Since I began taking photographs in late 2007/early 2008..It’s been a very long journey and looking back, it’s insane to be able to see how much I have improved. The way the internet and photography community is shaped now a days, it is easy to look back and see where you were a few years ago. So, because of that…I decided to show you my journey through photography since I started. I looked at my flickr and saw my first image ever uploaded to my account.
A photo of a tree, using the rule of thirds and cropped slightly. I included my fancy cursive one of a kind watermark as well so no one stole this photo that would make millions! This photo was taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ3, my first camera that I ever owned.
A few months later, I decided it was time I stepped my game up and asked for a DSLR for Christmas. The camera that I received from my parents was the one and only: Canon Rebel XT (Silver) with a 18-55mm kit lens! As soon as I opened the box, I couldn’t put the camera down and I was filling up cards like it was nothing! I was seeing life through a different perspective and it was so new to me. I quickly became addicted.
Even when my Poppy came from Arizona, I brought my camera with me into the hospital room and tried my best to get some photos of him.
I didn’t fully understand my camera but shooting this at 1600 ISO on the Rebel body and converting it to black and white gave it a really cool vintagey look which I really like! But that’s how you learn right? Trial and error. That is the only way I will ever learn something. If there is no error involved…How will you know what’s wrong? I think that applies to my photography completely. Because this was the approach I took with my photography, I loved going on photo walks around my neighborhood and seeing what I would come back with when I got home. My rules for the photo walk were:
1. Always shoot in manual so you can understand the settings of the camera.
2. Stand in a spot and spin in a circle while looking through the viewfinder until you found a cool looking shot or perspective. If it wasn’t there, move on!
Two rules and two rules only, they worked for me and I was able to improve really quickly! Another way I was able to improve was by surrounding myself with people that had a similar interest. I used to be an active member of an online sneaker forum called Sole Collector. There was a group on there called “in.Focus” and it consisted of a bunch of people that were interested in photography. I tried out and was accepted! The leader of the group saw that I had a lot of drive and wanted to improve! Because of that.. I was surrounded by a bunch of awesome people. They critiqued my work, showed me what I could do better to make the photo better.
Since so much information was being thrown around, they answered my questions as well. I was given the recommendation to purchase a 50mm f/1.8 as my next lens. They said I would be able to shoot more in low light and also be able to produce images with a smaller focus point and a background that is more blurry. That opened up a lot more for me as an amateur photographer.
As soon as I purchased that lens, I was flabbergasted. I was able to take photos of people and blur out the background a ton. I didn’t really know what it meant back then…But I definitely loved the feeling and images produced by a prime lens. But of course…When you are new to something, it is pretty much required to be a noob and do noob things. Some of those things are.. Selective coloring, HDR, HDR on things that shouldn’t be HDR’d cheesy watermarking and horrible vignettes.
This photo received +700 views on Flickr and +30 comments…. I don’t know how though. Looking at it now, it’s pretty bad! Though Remy is an adorable little beast, HDR should never be used like this. Aside from all of horrible photos I took.. I was ready to upgrade to a different camera (or so I thought – a better camera means better pictures, right?) I felt like I had mastered the basics of photography and I could use my camera in any sort of lighting environment. But, before I upgraded to the 30D, I went to Japan as an exchange student! I brought all my camera stuff and was ready to change the world with my photos because I thought I was a pro! I did my first super HDR with a ton of exposures and it was my favorite photo EVER!
It’s actually a pretty cool photo! During my trip in Osaka, Japan, my host family brought me to Nara, which was the old capital of Japan. There were temples everywhere! The sense of Japanese culture was just insane…So many awesome places to go and see. Honestly, if I could go back again… I would! Since I am a lot more knowledgeable now compared to how I was back then, I’m sure my photos would be 100x cooler! Which is another point I am going to make.
- For me, editing is a huge part of my photography. Whether it be giving photos to a client, uploading photos to web or even giving a friend a photo I took of them for fun. I don’t like to give them the RAW image without an edit on it. Why? You may ask… Let me explain. For me.. I want to have my own style. I want people to see my photograph and be like, “Hey! Connor Surdi took that photo! You know why I can tell? Because of the way it is composed, the way the lights are used and the way the colors are…. I can just tell.” I’ve had a couple instances where this has occurred but I don’t think I have completely found my style yet. Since there is so much to learn, there will always be new editing techniques and different techniques to change the way a photograph looks. I don’t want people to see a photo credited to me and have it be bland. So, now you know!
