Featured Life Opinion Photography

My Photographic Journey


Photo by Scott Stulberg.

I was just looking through my portfolio this past week and physically cringing at how bad some of my old shots are. I almost deleted them from my Flickr stream, but then I realized that each photo represents a part of my photographic journey.

My photography evolved a lot from the days when I use to take pictures of Pez, cupcakes, and interesting trash I found in my back alley. It seems so silly now, but had I not spent everyday shooting, learning, and exploring the world with my camera, I wouldn’t be taking the pictures I am taking today.

Superhero Pez

Super hero Pez. Canon Xti, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/60, f/5.0, ISO 100.

I bought my first dSLR, the Canon Rebel Xti (400D), in November 2006. I had one lens other than the crappy kit one, the 50mm f/1.4, and I shot absolutely everything on it. From concerts to portraits to landscapes and nature I took that lens on many adventures. Unlike a zoom lens, a fixed prime lens forces you to physically position yourself to get the shot. That usually means getting up close, lying on the floor, or squeezing your body in crazy spots to get decent angles.

I spent almost a year shooting exclusively with the 50mm f/1.4. I couldn’t afford another lens, so I just had to make do with what I had. I think this forced me to learn the basics of photography (exposure, light & composition) and really know how to use my camera.

abstract of a large leaf with raindrops

Xti, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/320, ISO 200.

I shot almost everyday. I went on photowalks and started shooting things around my neighbourhood, and the beautiful landscapes of Vancouver. Whenever I traveled abroad in the next year, I took thousands of pictures. Some were good, some were meh, but the sheer act of taking pictures everyday made me a better photographer.

Photographing Chichen Itza

Photographing Chichen Itza, Mayan Riviera, Mexico.

Because I only had one lens at the time, and no money to buy another one, I started renting lenses for specific shoots or just for fun. For $35, I could rent a $1500 70-200mm IS f/2.8 for an entire weekend. I rented everything from wide angles to macro lenses to honking zooms, experimenting with different subjects and styles of photography.

lens flare sunset

Sunset Flare, Xti, 70-200mm IS, 70mm, 1/250, f/7.1, ISO 200.

red boots 6/365

Polish dancing boots, Xti, 70-200mm IS f/2.8 lens, 153mm, 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 200.

Bokeh & The Spider

Canon Xti, 100mm f/2.8 lens, 1/80, f.2.8, ISO 100.

Water <3 World

Xti, 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 200.

I didn’t read many “how to” photography books (too boring) or take classes (too expensive), I just spent hours on Flickr and other photographer’s blogs. I connected with these photographers, asked them questions, shared my photos, and studied theirs.

I learned what I needed to improve on and what style of photography I liked. I was immediately drawn to colour and magic hour light. The subject matter I found most intriguing was people. But, people were not as easy to come by as trash in my back alley.

Jessie Farrell & Fancy Wallpaper

Jessie Farrell, Canon Xti, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/30, f/1.4, ISO 100.

I begged everyone I knew to let me take pictures of them. And if they said no, I snuck candid shots when they weren’t looking. At the time, I was also spending a lot of time shooting Jessie Farrell (Canadian Singer/Songwriter) and her band on their first year touring Canada.

I followed them around snapping their performances, as well as the behind the scenes moments. I learned a lot about shooting in hectic places with really difficult lighting. This gig also connected me with other musicians who wanted promo photos for their websites and promotion.

Kylee Epp Promo Shot

Canadian Singer/Songwriter Kylee Epp, Xti, 50mm f/1.4.

Jesse Godin (Drummer) Promo

Jesse Godin, Xti, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, 18mm, 1/100, f/2.8, ISO 100.

When I couldn’t find any people to shoot, I photographed animals. When I was traveling in Australia, I took a series of “animal portraits” of the fabulous creatures I found. Again, I only had one lens with me, the 50mm f/1.4, so I really get up close to these animals to fill the frame. This was ok with koalas, kangaroos, and lorikeets, but not so much for man-eating crocodiles and sharks.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow lorikeet, Xti, 50mm f/1.4mm, 1/100, f/2.0, ISO 100.

