Thursday, December 5, 2013

What photography taught me about life and writing...

Look for different perspectives.
A few years ago I taught journalism and yearbook in a local high school. Photography was an important part of my instruction in both courses. One has to develop an eye to be able to take in and tell a story—visual and otherwise. I had been thinking about that concept all this week and was trying to distill the thoughts into a cohesive whole. As life would have it, I had lunch with a former teaching colleague today, and do you know what he brought up? That we should look at life with perspective (through a photographer’s lens—in so many words). Our conversation crystalized my thoughts. So, here goes.

One must know when to pull back—take a wide angle shot—to get the big picture of what is going on. This is true in life and in writing, as well. Look at a situation or scene in a general sense. Get a feel for place and time, the major players, and what might be lost or gained. And would it be worth the effort?

One must also know when to get close to a subject—to zoom in and get a “head shot” of sorts. A closer inspection or more involvement is sometimes required in life and in writing, too. In a personal way, this may be concentrating on a relationship or a problem. In writing, it may be focusing in on a conversation between two characters. It is about the perspective of the here and now.

And then sometimes we need a macro or a more detailed shot of something. Minute details are important and nothing is too small. In life this is might be about doing something yourself, like making your daughter’s prom dress by choosing the fabric, the pattern and sewing and fitting it specifically to her. In writing, it may require detailed text about how a character who had just lost her beloved dog picked at chipping nail polish until all her fingernails were jagged red and partially bare—half exposed, vulnerable, perhaps like her heart.

Knowing which angle to choose at what time makes all the difference. I remember once I supervised a group of students at the school’s beauty pageant. During the “big numbers” when all the girls were singing and dancing, my journalism/yearbook students had no problem standing back and taking wide-angle shots, but when it came to capturing the emotion on individual faces, they became uncomfortable and wouldn’t walk close to the stage. I had to grab my personal camera and stand by the stage to capture the anxiety and joy on each face. It is that way sometimes in life and in writing. We become uncomfortable and don’t want to get too involved. And at other times in life—with our families and our jobs—we lose perspective of the big picture because we don’t want to stand back and let go of the details.

So I said all this to impart my wisdom about perspective. Consciously think about which is best for each situation. You could end up with more understanding about your community, your job, your life and the people in it. By adjusting the zoom, you could also end up with a better-told story. And ultimately, you could end up with great photographs!