I was a 12-year-old girl who took pictures of flowers on my iPhone 4. Now I'm 18 and I've swum with belugas, traveled to the Arctic, and have had more near-death experiences than I would like (and that number is only growing). How in the world did I end up here? This was never the life I would have expected myself to have, but that's only because I never thought it was a possibility for me. Photography, and wildlife photography specifically, has always been advertised as something only a handful of very talented people get to experience. Watching photographers trek through the Everglades in nature films, swamping around with snakes and alligators, makes the job quite intimidating to any average person. Not to mention the additional deterrence of how expensive photography is. It takes guts and grit to be a good nature photographer and that was never something I thought I had. But the grit and grime of nature grow on you, or at least they grew on me.
I transitioned from phone photography to DSLR at thirteen after my grandfather gifted me his old Nikon D50 camera and a few lenses. Now, by this age, I was already interested in the world of wildlife academically, so it didn't take long before my camera turned away from flowers and toward animals.
I was lucky enough to have a 70-300mm zoom lens (again, thanks Gramps) which granted me easy access to wildlife from an amateur level. I started traveling across Florida to different state parks, waking up at 4:30 am for good light, and hiking for hours all without seeing any wildlife. I quickly learned how much patience is necessary for photography, and how much depends on trial and error. From here, I spent about two years just taking pictures and learning how to use my camera. Somewhere in those two years, I asked for a new camera and some lenses: the Nikon D7500, the Nikkor 200-500mm lens, and the Nikkor Macro lens. Equipment is expensive, and I wanted to prove my investment before I purchased newer items. I don't need anything fancier than that for what I do now.
My first true wildlife photographer experience was almost 3 years ago. I went to Churchill, Manitoba for a NatGeo student expedition in the Arctic. This trip granted me numerous connections on top of unforgettable experiences. Matthias Breiter was our NatGeo expert and forced me to make the biggest shift of my photography career: from automatic to manual. Never again will my camera dial touch that setting, but I do try to remain in contact with Matthias. From that trip on, I felt inspired and confident in my skills. It encouraged me to invest more and more time into photography and now I'm here in California taking pictures. Who knows where I'll end up in five years, hopefully not eaten by a bear, but I'll savor the ride.
So, my main reason for writing this was to make it clear that you shouldn't be afraid to pick up a camera, even a phone, and take some pictures. It may seem daunting, impossible, or even just too expensive, but if you enjoy it, you will create art with whatever tools you have.