Sleepy Kangaroo

Sleepy Kangaroo, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/5.0, 1/250, ISO 100.

Lovely Currumbin Koala

Koala. Xti, 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I also experimented taking artsy shots with the LensBaby Composer. I’m not the ‘artsiest’ photographer. I’m more inclined to make photos as realistic as possible, which is part of my debate with HDR photography (which I did learn how to do by the way :P). Nevertheless, this lens gave me a new perspective on the types of shots I could get with my camera.


XSi & LensBaby Composer.

Painter's Lodge, Campbell River

My first HDR :P

After a while, I got bored of just taking pictures of things that I was just observing and wanted to create shots I could control. I was also modeling at the time, so I took particular interest at my own shoots and started grilling every photographer I worked with about lighting.

This is when I discovered David Hobby’s Strobist blog. The DIY off-camera photography he was doing and talking about was exciting, challenging, and oh so sexy.

Super Summertime Strobe Setting-up

Setting up the strobes for a summer shoot.

It took a while to accumulate the gear I needed to take great portrait shots; 3 strobes (580EX & 2x430EX, two umbrellas, stands, & the Alien Bees Cybersync Remote System), and a long while to actually learn how to use it.

I won’t lie, when I first started using strobes I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was even kind of scared of them, so I asked people who knew what they were doing, and watched and learned. I found a few settings that worked and practiced a lot. Once I’d learnt the basics, I started to experiment, sometimes even on the job (shh.. don’t tell), but usually taking pictures of myself.

Then, Alex Lindsay of TWiP (This Week in Photography) asked me to fly down to San Francisco be a guest on his popular photography podcast. I really felt like a n00b photographer then especially compared to one of my heroes, photojournalist, Steve Simon. I felt like I hadn’t done anything of note, just taken some nice photos. In fact, I’m sure that at first I was interviewed more for my modeling talents than my photography. My Flickr stream did contain more pictures of me than by me.

Lisa in Jamaica Sunset

Xti, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/100, f/4, ISO 100.

Being on TWiP was a huge wake up call. I realized then, that if I wanted to be a photographer, I had to step up and know my stuff. I couldn’t rely on being a pretty girl with a camera that took pretty pictures. I had to get down and dirty with photographic theory, photoshop, the technical specs of my gear, and build a portfolio with content in a style that I wanted to actually work in.

I was inspired by photographers like Nick Onken, Chase Jarvis, Joe McNally who had unique and strong styles and got hired to to do major commercial work in this style.

Beautiful Shauna

Shauna, Canon XSi, 85mm f/1.8 lens, f/3.5, 1/200.


Canon XSi, 24-105mm f/4.0 lens, 45mm, 1/100, f/4.0, ISO 100.

Zara with 2 Strobe set-up

Zara set-up shot.

I decided I wanted to shoot portraits, beauty, and fashion. I really needed models to shoot portraits, beauty, and fashion photography. I bought a second awesome prime, the 85mm f/1.8 and put up a profile on the social networking site “where professional models meet photographers, ModelMayhem. I’d found some great models to work with and I booked four for the next week. A Canon Canada Rep was nice enough to send a XSi (450D) loaner to me, so I had an extra body on these shoots.

Rockin' Bella

Bella, Canon XSi, 85mm f/1.8 lens, 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100.

I really wanted to push myself to see if I could actually create the images I wanted. After the first shoot, I realized I needed a professional makeup artist and a stylist because I am absolutely rubbish at these things. So I brought Mika (MUA) and Tami (Stylist) on board.

They helped me develop the concepts I wanted to shoot, and make sure all the details (hair, makeup, clothes) were there.


Sexy Stephanie, Xti, 85mm f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 100.

Stephanie backlit setup

sexxeh steph

Canon Xti, 85 f/1.8 lens, 1/200. f/4.5, ISO 100.

