It's easy to buy an expensive camera, and then watch it collect dust while telling yourself that you'll take photos later, or at big events, or on trips. It’s even easier to gasp at the price tag and decide you’ll just have to wait to start taking photos until later down the line when you have more money to spare. But realistically the best way to improve at photography is through regular practice on whatever camera you already have. Just like any other hobby photography is a skill that can't be developed overnight (although your film photos can be! lol). This guide will help you establish a consistent photography practice without having to spend money on everything you think you need to get started. Believe it or not you don't need fancy lenses, or those big umbrella things professionals use for lighting. You don't need an expensive DSLR that goes ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk when you take pictures. You don't even need a traditional camera-- you can simply start out with your phone! Let me introduce you to the joy of developing a photography practice of your own.
For some background: I have loved taking pictures ever since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I was able to purchase my first DSLR camera. Though that was a major step in pursuing photography with serious intentions, I have been practicing casually and regularly for over a decade now. The first real step I took in pursuing photography was actually buying my first cell phone when I was 11 years old (a cheap gophone I couldn’t have been any happier to have!). While cell phone photography isn’t always taken as seriously as that taken on fancier equipment it is an excellent and more accessible place to begin. I also owned a few cheaper digital cameras over the years, and those were wonderful tools for building my practice. A nice camera is definitely a helpful asset to have, but all you really need to begin developing your taste and basic skills is a phone or any other cheap camera you may already have access to.
Here I have outlined some simple steps to help direct you in getting started (even as a total beginner):
Sam is the kind of friend who will show up to your house with snacks to share, cook a full vegan meal, and then help clean everything up afterward. Each time that he’s made this soup for us over the years I have eaten multiple bowls (which says a lot because I’m pretty picky when it comes to soups!). The combination of hearty veggies, melt-in-your-mouth lentils, and savory Soyrizo broth make for a flavorful, nutritious soup perfect for the colder seasons. You can only imagine how excited I was recently when I received an email from Sam with his recipe typed up so I can make it any time I want (especially appreciated during quarantine). Sam’s Soyrizo Soup is perfect for making in big batches and enjoying as leftovers throughout the week-- if there is any left over!
*This soup may be a little spicy for those who are heat sensitive (the Soyrizo itself is a little spicy). Personally I love adding some extra peppers to kick up the heat, so I recommend adjusting it to suit your taste!
*Also note that cooking times may vary slightly based on your stove, so make sure to check on your veggies and adjust the timing as you see fit.
Sam’s Soyrizo Soup
Vegan, 4-5 servings
I can already tell that this soup will be one of my go-to recipes this winter. Given how much I enjoy this dish I’m always surprised by how easy and quick it is to make-- most of my time and effort just goes into chopping up vegetables. I hope you like this soup as much as I do, and if you decide to make it please let me know how it turns out!
***A special thanks to Sam Muse for cooking this soup for us with love and care on several occasions, typing up his recipe, sharing it, and suggesting that I post it! While I helped with editing, formatting, and photography Sam is the true culinary MVP and deserves major credit.
Note: I choose to call it a soup, but technically it might fall somewhere between a soup and a stew. It has enough chunky veggies and substance to be called a stew, with relatively less water content in proportion to the other ingredients. However the broth is thin like a soup, and there still is a good bit of it. I think “soup” sounds better in the title so we'll go with that!
1. Paper Mario (Nintendo 64)
This game holds a deeply tender place in my heart. It was one of the first video games that I ever found myself truly immersed in. Just looking through screenshots of it takes me back to some of my best early memories of sharing a room with my awesome older brother and taking turns playing together for hours on end. The graphics are simple, vibrant, and incredibly charming. Each chapter of the story takes Mario somewhere magical - whether it's inside a toy box full of shy guys or a snowy wonderland surrounded by penguins - and after beating each boss you get to play as Princess Peach sneaking around Bowser's castle for her own mini-chapters. The game play is engaging enough to stay interesting without feeling difficult or frustrating (thanks to a combination of puzzles and turn-based combat), and throughout the whole story it maintains a laid-back and cozy vibe. Paper Mario 64 just brings me a lot of joy, and I can't recall any aspect of the game that doesn't hold up. I can play it over and over again without getting bored. It's always there for me to come home to. 10/10
2. Harvest Moon (Gamecube, Gameboy Advance, DS)
Harvest Moon is the ultimate farming simulation series, and it was the first (and only) game that I was excited enough about as a kid to create my own detailed walk-through notes on. I still have a folder somewhere with print-outs of online guides and cheats, and I remember journaling about how I would spend my days in the game and what goals I was working toward. The concept of caring for animals, making friends, and choosing a bachelor in-game to date was enough to make my 7-year-old heart flutter. When I first began playing Another Wonderful Life I had no sense of how the game worked-- I remember my cows constantly being sick and barely keeping them alive on medicine (later I learned that you have to, I don't know, feed them occasionally!). But I caught on quickly, and I was over-the-moon when my animals began thriving and my cow had its first baby. For as cute as the game is the tone of Another Wonderful Life is surprisingly somber/melancholy: the story starts with your character losing their father and leaving their life in the city to settle down in a small town and take over the deceased father's farm. The mood conveyed by Another Wonderful Life is unique from any other game I've played, and speaks to many of the complicated feelings I've experienced throughout young adulthood regarding major life transitions. I think I might owe credit to this game for planting the seed (lol) for my dream of someday owning my own little ranch-- a dream built strong in my childhood that I have only recently revisited. Each game that I've played in the series balances the peace of a life of quiet solitude with the excitement and connection of a small-town community where everyone knows one another. While there are more games in this series than I can keep track of (and more than a few spin-offs too) these are the three that my friends and I loved dearly and built our childhood identities around: Another Wonderful Life, More Friends of Mineral Town, and Harvest Moon DS. While I've chosen to focus on Another Wonderful Life in this article I should mention that all three of them vary in style, tone, and complexity, with each one bringing something new to the table.
3. Mario Sunshine (Gamecube)
Like Paper Mario, Mario Sunshine just has a really excellent, upbeat vibe and playing it makes me feel really happy. The story centers around pollution and darkness spreading over a beautiful tropical island where it is your job to clean it up by washing away all the sludge and defeating the enemies responsible for the mess. As the game progresses and the pollution subsides the atmosphere itself becomes brighter-- a simple but powerful visual that leaves me feeling optimistic and accomplished. The solid basic mechanics established in Mario 64 (another favorite that didn't make the list), combined with F.L.U.D.D. the water nozzle, make for a really fun and unique Mario platformer. The music is energetic and memorable, and the stages are creative and varied. Some of my favorite areas include a playground-like harbor, an amusement park, and a quaint little bay with historic ruins. Mario Sunshine will make your dreams of jetpacking around a stunning tropical island surrounded by clear, blue water a (virtual) reality.