The Story of My Photography Journey

by | Aug 26, 2022 | Perspective, Stories & Expeditions | 2 comments

Hi everyone! I’m Lydia Bennett, assistant here at Lenspiration. This past weekend, James Staddon, founder and owner of Lenspiration, became my brother-in-law! While he and Julianna are on their honeymoon and I keep things running behind-the-scenes, I thought I’d share a story with you. One that has some aspects you just might be able to identify with. 🙂

I still remember it so vividly. Standing on the hilltop at the little Baptist church in rural Quebec, watching the sun make its slow descent over the Canadian countryside. I looked down at the Nikon camera in my hands and thought I’d experiment around a little bit. Carefully, I turned the dial on the top of the camera to “P”. I had no idea what it meant, but I figured they must’ve put it there for some reason so I may as well see what it did. Click. Turning next to “A”, I snapped the same photo. “S”. Same composition. “M”. Some of the photos looked identical. But one of them turned the sun into a dramatic starburst. Wow! I’d seen that sort of look in professional pictures before. “Pretty cool”, I thought. Ok, so “S” makes the sun look like a star. …maybe “S” stands for star?

Problem is, “S” didn’t work that way the next time I went to take a picture with the sun.

After experimenting around a bit more, I realized I hadn’t truly landed on what those letters actually did. I shrugged and moved on.

Soon I was taking pictures at our local pregnancy center’s banquet. I hadn’t really planned on it, but I brought my camera along and was taking pictures just for the fun of it. Plenty of neat decorations and things to photograph. The program started and I sat there, camera by my side. Next thing I knew, the Executive Director was standing up front making a special presentation to a staff member and was calling me over to take THE picture of the two of them. 

Scared stiff but realizing I had to look like a photographer since evidently that’s what I looked like, I walked forward and tried to take a picture.

A long delay, then finally… Why oh why did it delay like that? Now was not the time for delays. And then I looked at my picture. Blurry!! What?! Why? Why now!?

Maybe I had jostled the camera. So I took another one. Holding the camera steady. Again, a delay and then a click. A little better but still blurry.

It was an awful feeling.

I decided my camera must not work well inside, at far distances. Mental note made.

In general, though, I took pretty nice pictures. 

There was the time that we went to the opening ceremony for a new bridge, the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, and I took a picture of a Pearl Harbor veteran that won “Best of Show” in a local fair.

And the time that I discovered that if you toggle the little button on the side of the lens to “M” you could move this ring on the lens and make one part of your picture clear while the other part was blurry. I really liked that effect. I guessed that people that get that effect must be really patient to move that little ring just right for every single picture they take.

Then came my birthday, and a unique gift from my sister Susanna. A photography e-book from! And a short video course. As I started reading and watching the videos, things started to click. Those buttons and gadgets on the camera actually did do things!

Then came the day that James Staddon and his brother were traveling through our area and visited our church. In chatting briefly with James, he asked what type of photography I enjoyed. “Um, nature photography,” I answered safely. He asked if I had ever done people-photography. “Oh no,” I laughed, “I like taking pictures of things like flowers that sit still and you don’t have to talk to.”

I started entering the Shoot to Serve photo assignments and watching the monthly webinars. Excitement filled me when one of my photos was chosen as an assignment winner!

Then James held a Photography Field Day in Connecticut. Some others that were originally planning to come canceled so it ended up just being me and some of my siblings that came along for the ride.

I remember my brain feeling overwhelmed. All these new terms I was only just getting familiar with but I was now expected to put into practice. ”Aperture”. “White Balance”. “ISO”. “Metering”. “Exposure”. It was enough to make my head spin.

I remember walking across a grassy field and James commenting on waiting to take pictures of the waterfall till later “when it’s closer to golden hour and the sunlight is pretty.” I nodded and smiled at him, then quickly shot an inquisitive glance up at the sun as soon as he turned his back. It didn’t look that ugly to me!

He commented on the direction of light and I stared at the grass all around us. I guess the texture does kinda look different from one direction to another. Huh! What do you know about that?!

Under the blossoms of the white pear trees, he asked me how I should adjust the aperture if I wanted the picture to be brighter. “Uh, make it more narrow”, I said with shaky confidence, happy that I had used the proper terminology of “narrow” vs. “wide”. His patient smile told me I had guessed wrong.

