How I Got Started in Photography

How did you get there? It’s a simple question, really… with a complex answer that involves newspapers, sea turtles, an organic farmer and an introduction to Hispanic culture. Michele – an ESL teacher in South Korea and a bridesmaid in one of my 2010 weddings – told me about her interest in photography, and wanted to know more about me. I told her I’d reply with a blog post. So Michele, this is for you:

In the beginning…

My first passion is writing – that’s how I got through college and then a career as a newspaper reporter that spanned 6 years in 3 states. I saw my share of drama at weekly city council and school board meetings, and wrote stories that were exciting, scary, and sad – a woman who survived a deer mauling, a man living with breast cancer, a murder-abduction-suicide (all before 8 a.m.), a fatal house fire that killed a baby and more…

Images by Shuva Rahim

In 2001 I began working alongside an incredibly talented photography staff at the Springfield News-Sun in Ohio. And by talented, I mean they won state and national photojournalism awards all the time (and I’m sure still do). Their passion and hard work – be it breaking news or features – gradually rubbed off on me, and I began to take an interest in the photos that accompanied my words. Around this time, I took my first “real” basic photography class for fun at the local art school and learned about loading film in my Vivitar, camera settings, and developing film in the darkroom.

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Suriname

I loved my life in Ohio – great job, great colleagues, great friends, etc. I had no reason to leave. But – as cliche as it sounds – I wanted to do more with my life.

Enter Peace Corps (something I knew I was going to do at some point in life) and a move to Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America that gained it’s independence more than 30 years ago. This country – whose people are mostly descendants of slaves from Africa, China, India and Indonesia – was my home for 2 years.

My dad gave me a 3.5-mp Kodak EasyShare digital camera as a going-away gift and I left with 24 other Americans in June 2004. My assignment was with an agriculture agency in the capital that works with Suriname‘s interior population. I traveled to villages in the jungle and started to document my trips and my city life with the film and digital – photographing people washing in the river, making cassava bread, impromptu English classes, a funeral celebration, national holidays, cultural events, training sessions, village meetings, a wedding, kids carrying dishes on their heads, birds, landscapes, churches, everything…

Images by Shuva Rahim

I knew photography was in my future, but I didn’t know to what extent. Halfway into my service I researched grad schools before leaving for 3 weeks on an isolated Suriname beach to learn about leatherback sea turtles. My time here still remains my most remarkable experience ever, in small part because I only took the film camera and shot photos that would help me get admitted into the next chapter of my life.

Images by Shuva Rahim

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The Salt Institute

Many photographers don’t go through a photography program before going into business. That’s perfectly fine, and I continue to learn a tremendous amount from self-taught photographers. But returning to school – going to Salt – was the best transition for me. I moved to Portland, Maine, shortly after returning home from Peace Corps and started Salt – a one-of-a-kind documentary school with programs in photography, writing and radio.

Everything at Salt was about learning to tell a compelling story – with black and white film (Salt now has a digital program). It was a photography boot camp with great instructors and incredible camaraderie. It was hours and hours and hours of building relationships, shooting, critiquing, and long nights in the darkroom. Shooting with film forced me to think about how I was shooting, what I was shooting, and why I was shooting it. There was no opportunity to look on the back of a screen, but learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

My primary project was documenting a young woman transitioning from apprenticing on an organic farm to starting her own organic farm. Months later, a small national magazine for farmers using draft horses published the story.

Images by Shuva Rahim

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Hola America

After returning to Iowa, I looked for jobs for six months and started freelancing as a photographer for Hola America – a local English-Spanish newspaper. My assignments were photojournalistic – ranging from campaign stops to community features.

Images by Shuva Rahim

Along the way I learned to use Photoshop via online classes and tutorials, and lots of practice and experimenting. I realized there were parallels between darkroom work and a sophisticated software program, giving me a greater appreciation that today’s technology wouldn’t exist if we never had film to start with.

Eventually, I got work as an editor at a publishing company while freelancing on the side and later, assisting with a wedding photographer for a few months. Photography was more exciting than my day job, and finally admitted to myself in late 2007 I wanted to start my own business.

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Accent Photographics

Initially, I only wanted to photograph kids and families. I had just returned from a workshop in San Diego where all the photographers shot children and families. So I started my business in March 2008, and then Hola America had me shoot quinceaneras – celebrations for Hispanic girls turning 15. (Shooting a quince is like shooting a wedding). I was still focused on children and families when a colleague called me to say his friend was getting married and needed a photographer. Would I do it? Um…sure…

I shot about 15 quinceaneras last year, but Jose and Melinda were my first wedding couple, and I LOVED working with them. To this day, some of the images from that wedding remain among my favorites.

Images by www.accentphotographics.com

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Right Now

A month after that wedding – in June 2008 – I reached a breaking point with my editor job, abruptly quit and went full-time with my business.

It was not the ideal of situations, and starting out was very difficult. But it is one of the best decisions I made – and one I wouldn’t have pursued without the encouragement of family and friends. It’s been 1.5 years, and I am constantly learning everyday through meet-ups, forums, reading and workshops. That will never change. But my expectations of myself will. And on that note, here’s a sneak peek of my upcoming post of yesterday’s wedding:

Images by www.accentphotographics.com

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About accentphoto
Accent Photographics specializes in on-location baby, children and family photography, and special-event photography of weddings in eastern

One Response to How I Got Started in Photography

  1. misty says:

    Very neat Shuva!

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