One thing I love about photography is the fact that it can catch moments that you can savor forever.
Though I may have not been the best photographer a few years ago… I was able to take these photos and capture these moments. I can look back at these photos and know EXACTLY what happened that day and the feelings associated with that image. Though it could be good memories or bad, memories are awesome.
Another thing I think is awesome is the room for improvement. You can take photos for 10 years straight. There’s no way that you can not improve at all. You have to learn something new, a new technique, a different perspective. You can’t stop learning with photography.
Every time I bought a new piece of equipment, it was like Christmas morning all over again. I take out the equipment and I can’t stop using it until I get bored.
But of course…….. When I first started out using new toys, I was definitely not a master of them. Point taken with the photo above. I first got a few flashes and started using them off camera. It was like I had control of the sun..Not really but you know what I mean.
Again – that’s what makes photography so awesome though. You have something to work at and it will take a while to perfect it. But – once you perfect it..You will want to perfect another style or technique. You can never get bored!
As I took more photos.. My reputation grew. People saw me as the ‘photography’ guy and knew that I took photos! I started bringing in some clients and did birthdays and maybe a few senior photo shoots along the way.
It wasn’t until late 2008 when I found out how to edit photos using Lightroom and trying some new techniques.
This photo entitled Autumn Oppression was created on accident! I downloaded 200+ presets to Lightroom because I was super bored. I was cycling through them and then as soon as I clicked this one…I just knew it was perfect! I uploaded it to my flickr and it EXPLODED with views/comments/favorites. It was a first for me since I never really uploaded anything worth looking at on my Flickr before this. What was also pretty awesome was having this get explored!
And before I knew it…It was 2009! One year after I received my first DSLR. I had swapped over to a Canon 30D and this guy below is one of my biggest inspirations. His name is Jordan Nicholson and he’s a local photographer based in Seattle.
He was also on the Sneaker Forum which is probably why we became connected. He would always post his photos in the photography thread. Every time he posted… I would look at his photos in awe.
How did he light them? What lens did he use? What camera? What editing software?
Now I realize….It doesn’t exactly matter. He created the image because of his knowledge of photography, his knowledge of composition and also his knowledge of how to properly light a photo. To an amateur photographer, the first thing they will think when they see a fantastic photo is: Wow! If I had that gear, I could probably do the same thing!
I admit, I was like that as well. But now, a few years later…I know that photography isn’t about the gear. It is about experience and knowledge!
A lot of people ask me: Where did you learn how to use photoshop?
I never have a legitimate answer because I just learned from TRIAL AND ERROR! I used to do Avatar designs for people on my shoe forum and also did a lot of graphic work for people back in the day. Because I used photoshop so much for that stuff.. I can use some of those same techniques for photos today! Because of all of that experience, it makes it a lot easier to work in photoshop smoothly.
But – recently, I have been reading a lot of tutorials on how to do certain photos in photoshop and just from reading the tutorials…It helps me so much and allows me to create photos I otherwise would not have been able to create.
As I started to get my name out there… I wanted to work with some models. Miranda and I connected and we had a little shoot in Bellevue! I didn’t really get around to editing the photos because I wasn’t happy with any of them so.. This was my favorite one of the shoot.
I used some off camera flash and had a lightstand that couldn’t stand the crazy wind that was on the bridge and broke my umbrella!
A first of many blunders…But – because of the mistakes like this, it teaches me a lot for future shoots. I knew I needed sand bags, heavy duty stands and possibly an assistant. But, shoots like this are necessary for every photographer so they can learn.
Shortly after this shoot… A local photographer named Jay Rabena asked me if I could assist him to shoot a show! Of course I said yes. What I didn’t know was how much this shoot would affect me and my connections!
The concert had the group called Epik High and also Far East Movement. I didn’t really know either group at the time and FEM wasn’t that famous…. This year, I followed FEM around from after a show, to the club and dinner. It shows that making connections will help you later.