Leaving the park, I clung tightly to the paper where he had made a chart with the different elements of the exposure trio and what they did. Just how many times that chart was consulted over the next several weeks and months….well let’s not go into that. 🙂

In the days to follow, I never switched my camera off Manual Mode. I had to conquer this. I also decided I must be one of the slowest learners ever. I just kept forgetting which way to adjust which setting. Out would come the chart from the field day.

The monthly Shoot to Serve Photo Assignments were a huge part of my growth from that time on. They pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go and stretched my creativity in ways I would not have thought of. And the best part is that I wasn’t just taking pictures for me. My pictures were being used to meet the needs of others.

I photographed every single Shoot to Serve assignment that came along. Whether it meant taking pictures in my backyard, driving over an hour to a beach for sunrise or asking a sibling to model for me while we were on vacation, the assignments were non-optional. I watched every webinar each month, paper and pen by my side, taking careful notes not only on the critique of my photos but others as well.

I noticed which photographers seemed to win the assignments all the time and how beautiful their photos were and determined to try to be as good as them some day.

Going through the Foundations Course and Explore with Your Camera further solidified things we had covered on that first Photography Field Day.

I started to feel more confident in adjusting camera settings and soon began to realize I was doing it with less mental exertion. 

I learned how to edit photos by watching the webinars and closely observing what James did in editing.

Soon word started to spread that I was learning photography, and a local mom’s group asked me to do a day of mini-sessions for the families in their group. I took in every tip from the Lenspiration e-book, 30 Tips for Perfect Family Photos, and stepped into that opportunity feeling a strange mix of nervous and confident.

When I received my first request to photograph a wedding, I was terrified. Me?? I’m the one that told James I like taking pictures of flowers and things in nature that sit still and don’t talk to you.

Thankfully, I was blessed to have James come and photograph that wedding with me…and subsequently, three more since then. I’ve now shot two weddings solo and this past week I had a big challenge – being a bridesmaid and wedding photographer at the same time! I was grateful to have two other photographers team up to get that job done, and things went well. (Watch for that story in next week’s blog post. 🙂 )

Lenspiration was instrumental in my spiritual growth as well. The probing questions asked in webinars and thoughts shared in blog posts continued to direct and redirect my focus towards the Lord again and again. The focus on glorifying God in my photography shaped the way I approached which photos I took and didn’t take. The concept of shooting to serve others helped me accept things that came my way as opportunities to serve the Lord and others.

Sensing that I had tapped into a community of like minded believers who loved God and wanted to serve Him willingly was an incredible encouragement. I developed friendships and received encouragement not only in photography but also in my relationship with the Lord.

When opportunities came along to help out with Lenspiration behind-the-scenes, I accepted them and grew in other ways. 

And I’m still growing. Every month when I photograph the Photo Assignments, I find myself being pushed. When I don’t feel like thinking of yet another family to ask to model for me, or it seems like my schedule is already full enough, the assignments give me no other option.

Shooting James & Julianna’s wedding the other day, I was no longer questioning which camera settings to use, but I was mentally scrambling to find good light while leading a groom and 10 groomsmen through a park to get their pictures taken.

Later I was prompting a bride and groom into poses while simultaneously dealing with daylight fading fast and needing to recalculate where to direct the families who were about to arrive….all while trying not to get too emotional as I watched my dear sister marry a man who already felt like a brother. Glad to let my second shooter take over as I answered a call on my phone telling me the family was arriving and I needed to show them where to come for pictures.

That’s the story of my photography journey. A journey that continues to move and grow. 

How I ever went from taking blurry pictures of flowers to photographing the wedding of Mr. Lenspiration himself….I’ll never quite understand. What I do know is that God has given me a gift called photography. And He wants me to use it to give Him glory and point others to Him. After all, that is my ultimate purpose in life, isn’t it?

If you are reading this blog post, I know you have a story too. Maybe you’ve been a Lenspiration member for years. Maybe you just joined recently. Maybe you simply enjoy reading the blog posts and following along with what’s going on here. Whatever your story and however much experience you may have, may you use the gift of photography to serve God with a glad and willing heart.

If Lenspiration is a tool God uses in your life like He did mine to cultivate that gift of photography, we are honored to walk with you on your journey. Whether you are like me a few years back and don’t know your camera settings, or you are a professional photographer, give your gift to the Master and allow Him to use you as He desires.

And invite others along the journey, too! If you’ve been blessed to be part of Lenspiration, tell your friends about it and encourage them to come on board!

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17)

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  1. James Staddon

    It made me cry when I read your blog post, Lydia! To look back over the years and see your perspective on so many things, it was touching to see the bigger picture all compressed down into one, captivating blog post.


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