February 3


Celebrating My 30 Years as a Photographer

By Dan

February 3, 2020

Thirty years ago this week, on February 2, 1990, I walked into Bromfield Camera in downtown Boston and bought my first real camera: a chrome body Nikon FM2 and a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I had absolutely no idea of the immense, world-bending significance that moment held for me. What seemed like a simple transaction, ultimately set me on a path that would define and dominate my entire life for the next three decades.

At the time, I was a 22 year old student at Berklee College of Music, studying Music Production and Engineering. Lacking confidence in my skills as a guitarist, when I compared myself to the other 2,000 six string shredders around me at the school, I had shifted my focus to be one of the guys who instead records, mixes and produces the music you hear on records.

By my third year at Berklee, I had a few extra bucks in my savings account from my work study job at the front desk. Remembering how much I enjoyed taking pictures with my mom’s ice cream sandwich shaped Kodak 110 Instamatic during my Colorado Outward Bound Trip a few years ago, I decided to buy a “serious” camera and try out photography as a hobby.

My first photo I shot with my brand new Nikon FM-2 on 2/2/90. This is the guy who sold it to me.

After shopping around for a few weeks, I settled on the Nikon, and immediately embraced the exciting new world of picture taking. Spending hours hoofing around Back Bay, downtown, Cambridge, Summerville and other areas around the city, I mostly shot street scenes and whatever visually intriguing thing caught my eye.

That’s right, I got my big start as a street photographer.

I mostly shot things like buildings, reflections, cool sculptures, the downtown waterfront, photos of my friends, etc… Ironically, about half my first roll was photographing a rock climbing competition at the old Boston Rock Gym. So, even with my very fist roll, I was drawn to shooting action sports.

There was a certain technical, behind-the-scenes aspect to recording engineering that appealed to me, and I discovered that a similar characteristic existed in photography as well.

I recognized that even though I’m not creating the subject matter, there’s a certain craft and artistry to capturing a scene or performance in the most compelling way possible. Sometimes this even involves mixing elements, deciding what to include or eliminate, adding certain embellishments and processing in order to create the final, finished product. These are just some of the similarities that intrigue me about music and photography.

Reflection in the John Hancock Tower. One of my favorite subjects back then.
A view of Fenway Park, seen from the window of my dorm room.

As I spent hours exploring the streets of Boston during my first few months with photography, I had no idea where it would take me. Little did I know that photography would become such a driving force in my path through life.

It’s amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come, to see how my style has developed over the years and think about the level of excitement I had in those early days. It’s a common trait for humans to try and chase the enthusiasm that once existed in our younger selves.

Sometimes that process lets us down, when we realize that we’ve grown to become different people with different priorities. As we get older, we often fail to submit ourselves to feel the same magic we once felt with our early passions, but if you truly love what you’re doing, then you never lose that excitement.

I’ve found that with photography. I’ve never lost the magic. I’m as fascinated and in love with photography as I ever have been; perhaps even more so now, since I’ve devoted much brain power towards shooting photos and and thinking about the craft during the past thirty years.

Discovering the magic of good light.
Red Sox Game. Another early sports photo.

I’ve been a photographer for 10,957 days. Sure there have been many days during my life when I haven’t picked up my camera, but between all the photos I’ve shot and all the writing and introspection I’ve devoted to the craft, that adds up to an enormous amount of time. It’s no wonder that I’ve been able to find success with the process of making compelling images.

Practice anything for that long and you’re bound to see great improvement. Keep that in mind if you’re just starting out with photography, or if you only able to devote a small amount of your weeks to taking pictures. As with any craft, the number one thing that will lead to improvement and enlightenment is time spent.

I hope that this fact inspires you. If a young music student can pick up a camera when he’s barely entering adulthood and find success, then what’s to say you can’t too? It just takes a lot of practice. 

I hope you enjoy this visual journey down memory lane. As you look at some of the photos I shot during the first few months of 1990, take some time to think about where your own photography has taken you in life and where you think it can take you in the future.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the next 30 years. I wonder where my photography will take me in the next leg of my journey.

A foggy evening on the Boston waterfront. I entered this photo in a competition and even won a prize!
My friend Katarina Leyman, who is now a prominent Swedish composer.
Climbing competition at the Boston Rock Gym, which was the first rock gym in the nation. One of my very first “action photos” ever!
22 year old Dan with his 1990 hair.
About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • Congrats, Dan!! So great that you have those old images!!! Psyched and honored that your old N90 turned into my jumping off point. Ah, the good old Fort Fun days! Miss you bud!

  • Congrats Dan! So great that you have those old images still. Happy and honored that your old n90 (and lots of advice) had such an impact on me, too. I’ll never forget what you used to say: “Always…..always….wait, no….NEVER….” 🙂 Miss you, ya goof!

  • Thanks Jim. It’s fun to look through those old Kodak print envelopes, I still have all of them from the first few years, including BW contact sheets and early prints that I made. So glad you made good use of that N90. I still have my N90s, as well as the F5 and there are even a few very out of date rolls of film kicking around. So many good times during that initial decade, I sometimes shake my head in disbelief that I’ve made it this far!

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