My New Year’s Resolution – Succeeded!


At the end of last year, I set up a resolution to learn photography.  Up to then I had no ideas what digital single-lens reflex camera was, needless to say how to handle or use any of them.

I started from photography ground zero – learn to handle DSLR.  I downloaded the user manual of Nikon D800, and studied it after work every day.  I was operating Nikon D800 step by step according to the instructions given by the manual.  The camera was incredibly heavy for me at the beginning, often times my arms became sore after holding it to practice snapping pictures around my house.

By the time it felt easier and easier for me to aim and shoot anything interesting around me, surprisingly the camera became lighter and lighter.  Besides learning hardware, I was also getting myself familiar with two softwares at the same time – Lightroom and Photoshop.  I got so excited to see those raw files turn to beautiful images after I processed them with those magical tools.  When I saw those bright, vibrant and saturated images in front of me, I illustrated that I was already in the team of professional photographers.

Until one day a friend introduced a website called “Shutterstock”, and advised me test my works by their technical standards.  I submitted my 10 best photos to get professional critiques, I was so confident that I could pass their 7 out of 10 criterion for a photo contributor.

But the result was completely opposite, 10 out of 10 photos failed badly!

The feedback included “excessive noise”, “out of focus”, “unfavored light”, etc., nothing was positive and encouraging.

Noise, where was noise, I didn’t see any?

Out of focus, the photos looked fine to me?

Unfavored light, well, weren’t those photos bright, vibrant and saturated?

I even suspected that a pair of sharp eyes of a photographer could see something that a pair of blurring eyes of a data scientist missed.  Photography and mathematics are two different fields, it takes a lot of effort, maybe switch of the way to observe things, before I could go across.

After the first failure I watched numerous videos / webinars to teach people how to improve those details coming with any photos.  Meanwhile I enhanced my skills to use Lightroom and Photoshop.

After three months I submitted second 10 photos to Shutterstock.

I didn’t get any luckier this time – 10 out of 10 failed again!

This time the feedback showed that I still had problems of “out of focus” and “unfavored light”.  In addition, since I was so afraid of noise after the first failure, I used too much noise reductions, which made images soft with some artificial effects such as fringes, etc.

The second failure didn’t disappoint me at all, in contrast, it activated my analytical nerves to pay attention on every detail in the process to produce a satisfactory photo.

Most of night after dinner I took my now best friend – Nikon D800 to those lakesides to capture the scenes and people under sunset.  I carried the same friend on my daily bus and practice photo shooting along the way.  I constantly reminded myself to be patient while focusing on the objects to create the best composition, observing and reducing noise under full resolution, using graduated filter or brush to modify any local lightening or sharpness, etc.

The third submission of 10 photos resulted in one acceptance!

Continue to learn and improve.

The fourth submission of 10 photos resulted in three acceptance!

Analyze the root causes of failure and learn more.

The fifth submission of 10 photos resulted in 8 acceptance!

I became one of the contributors for Shutterstock!  (My photo collection at Shutterstock)

By moving back and forth between math and photos every day, I also discovered the common point of these two fields – the beauty of details.


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