Also – this year I sold two of the Epik High photos of Tablo to Stanford Magazine!
Here is one of the photos that they purchased:
Whenever I went on a trip somewhere…Somewhere beautiful, I could never put my camera down. Everyone says, “Put your camera down Connor, enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy your time while it lasts!” Well, if you are a photographer and you are reading this, perhaps you have felt the same way. You don’t want to put your camera down because taking photographs is your way of enjoying the atmosphere. Taking photos so you can look back on it and be able to enjoy it over and over again, instead of just once
The photo above was taken in Malibu, Canada during a camp that I went to. I never put my camera down..And I do not regret it. The scenery was incredible!
In 2009, that was also when I started doing senior portraits and getting paid to do them! I was building my name as a photographer locally so a lot of my friends wanted them to get done by me!
By the way, I upgraded to a 5D Mark I after the concert with Epik High. Going from a 30D crop camera to a 5D full frame camera was like light and day. The colors, the depth, the TONES, the way it feels when I look through the viewfinder. I just knew that this camera would be in my hands for a while. Though I had the 5D… I sold all of my lenses to get it.
The only lens I had was a 50mm f/1.8.
I think only having one lens makes a photographer way more creative and forces them to get the shot no matter what. Stepping forward, stepping farther back. Stopping down, shooting wide open. You can have so many different styles with just one lens and having one…Made me so much better.
Another connection I made was with the Breakdancing Community. I went to Bboy club every single day after school at Newport High School. I always brought my camera and always attempted to take some dope photos! Most the time, the background etc wasn’t the best and I wouldn’t put any of those shots in my portfolio. One shoot that really stood out for me was the session at UW with Unleashed Crew.
This shoot was by far my favorite bboy shoot I’ve done. The lines, the lighting, having more than one bboy in the shot..I just love it.
This was one of the first time I used multiple flashes off camera. It was pretty difficult to get really fast movements because my sync speed isn’t too great. Especially when using speed lights, the downside is they eat a ton of battery while shooting. So you either have to stock up on AA’s, get a flash battery pack or have rechargeable batteries. But hey – it worked for this shot! Right before they died.
One thing I LOVE to do is to edit photos from a while ago. This is a shot I took in Tokyo a year before I decided to edit it. It’s pretty awesome trying new editing techniques on old photos and seeing how the photo could have been so much better later on, just because I learned new ways to edit. I do this with all of my photos actually, JUST so I can see how different they could have been. I have really good luck with them as well! You should try it too
In late 2009, my family went to Maui, Hawaii! I saw this as another awesome opportunity to test out my new skills that I have learned! I did my very first model shoot with someone I didn’t know at all! I found Keli on Model Mayhem before I got there and then messaged her. She was available so we were able to shoot! Soooo awesome!
Isn’t she gorgeous?! Looking back on this photo.. I completely forgot about it! It was shot with my first L lens I ever purchased, the Canon 135mm f/2.0L! Such an incredible lens, it destroys the background and the bokeh is so creamy!
2009 came to an end… I decided I wanted to improve! I wanted to challenge myself more than I ever had before in photography… The way i was going to accomplish that was to do a PROJECT 365! What is that, you ask? I have to take a photo every single day of the year! I committed myself to this challenge and, I completed it.
This is Layla, she was the first photo of 2010 for my project. A brand new baby. A brand new year. A brand new project, start fresh! This year was pretty tough since I was new to the photo a day idea and I felt pretty overwhelmed in the beginning. But, once It became a habit, I still haven’t stopped.
This year, I promised myself to do more photo manipulations using photoshop and also try and expand my portfolio.
I did a cosplay! My first ever haha. I tried to make myself look like L from Deathnote. He’s super cool and holds his phone like I did here. I got a lot of positive feedback on this photo so I’m glad I pushed my boundaries and tried something new!
Now that I look back on this year…It definitely was the year of the self portrait! Since I didn’t have any models available to me all the time…I figured I would just use myself! This photo helped me win the state photography contest, also… It traveled around the US in a photo show and they sent it to me after they were done showing it! Which was SUPER awesome because I’ve never had something like that happen to me…EVER.
