Author: Chance

Howdy folks! I’ve been practicing photography for about 10 years, and this post will act as a sort of “visual” history of my journey thus far. By the way, if you’re more interested in the history of the site instead of me, go check out the full SPR history. If you want to learn how I test products, here is my full write-up on how I do my reviews.

In any case, thanks for being interested enough to read about me! It’s always weird talking about yourself, but I’ll do my best. 🙂

me holding a camera
Me awkwardly posing with the Meike 35mm.

Early Days (2013/2014-ish)

My history with photography goes back about 10 years to when I was still in high school (man, that makes me feel old). Strangely enough, I didn’t initially start my photography journey off using a camera, instead I started a bit unconventionally.

Yep, I got into photography thanks to video games. Skyrim and GTA V specifically. Weird, right? I grew up in the middle of nowhere and was too broke for a car, so I couldn’t really get out of the house until the end of senior year. So, before that, I grew my “photography” skills in games.

Luckily, I happened to have an incredibly beefy computer that could run Skyrim with hundreds of mods, so I had a beautiful virtual Scandinavian paradise to play around in. Here are a few samples of the “photos” I took in the game.

Sure, some people might scoff and say it was silly, but I look back on those days fondly. Video games with excellent graphics (and good screenshot tools) can be awesome to play around in for aspiring photographers. If it wasn’t for Skyrim and it’s beautiful graphics and great photo tools, I might not have jumped headfirst into photography.

Honestly, on that subject, here are a few games I think work well for this sort of “practice composition” thing: Skyrim, Starfield, GTA V, Witcher 3, Cyberpunk, and of course the beautiful Red Dead Redemption 2. If you’re a fellow gamer, I’d encourage you to try out the screenshot tools in your favorite games. You may be surprised. 🙂

Budget Phone Photography (2014)

Eventually, I got a car thanks to a mix of my own (measly) money and a very generous gift from a relative. It was a beat-to-heck 1999 Civic, but it let me get out of the house so I could start practicing this hobby in the real world rather than a virtual one.

At the time, I still didn’t have a camera, of course, so I ended up using my phone. It was an awful Galaxy S3 hand-me-down which, at that point, had already seen two years of use from my mom. Regardless, I took that thing out and photographed anything and everything I could get my hands on.

I went through my photo archives and, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of the original photos I took with that phone. A bit of a shame that I’ve lost them but trust me: they were awful. Crooked angles, random (bad) macro shots of tree bark, out-of-focus photos of my crappy car, etc.

At that time, phone cameras (especially that cheap thing) weren’t even comparable to modern phone cameras.

First Camera (Early 2015)

Near the beginning of 2015 (senior year in high school), my mom gifted me her old Olympus point and shoot. I can’t remember the exact model, but it was one of those that only some manual controls and a 30x zoom lens.

I took that thing everywhere. Looking back, it took awful photos, but it was finally a “real” camera and not just a phone. Holding an actual camera in your hands feels entirely different than a phone. Like it changes the thought process.

Going back through my old photos, I can see that I still had no idea what I was doing, but at least it was an improvement over using a dying old Samsung S3.

My First DSLR (Late-2015)

Luckily, I only used that Olympus for about half a year. As a (somewhat delayed) graduation gift, my family pooled together their money and got me a Canon T5! Besides just being exponentially more powerful than a 2008 point and shoot, the T5 allowed me to deep dive into full manual mode.

For the first time, I was started to “feel” like a photographer thanks to holding this huge “pro” (or so I thought at the time) camera in my hands. I used the included kit lens for a while, but quickly upgraded to Canon’s nifty-fifty (50mm F1.8).

Although I was definitely nowhere near “good” yet, using an F1.8 lens made me feel like an expert. Unlike my previous point and shoot, I could actually blur out backgrounds! I ended up using that lens (and occasionally the kit still) for about two years.

First Photography Job (2017)

In 2017, I made a major leap in my photography (literal) career: I applied to a photographer job and got it! I ended up working with a local company that took photos for school IDs, events, etc. and it was great.

Although I don’t really like kids, getting this job expanded both my photo skills AND social/management skills. I met and networked with a lot of great photogs and greatly expanded my skills (and gear, thanks to the company’s provided equipment).

