Though engineering has always been a natural fit for my career, I have long wanted to be an artist. I suppose I'm not truly sure what it means to be an artist, but I still dabble, play, and learn. That seems to be enough.

Photography in particular has always grabbed me. The instant gratification of creating a photo 'right now', combined with the ability to document the world as it (mostly) was, makes it an amazing tool for an artist. In the digital age you can pick up and learn a lot about photography very quickly. With that in mind I decided to paw through my best photos of 2010 to see how I've developed as an artist over the year. Before I get into the photos I'll share my unexpected insight.

Photography is hard. Really *@^% hard! The learning curve from novice to intermediate is fast and gentle. You can learn the mechanics of photography quite easily, especially with an engineering background like mine and a decent camera. However, going from an intermediate photographer to expert or even merely competent is hard. Much harder than I thought. The learning curve is only a tiny bit steeper, but far longer than I ever imagined. As I look over the year of photographs I realize my standards have gotten higher but my execution not as much. It's going to be a long road. More analysis after the break but first: on to the photos!

I'm going to go through the photos in chronological order, since I think it best shows my progression as a photographer.

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Nori on porch railing

This is one of those lucky shots that was made better with post processing. Being nearly perfectly black, Nori is incredibly difficult to capture. I also think he doesn't like to be photographed in general unless he's asleep (which is most of the time). You can see his surly "what'choo lookin' at?" expression in this photo. Converting to black and white and messing with contrast & exposure let me bring out a few details in Nori's face and white tusk of a whisker, while focusing the rest of the image on the geometric shape of the railing.

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Church Campout

I do all of my artistic photography on a Nikon D50 with one of two lenses, but this photo was taken on my wife's point and shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and this is all I had with me on a hot summer evening. This image is of a campfire, created after about 4.8 billion experimental shots of waving the camera around.

I learned that while photography will always have an element of randomness and uncertainty, especially with stochastic subjects like fire, the artistry comes from playing with what you can control. In this case I could control the exposure length and motion of my hands while just letting the fire do it's thing.

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NBC Studios, NYC

There's something extremely classic about this sign. It feels as if it's unchanged for 80 years (which is quite possible). Only B&W felt like it could do the sign justice. Just the sign; no more, no less.

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Rockefeller Center, west side

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Rockefeller Center, front

I love photographing the stately elegance of older skyscrapers. They just simply don't make'm like this anymore. They are also tricky to capture without special anamorphic lenses (which they also don't often make anymore). My two shots of 30 Roc came from wandering around the center for a while during our architecture tour (which I highly recommend, BTW). The time of day also helps. This was around 4:00 PM in late October.

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Chrysler Building, sunset.

Making skylines from the top of other buildings look interesting is quite difficult. There's just so much stuff going on that the camera can't possibly capture it and any detail is lost in the jumble. I have probably 50 shots from the Top of the Rock; all equally boring. But this photo sort of took itself. Just as we were leaving I saw the Chrysler building lit up from the setting western sun. Cropping out the bottom made the building look like a noble structure, gazing into the setting sun after a day well spent.

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Street Corner at Grand Central Station

They say that New York only truly comes alive at night. How completely true. You could walk around the city for hours taking photos, each one unique and different. It really is a beautiful city.

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Chandelier at Grand Central Station

Wow. The inside of Grand Central Station is even more beautiful than the outside. The detail of the chandelier shows just how detailed their artisians were. We can still make buildings as large and expensive as the old days, but not as grand.

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Heart Bokeh of Christmas House Lights

This last photo I took yesterday after unwrapping my newest photography gift, a Bokeh Kit from Photojojo.com. I quickly learned that shaped bokehs can be easily overdone, but in the context of abstract light it can find a place. What I love about this photo is the extra bright heart in the center from the house light. Brighter than the christmas lights, but still similar. I think I'm going to have fun with this kit.

Closing Thoughts

I have two thoughts after looking over the year's photos. First, almost 75% of my photos came from a single day, a trip to New York City in October. While trips are commonly the source of great images because you see things you don't normally see, 75% is still a horrible ratio. Clearly I haven't been taking enough photos this year.

Second, I think I have become a slightly better photographer, but not much. Practice clearly makes perfect. I also think that my technical skills are about the same, I think I've made some definite improvement on the content side. I'm becoming more comfortable with abstract forms and starting to see a flow in the photos. Most have an off-center focal point that leads your eye through the rest of the picture. All good stuff. I think the biggest thing holding me back is that I still hate to photograph people. I'm not yet sure why that is, but it's clearly the thing I must work on in 2011.

Thanks for making it this far through my retrospective. 2011 promises to be a fun year, with some amazing things to share. Thank you.