Another reason I love photography is because I can capture precious moments in other peoples lives. For example, this shot above was when my brother asked Katrina to marry him Since I am the camera guy.. He asked me for help when he was going to ask her. I had to set up multiple cameras around the house and act nonchalant as she got home. Once I heard the cue….All cameras were rolling. Everything was recorded on video and I was snapping photos as well the whole time. Such an amazing day, I am so glad I am a photographer and I could create these photos for them!
This was another idea that I had that was pretty difficult to execute. Photos used to just be point and shoot and done. But as more knowledge is learned….Photos become more complex. You have to start thinking more, putting more thought into your shoots and realizing what will work and what will not work. You have to think how you will edit this shot later and if it will work or if it won’t work. Overall though, this was fun to shoot and is one of my favorite shots to this day!
Most people don’t usually have models available to them….But I did! Martina, my ex-girlfriend was an amazing model and was always down to get her photo taken! Which was super awesome.
Something else this year that I was able to try for the first time was star trails! I went out to Monroe with my buddy Andrew Welker. We stayed up all night long and shot the meteor shower! I will definitely sacrifice my own sleep to achieve photos like this!
Something else I did this year that was new for me was… Strobing outside! I got two AB800′s and fired them next to each other at full power! I was finally taking photos like I’ve seen online. I always looked up to these crazy outside strobist guys…And then I was doing some of it by myself! Feels so good.
Also – Yuri pictured above… Definitely one of my favorite people I have ever met in my life! She has helped me with a ton of my photos (taking them for some of my self portraits when I didn’t have a tripod) and helping me with my Japanese! I miss her a lot!
One photo that stands out to me completely when I think of all of my automotive work… Is this photo of my old WRX named Mushi. This photo hit the internet and exploded like a water balloon on impact.
It got featured on a ton of sites and was pretty well known. Too bad I had to sell her
As 2010 came to an end… So did the Project 365 of 2010. Tons of things accomplished... So much to feel good about. My work escalated so much and I improved like no other. This last photo is definitely one of my favorites as well because it it has a cool idea behind it and also shows some of my photos that I took that year above my head. But – since I loved doing my project 365 for 2010….
I decided to do another one.
This photo is of my buddy Will’s STI. It got featured as the front page of the Modified Magazine in Indonesia! Definitely one of the shots that I am the most proud of. It happened by chance and I believe that every photographer will experience something like this. I was shooting at 1/25 and the tunnel broke into regular light…It changed to 1/15 and this shot happened!
I have noticed.. If I do a shoot of up to 200 shots or so in a session, there will be ONE or TWO shots that are mind blowing and I can’t wait to edit and upload immediately. And since I have been taking photos every single day.. Maybe it has changed my attitude towards picking photos to upload or maybe it just happens like that. But – I love that feeling, definitely one of the best feelings ever.
In 2010, I said I was going to step my game up… And I did. But, as 2011 came to be.. I needed to step up my game again! If you don’t always one up yourself, what’s the point of being an artist? It’s never fun to stay in the same position and not improve. The photo above won the photo manipulation section of the Washington State Photo contest. It was also chosen by the Seattle Sounders/Seahawks photographer as the artist choice. Whoever wins that award gets the opportunity to go on the field during a Sounders game and take photos as a staff photographer!
Overall, for 2011.. My quality of work was so much better. My photoshop work was cleaner. My ideas were better and I was able to replicate them easier. This year was when I tried getting my name out even more and social networking was one of the biggest things ever in my life. But – if I want to be better, I have to do these things! And I don’t mind it, at all.
Something else that happened that affected my life was the earthquake/tsunami that struck Japan in March.
This is Miho, she’s my friend and she is from Sendai, Japan. Where the earthquake occurred… Her families house got destroyed, friends and family injured…She was enduring so much pain. I felt so bad for her..The only thing I could do, along with some buddies of mine, we raised money. Stickers, t-shirts, keychains…Anything possible to raise money to help the victims. I was really surprised how my photographs could raise awareness of this tragedy..People who followed my stream were able to donate to the cause and help. Incredible.