Steph set-up shot

I also knew I had to become fluent in Photoshop (CS4), so I buckled down and learnt how to use it. I spent days perfecting images, learning techniques, watching every retouching tutorial on Lynda.com and finding out the best and most efficient ways to retouch and process my images. Once I’d mastered the basics, I started to explore different processing styles.

I spend hours scouring photographer’s portfolios and flickr to find inspiring shots and trying to emulate them. Through this process I learnt all kinds of PS ninja tricks and started to develop my own style.

franziska's rainbow eyes

Xti, 50mm f/1.4 lens, f/2.5, 1/100, ISO 100.

I could shoot, light, and make sweet pictures. All I needed was a kick ass camera. I’d spent 2 great years with the Xti, but I’d grown out of it. I needed something full-framed and powerful, so I bought the Canon 5DMKII. I’ve never looked back.

Jesse Tucker, guitarist, singer & songwriter

Canon 5DMKII, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/125, f/5.0, ISO 100.

Jesse Tucker set-up

After 2 1/2 years, I feel like I’ve perfected amateur photography. Now, I’m ready to work as a professional. And so my next photographic journey begins! Wish me luck!

Nicole's Baby Blues

Canon 5DMkII, 85mm f/1.8 lens, 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100.

*i don't love you anymore*

5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/500 at f/5.0, ISO 100. Natural light & white reflector.

Questions? Comments! You know where to leave ’em.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Fotografin Lisa Bettany | Objektief
    August 30, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    […] bin auf Lisa รผber ihren Blog mostlylisa.com gestoรŸen. In ihrem Beitrag My Photographic Journey erzรคhlt sie, wie sie zur Fotografie gekommen ist. Echt hammer Fotos und den Beitrag sollte man […]

  • Reply
    August 31, 2009 at 5:57 AM

    Fantastic write-up, thanks. I find myself in a very similar position where I’m realizing I need to take ‘the next step’ and experiment, fail, learn, etc.

    I guess the only main difference is that I use a Nikon, but hey, whatever :)

    Thanks again, I really love your style and your talent


  • Reply
    September 1, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    You’ve improved so much! Thank you for sharing the journey with us. <3

  • Reply
    September 2, 2009 at 6:08 AM


    You are awesome! Thanks for sharing your story, i was looking for somebody using off-camera flashes mounted on tripods for a long time. Now i know it’s possible.

    Beautiful work!!! Congrats!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    Inspiring!!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    Liked your post. Some insight there that I hope will help me with my photography.

    Had a question though about the Alien Bees Cybersync Remote System. How do you connect the receivers to your 430EX/580EX?

    I’m using a single 430EX at the moment (looking for some cash to buy a 580EX) with a Cactus radio trigger, which isn’t hugely reliable. The 430EX doesn’t have a PC terminal though. Are you using a hotshoe adaptor?

    I’m hoping the Cybersync system might be a cheaper alternative for me than going to PocketWizards.

  • Reply
    Bill Bartmann-
    September 12, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

    A definite great read…

    – Bill Bartmann

  • Reply
    Vivek Mohan
    September 14, 2009 at 2:19 AM

    I am an amateur photographer “still” looking around for a “starting point” to kind of get outta my shell. Amazing portrait shots led me to your Flickr stream which in turn led me to your blog and I am so happy to be reading your photography journey at 2 AM on a Monday morning.

    I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my week.


  • Reply
    Victor Fernandez
    September 16, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    Good Luck from Spain…. Im in the same way ;-)

  • Reply
    September 20, 2009 at 9:48 PM

    So here I am laying in bed 12:44 am doing one last search on my iPhone. I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to get my site going. Not building it…deciding if I want to keep my studio work on a separate site than my personal work. Well I’m still undecided, but you have inspired me to figure it out already and shoot not ponder.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2009 at 4:29 PM

    This is one of the better articles on photography that I have read thus far. Thanks for sharing this.

