Photographer of the Month: After losing a son, Doug Ebbert picked up an old camera — and saw something new


Bel Air resident Doug Ebbert first picked up a camera over four decades ago. But photography took on a new meaning for the Verizon Communications power systems technician after his son, Jesse, died in 2014.

Now, Ebbert seeks to capture the beauty and color that remains in the world without Jesse in it. His vibrant photos caught the attention of Baltimore Sun Visuals Editor Lloyd Fox and inspired this month’s SunShots photo contest category, “Use of color.” Read more about Ebbert and his photography style.

1) How long have you been taking photos?

I’d guess somewhere around 45 years. The first camera I recall owning was a Pentax ME. These were the days of film rolls and developing labs, miles away from the technological advances we enjoy today. My interest in photography would ebb and flow in those days, and went through long stretches with no camera at all, and mystery rolls of exposed film languishing in my desk drawer.

2) What kind of camera do you shoot with?

Photography changed drastically with the invention of the digital camera. My first digital was probably purchased around the turn of the century, a Kodak that boasted being the first megapixel camera on the market. This was followed by a few frustrating experiences with point-and-shoot cameras, and finally went DSLR with a Canon EOS Rebel.

I’ve been using Sony equipment for a number of years now. As the Canon started becoming dated, I found that I was primarily interested in shooting landscape, and Sony was the early pioneer in full-frame mirrorless technology, which made for a high megapixel count, a compact form factor and live preview electronic view finder — a good choice for shooting landscape. I started with a Sony Nex-6, then an A7 and today I’m using an A7RII, with an eye on the recently announced 61-megapixel A7R4.

If the camera is the engine, then lenses are the chrome wheels and fat tires. Adding a new lens can literally open up a whole new world, and recently I added a Rokinon 100mm macro lens. I’ve been following butterflies and bugs around ever since. Another recently added favorite is a 12mm fisheye lens, which allows an entirely unique view of architecture, one of my favorite subjects.

3) What is your favorite type of photo to take?

The answer to this question tends to change or evolve, with seasons, moods, and particularly after the purchase of new hardware. After adding a 400mm with a 2x tele-converter, I started taking wildlife pictures, then action photos, attending sports matches, ball games and horse races. The same goes for my wide angle lenses for landscape and architecture, the fisheye for architecture and experimentation, the macro for close-ups. Each lens opens a new door and makes the answer to this question more complicated. Night photography is both fun and challenging, but also very rewarding. I work nightshift occasionally for my job, and sometimes bring along my camera in hopes of catching a good sun or moon rise. I’ve dabbled with black and white a few times, but our world is in color and that’s how I prefer to capture it. I’ve never done much portrait photography, but that could change at some point along the way.

Much like sailing, the journey is part of the destination. It is a satisfying feeling heading home with a memory card full of good photos and spending the evening processing them, but also part of the pleasure to me is finding the locations and events that lead to those photos.

—  Doug Ebbert

Much like sailing, the journey is part of the destination. It is a satisfying feeling heading home with a memory card full of good photos and spending the evening processing them, but also part of the pleasure to me is finding the locations and events that lead to those photos. I, and I suspect most photographers, tend to drive with one eye on the road and the other searching and composing the passing landscape.

I most enjoy a well-composed picture that has depth and visual interest no matter what the subject, but for now the answer is sports action and macro photography.

4) What inspired your photography hobby?

I've always been creative and fairly artistic. In the early days of my photography experience, I'd have to say that my inspiration was fairly thin. I didn't have the money to throw at any hobby, shooting with film was challenging and relatively expensive, and the results were mixed at best. When I got my hands on my first DSLR, my interest began to build. Technology was advancing quickly, being able to click off a dozen shots, instantly view the results, and then delete the bad shots with the touch of a button was a wonderful new thing, and the internet brought easy access to publications, professional advice and online shopping. Advancements in photo editing software only helped to pique my interest level.

On the first day of 2014, my 26 year old son slipped into a coma and passed away 10 days later. After a few months of dealing with this grief, I read that photography is often very helpful and so I picked up my camera again and headed out. It was my same camera, but I now viewed photography in a completely different way, and it was suddenly an important part of my life. Since then I’ve upgraded my camera and equipment twice, taken tens of thousands of pictures, and put together a Smug Mug photo website in memory of my son called I feel it is tasked to me now to capture the beauty that’s left in this world that my son is missing. This “Photo-Therapy” has been helpful, and I think that Jesse would like my pictures.

5) What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

Cell phone camera quality has advanced quickly and I will admit to being constantly surprised by the crisp, clean results I’ve seen at times. Less can be more in photography and it is far preferable in my opinion to have one or two quality photos than to have 30 poor ones. A cell phone can be a good start to gauge one’s interest in photography and to practice composition and framing, but if you’re interested in more flexibility and a more rewarding experience, step up to a DSLR. Then, take a lot of pictures, different angles, lighting, different apertures and ISO’s, and see how each change affects the final result. See what works, what you like and what you don’t like. Start out in auto mode and see what settings the camera uses, then move to another mode and learn that and you’ll be confidently shooting in manual mode before you know it. A good picture comes from a good recipe. That shot didn’t work out? Delete, adjust. It is so much easier to experiment in this age of digital cameras. Every single time you press the shutter button, you gain experience and can learn from it. And when it’s finally paid off and you’ve taken a really nice composition? Get it printed, framed and hang it on your wall. It’s an accomplishment, enjoy it, and show it off.

Take a photography class, join a club, read. There is now an amazing amount of information out there to pore over and it’s right at our fingertips.