Over $20,000 was raised.
I went down to California to hang out with my sister Caitlin… While I was there, I made sure I got to hang out with Tailyr and do a shoot with her on the beach! It was my first bikini/shoot with a girl that didn’t have much clothing on style of shoot. It was different for me but I made sure I did my best! I got to hang out with the homie Butchie and he let me use his 400mm f/2.8L! So nuts!
My arm definitely felt the pain after holding that for 15+ minutes.
One thing I haven’t really talked about is.. My infrared camera! I purchased my Infrared 30D off of my friend Aziel for…… $100! That’s right! One Hundred Dollars. I had to purchase it! The price was just way too amazing to give up. It opens up so many new opportunities to produce photos no one ever knew could be produced. Since Infrared isn’t so mainstream and no one really shoots it… It gave me an opportunity to be that guy!
Since I had to step up my game, I had to do it in all aspects and all subjects of what I choose to shoot. This year, my automotive knowledge had to be one-upped. I did so many shoots it was nuts! I also learned a ton of new techniques and pushed myself harder than ever. This LowerClassMen shoot was one of my favorites and is one of my best rolling photos I have ever taken.
An automotive inspired trip was made this year and I recorded a video as Anna Pham and I drove all the way down to HellaFlush and back! It gave me the opportunity to document the trip and also work on my videography…Which I am not very good at haha.
A technique that I learned during 2011 was that of Free-Lensing. The act of taking your lens off of your camera and adjust the angle of the lens to take photos, creating a somewhat tilt shift effect. I also did a tutorial on how to do it! I went on a free lensing rampage for a few weeks and couldn’t stop taking free lensing photos no matter what haha. Here’s one!
So many new techniques were learned in 2011 it’s insane! Just looking back and seeing all these photos is really making me appreciate photography even more.
I learned how to create cinemagraphs! They are pretty difficult to do and makes my head hurt trying to think of ideas to execute. It’s pretty interesting shooting these because if you do one movement slightly incorrect, you are screwed for the whole shot! Very specific.
I have learned a lot about other stuff as well! A lot comes from the man at YAER Productions, Ryan Davis! He invited me on the YAER team this year and oh man, I am so glad to be there! In 2011, we did SO MUCH work and killed so many shoots it was just ridiculous. We make an awesome team and I feel blessed I could be a part of YAER!
As I mentioned earlier… I was chosen to be the recipient of the opportunity to shoot for the sounders! Here is one of the photos that I took, I think it is one of my favorites for sure!
I used a 1D series camera with a 300mm f/2.8L IS on it…It felt incredible to use since I never shoot telephotos and I never shoot with 11 fps!
One thing I did more of this year..Because of YAER, is… Shoot weddings! I helped shoot this wedding and this photo was by far my favorite. Why? Because it is my style and I love strobing outside! And because it’s awesome!
One part of 2011 that changed my life completely was when I had to sell my car to move to Japan to go to school. I applied to Temple University and went to school there for approximately 10 days…..The school was horrible. I couldn’t stand it!!! But, I did get 10 days of photo work in while in Tokyo… Such great photos to remember Japan by. I’ll be back though I promise!
As I returned home from Japan… My brother was getting married two days after I arrived! It felt weird not being the photo guy..But, being in the wedding! I couldn’t exactly help myself though, when I wasn’t in a photo, I was taking photos. I was recording video and doing work! Here’s a shot I took of them when he first saw her in her dress.
Another part of 2011 that was incredible..Was the fact that I started a group called the “Brotographers” on Facebook. This group is INCREDIBLE. Photographers from LA, Oklahoma, California, and even AUSTRALIA have come and stayed at my house as we shot around in Seattle. We share ideas, critique eachother, talk about life in general and just share our photography experiences with each other. It’s pretty damn awesome and it’s one of the best things that have happened to me, photography wise!
As I have already mentioned a few times…. Aside from the brotographers, another family in my photography life is the YAER Productions team. I drove down to Oregon to do this shoot of PSI’s Skyline with Ryan and oh my goodness, one of the sickest car shoots all around! Everything was crazy, when you have a beautiful car, it makes everything 10x more epic.