    I am struggling with a few things photographically but studying my rear off trying to learn it and hopefully grow in the process.


  • Reply
    Peter Schmidt
    November 13, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    Awesome article, thanks for sharing.
    I do like you blog about photography and it’s always an inspiration seeing your latest pictures.
    You’ve really come a long way fast it seems. Keep up the good work.

    Wish you the best.


  • Reply
    November 15, 2009 at 5:26 AM

    i’ve always been reading bout male photographers who started small and made it big. rarely ever female photographers.

    thank you for this article. it’s really inspired me and made me realize that if i want to be somebody in this field, then i have to put in thrice the effort and really get myself out there. cant keep giving myself excuses to procrastinate and be afraid.

    thank you for the inspiration and the motivation. :)

  • Reply
    Justin Stark
    December 21, 2009 at 3:14 AM

    “My first HDR :P”

    The magical, staircase shot is outstanding.


  • Reply
    Photography « The MilDesigner
    December 24, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    […] and she’s pretty inspiring for those that want to get into photography. Her photographic journeyย in particular shows her start with photograpy and can be an inspiration for people that want to […]

  • Reply
    December 28, 2009 at 10:42 PM

    Hello Lisa,

    Great post, very inspiring. I am in the same kind of journey, I just hope I can be like you some day.

    Good luck.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2009 at 1:12 AM

    Wow. I am so inspired to take my photography up a notch! I am currently at the stage where I take everything with my 50mm f1.8 lens on my 400D. I absolutely love it and it truly does teach you the basics. I hope there’s a place around here that can also rent lenses since I too can’t afford another lens at this point. I will be subscribing to your site and will be looking forward to reading more and seeing more of your work! Great journey!

  • Reply
    Thomas Tomchak
    December 29, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    I’m so very inspired by you Lisa. Your comments and insights really helped me feel like I’m not only not alone in being overwhelmed by some of the things I have yet to learn, but that it is in fact possible!

    Keep up the great work, I love reading the blog.


  • Reply
    December 30, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    It becomes more inspiring the more I read it. Most times you don’t hear the journey people have to become the great photographers, artists, etc., so it’s really cool to see your story. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Reply
    December 31, 2009 at 3:58 AM

    You have very unique perspective in your photos. How did you the close shot of the Koala? I tried the 50mm focal length on my zoom lens of a koala at the zoo too and it turned out horrible. hahahha.


    P.S. love the Rainbow lorikeet pic.

  • Reply
    Jake Stapleton
    December 31, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    Just finally got around to reading this post I have had it bookmarked for a while. What a great story of hard work and discipline. It further encourages me to pursue my interests in photography. Thanks for the open and honest sharing of your journey.

  • Reply
    Christina Warren
    December 31, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    LOVED the post — man — I’m so proud of all that you have accomplished. I desperately need some professional portraits or headshots done and if I thought I could afford you, I’d fly you into Atlanta myself.

    Such great work. Take care and keep kicking ass!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2009 at 11:32 AM

    Great read for the new year. Thanks for documenting your trajectory – great inspiration and food for thought. Could you share a bit of background about your Alien Bees? I’ve seen Pocket Wizards used aplenty – were they a consideration for you? I’m curious what remotes people use for my own education. Cheers.

  • Reply
    Ariel Bendavid
    December 31, 2009 at 12:46 PM

    Great inspirational story. I really want to shoot and become better at photography.

  • Reply
    Adam Nollmeyer
    December 31, 2009 at 7:56 PM

    Nice post Lisa. I’ve taken many of my flickr photos from years ago out of flickr sets and made some private. Yes it’s nice to look back and see where one has been.

    It’s also nice to talk about the journey of being a photographer and pushing oneself to learn the craft more. I see a lot of strobist people get excited to be “flashing” yet the images look like crap… Then I’ll see their work later and it’s slowly getting better.

    We’re all posers and it’s a process. Nice “year in review” post.