Unfortunately, that job was largely seasonal, so eventually work started to fall off… but not before I bought Canon’s 17-55 F2.8. That lens carried me through the rest of the job and, thankfully, I mostly paid it off by shooting events for the company.

By the end of the year, the work had dried up (no sports events or school photos needed in winter really) and I was back to coasting along doing whatever (I split my time between eBay reselling and a soul-rending job at a local auto parts store).

Since I ended up doing my hobby as a job for most of the year, I didn’t go out to shoot for fun much anymore. I was exhausted shooting photos in frantic environments for eight hours a day, and I didn’t want to touch my camera after a shift. Still, I did manage to get out and shoot for myself occasionally.

Living in a National Park (mid-2018)

Near the middle of 2018, I had just lost my job (a long and rather funny story) and the apartment I was about to rent fell through. I ended up suddenly back with my parents, unsure about what the heck to do next.

Somehow (I still don’t remember how), I stumbled upon a website with national park jobs. Now, I don’t mean like park ranger and other prestigious positions, I’m talking about low-end jobs at various park hotels, restaurants, etc. such as front desk, housekeeping, or waitstaff.

I’d always wanted to travel (family never could afford it growing up), so I said screw it and put in an application.

Lo and behold, a few days later, someone from Glacier National Park had called me and offered me a job working front desk at a historic hotel in the park. I was terrified, but I took the job and was on the road less than a week after applying.

That first park job changed my life in every way, but this is more about my photography journey so I won’t get into it much.

I brought my trusty Canon T5 along (with it’s giant 17-55mm F2.8) and set about capturing the glory of Montana’s mountains that summer.

That job gave me confidence, took me out of my comfort zone, forced me to meet incredible people, and managed to turn me from a basement-dwelling gamer to an outdoor/hiking enthusiast. It also, coincidentally, provided the most incredible, beautiful backdrop for amazing photos.

Not going to lie, lugging my giant Canon up those mountains was a pain (hiking 15 miles with a DSLR), but looking back, the photos were so worth it.

Eventually, the summer season ended in October and I went back home to Wisconsin to keep drifting through life.

My First Sony (late 2018)

So, after that incredible summer, I ended up shooting a bit more and covered a few small local events, but I was really starting to feel like I was being held back a bit by my Canon.

I don’t like to tell people, “upgrading your camera will fix your problems!” but I was starting to really enjoy shooting at night and my old T5 just didn’t have the low light performance to handle it. Seriously, 800 ISO on that thing was grain-city. Not to mention, it was still just a huge, heavy camera.

At that point, Sony had been making waves in the photography community, putting out incredible bodies that were somehow still incredibly compact. A couple months prior, I had picked up an a5000 at a thrift store (to flip on eBay) and I really loved it, so it got me thinking about trying out Sony.

So, after much consideration, I finally upgraded from my old Canon to a shiny new Sony a6000. Although I’ve since upgraded again now (more on that later), I still own the a6000 and often borrow it to friends and family if they want to dabble in photography.

I ended up buying the body for only $325 used on eBay, which feels like an absolute steal these days. To pair with it, I picked up a (new) Sigma 30mm F1.4 which I also still own to this day. After coming from my clunky old DSLR, this felt like a MIGHTY combo.

Throughout the winter of 2018/2019, I kept practicing and attempting to refine my style (whatever that meant). It was after I bought the Sony that I think my skills really started to mature a lot more.

Besides moving down to the city and having a playground of interesting subjects at my doorstep, I also started to dabble more in local photography communities. My city doesn’t have a huge art scene, but I started to branch out and meet new photogs which was great.

Glacier & Seattle (2019)

In early 2019, I decided to take a road trip to visit a friend in Texas. Long story short, my car spectacularly died and I ended up stranded in middle-of-nowhere Arkansas for a while. That little misadventure is actually when this site was originally started. From that trip, I ended up buying an extremely expensive car that I couldn’t afford. But that’s another story…

In any case, after I got back, I decided I wanted to do another summer season in Glacier National Park, except this time I didn’t want to do it alone. I managed to somehow convince two of my best buds to apply and join me for the season.

