bought it and the follow button was green) that I became exposed to other photographers’ work.

I would search for hours, looking for work that inspired me and styles I wanted to model my own photography after. This was one of the good things social media has given me. I realized the endless amount of opportunities there were for digital photography.

I started posting my nature photos online and in March 2014, my friend, Natalie, said she liked the photos I posted and asked if I would take her graduation photos.

At first, I was apprehensive. I liked taking nature photos because I didn’t have to worry about how to pose inanimate objects. But I was thrilled that she liked my work enough to take a chance and ask me to take her senior photos.

I went in with my mom’s tiny 20-megapixel digital camera and spent an hour at Riverside Park trying to get good photos to give her.

My dad exposed me to Photoshop and helped me with subtle retouches, such as lightening shadows and boosting saturation. We ended up spending way too much time editing, but I wanted these to come out the best that I could do.

Now I know that if it’s a good portrait, I won’t have to spend a long time editing it because the original photo I took would only need minor adjustments.

I was very excited to post the photos on my social media accounts to share with my friends. A month later, another one of my friends from school asked me to take her senior photos because she saw the ones I posted on Instagram and liked them.

After that, a few more of my graduating friends asked me to take their senior pictures, and in May I finally bought my first DSLR camera — a Canon Rebel T3i with a 50 mm lens, a prime lens that was perfect for portraits.

Like all beginners, I started off using the automatic mode to take photos. Auto mode takes care of the exposure, aperture and shutter speed and automatically focuses on the subject in front of you.

I enjoyed that for a while, but I’m the type of person that likes having control over everything so I watched YouTube tutorials and read blogs for beginning photographers.

It took me a long time practicing in manual mode before I felt comfortable enough to work in manual during a session. It took me about 15 minutes to warm up but by the end of the photo shoot, I felt proud that I had accomplished something completely on my own and without the help of auto mode.

From there I kept progressing and testing new things and styles out. By this time Instagram had blown up and there were many photographers closer to my age online sharing their work, which was inspiring.

With some stroke of luck, I never let what other folks my age did intimidate me (until much later) but when I was first beginning I was just excited to see what other creative minds were coming up with.

To this day, I still use Instagram and YouTube as tools to expose myself to other artwork and I truly believe it keeps me creative and hungry to learn more.

I feel lucky to have grown up in a time where information was so readily accessible to me, not only online but with other local photographers who mentored me and accepted me into the community.

While there can be many negative aspects to social media, the positive aspects should absolutely not be ignored.

As a high school junior without having access to formal photography classes, learning online was the only option for me. I got to work at my own pace and learn exactly what I wanted to learn. I’m thankful for the photographers who loved their craft so much that they wanted to share it online with the rest of the world.

After doing this for almost seven years, I strive to be a resource for other budding photographers to learn from my mistakes and successes.

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