  • Reply
    January 3, 2010 at 3:34 AM

    Lisa, your work has matured and developed in such beautiful ways in the past year, I’m extremely impressed by your progress. You are an inspiration, good luck and well done.

    If your photographic journey ever brings you over to Victoria, I would love to arrange a photowalk/photo project. Perhaps you have the reach to actually nudge along some kind of photo community here in Victoria, as it hardly seems to exist.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Thanks for sharing. So inspiring!

  • Reply
    Christopher johnston
    January 8, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    The story of your journey is very inspiring. I’ve been shooting a lot with my point and shoot and I’ve decided its time to move to a better camera, once I find a way to pay for it. I’ve added you to my RSS feed and I will be reading all your post.

  • Reply
    jaymz eberly
    January 18, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    great story. makes me want to share my story, i love my story :)

    also i heard the 50mm 1.4 had not as good glass as the cheaper 1.8 $99 50mm which i love to death :) but your pics are great with the 1.4 making think who started that rumor haha :)

    thanks again! your blog is getting me to really want to update mine more often too :)

    it is a blog like this that helps us grow, one mans junk is another mans treasure kinda thing too.. we might say i am not so proud of using this turkey pan anymore. but telling others can inspire and help others grow and then learn to teach us photographers who have been around the block that , hey dont be so picky .. be creative..try shooting against light.. try what they tell you not too.. you might learn something .. even it why it is true :)


  • Reply
    January 19, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    I’d just like to say that your work is beyond stunning. Absolutely magical! Great work!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    Lisa just came across your blog …. very cool indeed.
    Thanks so for sharing , and signed up almost immediately to Lyndia.com
    Look forward to more
    Take care
    From down under

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Lisa – just discovered your blog, and love love love this post — it was really inspiring, especially as I have recently launched my photography business. I will definitely be frequenting and gaining inspiration from you, your photographs and your blog more often! Thanks so much for sharing!


  • Reply
    Lauren Blue
    February 14, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    Hey Lisa!

    I recently stumbled upon your blog (like literally haha I have a Stumble Upon account) and I’m so glad I did! I enjoyed reading up on how you became the photographer you are today. Your work is outstanding. I am in high school and enrolled in a photojournalism class that my school offers. I really enjoy it and have fallen in love with photography but it’s only a one year course, there’s no follow up and if I want to continue I would have to switch to yearbook. That’s not really my interest, I like the artistic side of photography but I’ve decided to continue with yearbook next year because I want to continue learning all I can.

    My dream job is being a photographer (well one of them, I haven’t really decided what to do with my life yet) and hearing your unique journey has given me the inspiration to peruse it further. My father said that I could shop around for a digital SLR so I could take pictures at home and I am very excited about that. I can’t wait to get started! :)

  • Reply
    Carmen Chan
    February 19, 2010 at 10:16 PM

    Hi Lisa, your post was truly inspiring and I am definitely fired up after reading it. Your journey sounds VERY similar to mine and I’ve pretty much been learning using the same resources that you’ve gone to and it’s really exciting to see have you’ve progressed. I totally know what you mean about your flickr photostream :) your portraits are breathtaking. thank you for sharing your journey with everyone and for inspiring everyone out there who is self-taught and determined to pursue their passion in photography!

  • Reply
    20 Stimulating Photos from Amateur Photographers
    February 27, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    […] Mostly Lisa’s – My Photographic Journey […]

  • Reply
    Joe Ford
    March 1, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    I love your story, it say with with hard work you can achieve your dreams.

  • Reply
    Anneliese Zemp
    April 1, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Thanks again Lisa for an awesome post. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit ‘stuck’ in my path towards making photography a career. What kind of networking/marketing/stuff did you work on while making the transition between talented amateur and professional? Any suggestions?