Thus, we ended up roadtripping out there together (and all 3 of us sleeping in my tiny Subaru Crosstrek).

We had a lot of fun. The jobs sucked (as they often do in national parks), but being surrounded by beautiful nature is always worth any inconveniences.

Besides shooting a lot with my two buddies, I also managed to befriend and photograph a lot of other cool and interesting people as well that summer.

However, all good fun comes to an end. Remember that expensive car I mentioned earlier? Unfortunately, I literally wasn’t making enough to even hit the minimum payments, so I had to move on.

For whatever reason, one of my buddies and I thought it would be a good idea to not go home, but instead move to Seattle on a whim. So that’s what we did. We left in the middle of the night and drove to the Emerald City.

We only ended up living in Seattle for a few months and, despite sleeping on a bunkbed in a basement bedroom with 10 roommates (my goodness that city is expensive), we had a pretty good time. It was my first experience living in a big city and I made sure to get out to shoot a lot.

Lockdowns (Early 2020)

As all of us are well to familiar, early 2020 brought the world a cocktail of chaos: lockdowns and a virus that we didn’t know anything about.

At the beginning of the year, I was sharing an apartment with a friend I had met the previous year (at a photography event). At one point, he decided to move across the country with a partner he had just met, leaving me alone in the unit. He still paid about a month of rent, but more or less told me I was on my own after.

Luckily, I took some solid “real estate” photos and was able to sublease the place pretty quickly. At that point I had: credit card debt, no car (I had finally sold off that expensive car that I couldn’t afford) and so I moved back in with my parents.

I don’t think I need to tell you that that period was rough. I went out to shoot like once, and I didn’t create anything I was proud of. Most of that time was spent playing video games and doomscrolling (who can relate?).

Luckily, that all ended fairly soon. I had no income and a boatload of credit card minimums to pay, but the problem was that I was with family and my grandpa was high-risk, so I was concerned about getting a job back home. Thus, I turned to old reliable once again: national park work.

Yellowstone (2020)

And thus, I ended up working for a small cabin resort in Yellowstone. The season was rife with craziness both due to the pandemic and “interesting” staff/employees (one employee got arrested by park rangers).

In any case, pandemic aside, the summer turned out to be pretty great. I met my now-partner there, and after knowing eachother for just a month, we decided to split the cost of a minivan to camp in (remember how I had sold my car before?).

With that van (plus a cheap foam pad from Walmart), we ended up camping all across the Greater Yellowstone Area every single weekend. Not only was it fun (and amazing for our blossoming relationship) but it also allowed me to get a lot of EPIC photos.

After losing my job and income and all that, I decided to sell off most of my gear to pay my bills, so I was rocking a single lens that summer: a vintage Canon FD 50mm F1.8 that I had thrifted for $5. And trust me, it worked out great.

It was a pretty great summer. I did end up not bringing my camera along on a lot of hikes though (weight/size/laziness) which I definitely regret, but I’m still quite happy with the pictures I captured while I did have it with me.

Despite working on the eastern end of Yellowstone, one of our favorite places to visit was Grand Teton, which brings me to next year…

woman overlooking mountains
Grand Teton was just awesome.

Working in Grand Teton (2021)

Skipping ahead a bit (didn’t do much in the winter of 2020/2021), my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to pursue yet another national park job. During our time in Yellowstone, we really fell in love with Grand Teton, so we applied to a couple properties there and sure enough, we were headed out in early May.

This time, we’d picked up another craptastic minivan camper. We decided we wanted to take our time and roadtrip slowly out there, so we did. Over the course of seven days, we went from Wisco to Wyoming, spending plenty of time visiting friends along the way.

winding river
Some random winding river in either Utah or western Colorado.

Unsurprisingly, Grand Teton National Park offered a myriad of incredible photo ops.

I took a lot of group hikes this time around (it took me until that season to realize that hiking alone isn’t entirely smart), but I always preferred going slow and taking my time to capture this glorious landscape.

Here’s a couple of awesome shots from long hikes that my girlfriend and I went on.

Most of the summer I was rocking either the previously mentioned vintage Canon lens or my new ultra-budget Meike 35mm F1.7. However, near the end of the season, I did end up buying another Sigma 30mm (I had briefly sold mine to make ends meet).