Here’s another shot just to make you happy
Let me ask you this…. Who have you seen do Infrared photos of cars? Not many I believe…. That’s why every car shoot I do, I have to include an infrared shot of some sort. It makes it so much more cool.
I then realized towards the end of the year, what style of photography I really want to get into..Which is Commercial/Advertising photography! I think this photo of Katrina in my series “The Perfect Housewife” is pretty effective and adding a little humor didn’t hurt anyone!
Also – towards the end of 2011… I was debating on whether I should go to Formula Drift or not. I decided I wanted to go and I shot for FD and also for YAER. It was an incredible experience and I was shooting from when I woke until I had to go to sleep. It was a crazy few days but oh man was it so worth it! Made some new contacts and networked with a ton of people. Supported Walker Wilkerson all the way! Dude was killing it for sure.
Once I got home… A few weeks later, the weather changed and the beautiful colors of fall came out. Of course I had to bring back my photo walk! I do these once every couple of months when I feel like I need some inspiration and try and make art out of the things surrounding me. I highly recommend it!
As I said, I was working on my automotive photography and I think this is one of the better rolling shots that I turned out this year. I did shoots for Katie Smith and Laura Keller. This car is Katies and is nicknamed “Rumble” which is super awesome!
In 2011 – something I started focusing on a lot towards the end of the year was the studio side of things. I have all the studio lighting to run a studio, but I didn’t necessarily have the correct space. We cleaned out the downstairs at my house and then hung up a movie screen projector. It worked PERFECT for a studio backdrop.
Another part of 2011 that has definitely made the year end well was meeting Aika! She is such a cute girl and her fashion sense is beyond this world. She is a natural model and she is incredible to work with. We have shot a ton of times so far and the brotographers even had the opportunity to shoot with her. I’m excited to see how I can incorporate her into my commercial/advertising photography! Also – I learned a bunch of new lighting techniques! This photo above is a AB800 boomed through a 22HOBD!
To end the year off correctly… I had to go down to the YAER Studio and do one last shoot there. We combined all of our gear and did this insane gear shot. I helped them improve the social networking side of things!
And………..Before I knew it. The year of 2011 was already over. It’s crazy how time flies when you are doing work and getting stuff done! When I look back on my year, I am so proud of myself and how far I have gone in just a year.
Onto 2012, this year! So far, so good. This year I have promised that I will advance my photography even more and try and move onto the commercial side of things and put together a portfolio for that specific purpose.
I started this year off with a photo of the Skyline. New years, new beginning…Another Project 365, except this year.. .It is a 366! Leap year.
Fellow Brotographer Luke Middleton all the way from Australia came to Seattle and he really wanted to go see the site seeing locations… I took him to gasworks park and this is an image I came up. I used my fisheye lens and am pretty impressed at how different a perspective this really is.
Another awesome thing that happened this year already is my buddy Eric Mak sponsored my trip down to Sacramento and let me stay at his place. We hung out with the brotographers down there and then I had an insane shoot with the owner of Stance Nation, Elvis. Here’s a photo of his Charger! A new technique that I learned was using a minivan for rolling shots. I hang half of my body out of the minivan and get as low as possible while burst shooting photos. It worked PERFECTLY and I was very impressed with the images.
When I got back home from Cali… I knew I needed to take more commercial style photos. And since it had just snowed, I just got new sneakers and it was melting… I needed to do some Nike style strobist shots! This is what I came up with, hopefully I’ll put out a lot more like this later on.
And to end this post… With one last photo. It was another star trail, my first trail of 2012. Taken in Burien, got kicked out by the police but I am incredibly proud of this photo! It was everything I wanted it to be and more. Some things just happen for a reason!
As you can see… Starting from the first photo of this post and reaching this last photo. If you have read everything, props to you! Hopefully I didn’t bore you too bad. Maybe now, after reading this post… It will give you an idea of how my style has changed and how I learned what I know. I am so proud of how much I have accomplished and with photography..There’s no way to go but up. Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my long journey, there is so much more to come and it will only get better from here on out!
(TLDR? Basically, my photo experience was awesome and I’ve learned so much over these years. Photography is AWESOME)
- CS -