  • Reply
    Grant Kaye
    May 3, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Nice post Lisa, I’m at the beginning stages of amateurland myself, and I find your story, and your work inspirational. I hope your career has flourished since this post nearly a year ago. You have some truly amazing images.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2010 at 1:47 AM

    you’re amazingly inspiring. Congrats on your journey.. <3

  • Reply
    Charles Wagoner
    June 22, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    Just got my Rebel XSi and 50mm/1.4 and love it! Your and Alex Lindsay’s advice are what made me finally pull the trigger and get this specific setup. I’m trying hard to resist the temptation to buy another lens, forcing myself to use what I’ve got for at least a year or so, and I’m finding your experiences to be really helpful and inspiring. Keep up the great work.

  • Reply
    5 of my favourite tweeters and why I follow them - masey
    August 21, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    […] addition to her excellent blog posts on aspects of photography, Lisa manages to entertain with her often quirky accounts of life in general, and also through her […]

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 12:14 AM

    your photography is too good.

  • Reply
    Mike Bedford
    February 12, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    Lisa, I just heard of you today for the first time while reading a photo forum thread about photography apps for mobile devices. I’m really impressed by your work as well as its presentation on your website!

    Feel free to contact me about being a Featured Artist in my ezine (free promo for your site, app, etc.).

  • Reply
    July 3, 2011 at 11:06 PM

    This is so good! You really inspire me to become a photographer! I have a question, do you edit your photos on photoshop, etc? or do you just leave it the way you take them? Would love to hear from you soon.

    Kind regards,


  • Reply
    July 6, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    I know this post is a couple years old now, but I’ve just seen it for the first time, and it’s very timely for me.

    “After a while, I got bored of just taking pictures of things that I was just observing and wanted to create shots I could control.”

    That’s exactly where I am, though I get the feeling I’m not quite as far into mastering the camera itself as you were at that point. I’ve been a avid amateur for a while now, and I got my first DSLR two years ago (a Canon XSi, which I sold to buy a Nikon D90 which I love, sorry :) and I’ve been doing strictly found photography and event stuff since then.

    Recently I made a new friend at school (art school, finally chasing that dream after a decade in suit pants) who happens to be a natural model. We took some pictures for a school project, and I was instantly hooked. I’ve never worked with someone who actually enjoys dressing up and posing, and is almost infinitely patient with me about it (my wife tries, she really does, but it’s just not her thing). I can’t get enough of coming up with shoot ideas, scouting locations, discussing wardrobe etc. This isn’t what I’m pursuing as a career, but it’s definitely killed most of my other hobbies.

    Suddenly I went from shunning the idea of learning to shoot manual and use flashes to reading everything I could find about it. I’ve recently become unemployed, but what money I have coming in I’m saving up to buy an inexpensive off camera flash setup.

    I don’t know if it was like this for others, but for me it was like a switch being flipped. One minute I was happy to take pictures of flowers and at festivals and the like in Program mode, then dicking around with them in Photoshop. The next minute I’m clearing out a room to use as a studio, shooting exclusively in Manual mode, and researching the differences between various light sources and modifiers.

    PS: The only lens I have is a 50mm f/1.8, and I love it. I’ll get something else eventually, but for now I’m good with just that.

  • Reply
    Sam Andrews
    October 24, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    You’ve only benn doing this since 2006? Wow! Very impressive.

  • Reply
    September 17, 2015 at 10:31 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story, It is very motivating, I just started my journey in photography, and I felt very related to the process you used to learn, so to know that you have accomplished your journey as an amateur and that you became a great photographer, fills me up with hope, I doubted so much to spend the only money I have on a camera because I am afraid to fail, that I need all the motivation possible! I’m glad I came across your blog and I thank you again for sharing your story.

  • Reply
    16 Photography Project Ideas to keep you shooting every day! – MostlyLisa.com | Photography tips & iPhoneography inspiration
    April 2, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    […] time you are out at a show grab a shot. Taking photos at concerts was actually how I started working as a photographer and all I had was my little Canon Rebel Xti and the 50mm f/1.4. Often, you aren’t able to […]

  • 1 2 3

    Leave a Reply