That summer, I’d say the skill I developed most was landscapes. I learned how to stitch panoramas (I really like the telephoto pano stitch method of landscapes) and I got used to once again lugging my camera up mountains.

After the season ended in late October, my girlfriend and I mostly settled into a period of grinding away at our financial problems for a few months.

Adventures of 2022

I’d say 2022 is when this website started to take a more relevant role in my life. I didn’t end up working at any parks, but my girlfriend and I took an epic Route 66 journey to visit her parents.

I’m a big fan of abandoned places and forgotten history, so I was absolutely hyped to do this trip. I hope my love for decaying Americana shines through in the photos I took. 🙂

With 2022 being my first summer home in literally 4 years, I decided to kick back and spend as much time as I could with friends and family.

While not only was this great for my mental health, it also lead me to a lot of great portrait opportunities!

Lens Rentals & Camera Upgrade! (Late 2022)

Around September of 2022 is when I did my first ever lens rental to review on this site. This marked a huge step forward in how “serious” I took, but it also served to give me a kick in the butt to get out and shoot more.

When you only have a lens for a short period of time, and your readers are relying on you to capture epic photos with it, you really get inspired to shoot!

Now, at this point, in late 2022, I’d been using my trusty a6000 for almost four years. It had been with me on all my adventures, seen more states than most people will in their lives, and summited dozens of mountains. I love that camera, but this site was rapidly growing and I was facing higher and higher demand to start dabbling in full-frame gear.

Thus, right near the end of the year, I picked up a used Sony a7iii for $1500. It came with the Tamron 28-75 along with two cheap lenses (50mm F1.8 & the kit lens). Kind of an incredible deal, to be honest.

me with my a7iii
Me with my new (at the time) a7iii.

Europe (early 2023)

Whew, almost done telling my life story. For years I had wanted to do a backpacking trip through Europe, and my girlfriend and I finally made that a reality around the beginning of 2023. Armed with my new a7iii and way too little money, we flew out of O’Hare and landed in Lisbon, Portugal eight hours later.

We spent about 2 months in Europe which, although it shredded our bank accounts, was absolutely amazing. Like I mentioned, we started in Portugal and stayed there for about 3 weeks.

We spent a week staying in a cheap hostel in Lisbon (right above a bar lol). From there, we spent a week in Lagos, then a week in Portimão, and then a couple days in Faro. I ate so many pastéis de nata. From there, we moved on.

After Portugal, we hopped over to spain and spent: a week in beautiful Sevilla, a few days at a cramped hostel in Madrid, and then a week vibing along the coast in Valencia.

Spain definitely takes the cake for my favorite country I’ve visited, although it was quite a bit more expensive than Portugal.

After Spain, we popped over to Germany for about 10 days to visit some friends/distant relatives. Although not Spain, I still really enjoyed Germany (especially ALL THE PRETZELS).

We mostly stuck to a couple small towns in the southwest region (and kept things cheap). I also took a solo trip to check out the Porsche museum which was incredibly interesting.

After Germany, we took a brief (less than a week) jump down to Italy. A friend and his family were visiting, and they just conveniently happened to have extra rooms in their AirBNB.

I must admit that I don’t think I had enough time to really enjoy Italy. We were only there for a few days and I like to settle in and immerse myself in the local culture.

Still though, it was beautiful. After Italy, we came back home.

Home for the Summer (2023)

After Europe, I decided to take it easy for spring/summer. I spent a lot more time hanging out with friends, doing more lens rentals for hands-on tests, and slowly continuing to build up the site (and boosting my YouTube presence).

I’ve taken a few mini trips throughout the state and have also taken an extended road trip up along the coast of Lake Superior.

Mid 2023 is also when I purchased my first drone (just a DJI Mini 2) which has been awesome.

I’ve spent so much time in my life taking photos from the ground that it’s an incredible change of pace to be taking them from the sky instead!

beautiful winding river in autumn
I love my drone!

What’s next?

So what’s next? Well, I plan on continuing renting lenses to test and expanding my presence on YouTube (for both the site and my personal channel).

I’ll update this frequently. If you made it this far, wow! Thanks for reading what is pretty much my life story. You’re awesome! 🙂