Photo: Unsplash/Jamie Street

How Learning Photography Made Me a Better Writer

When I was young, I was first exposed to the art of photography from my dad. He would lug around a large portable camera and camcorder back then. His hobby typically involved capturing moments of family get-togethers during the holidays as well as celebrations such as birthdays, baptisms, wedding ceremonies, etc.

As the years went by, so did the evolution of technology and photography. The innovation and introduction of Digital SLR cameras opened a new dimension in presenting photography as an art form. While many used photo editing software to render photographed images with dramatic effects and unique alterations, my dad shamelessly stuck to cheesy preset camera filters you typically find in a photo kiosk at the mall – the classic borders with stars, fireworks, smiley faces…you name it.

As the pace of technology grew rapidly, old school cameras and camcorders began to be replaced with smaller digital alternatives and smartphones, and there were many options available to amateur photographers. Well, it was only a matter of time before my dad slowly stopped carrying around that black camera bag of his altogether and carried on with life.

I never really thought much about his past hobby in photography until recently, when I told my father how desperately I needed a good camera to take with me on my study abroad to Japan. Perhaps fueled by nostalgia, or as a rite of passage, or as a father passing on the torch to his son – or maybe a little bit of it all mixed together – he bought me my very first Nikon DSLR. At that moment, I felt like I was somehow meant to take his place as the photographer he once aspired to become.

My Development as a Photographer

Besides taking pictures of all the uniquely shaped buildings I came across, I kept my friends and family up to date with vlogs describing my first impressions of my stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to learn much about using the advanced DSLR camera before the trip, and I wasn’t surprised that I missed several shots because of my lack of understanding how it worked.

Auto mode saved me through most of my trip, though, but I really wish I knew how to properly take pictures using the manual mode; no amount of Photoshop can recreate the precious moments of smiles and laughter, much of which is now a blur (literally and metaphorically speaking).

After my return to Seattle, I went through my photo collection of everything I captured while in Japan. It was difficult for me to hit the delete key every time the main focus of my shot was blurry: I think I facepalmed enough times to realize how essential it is to educate myself on the fundamental art of photography and how to properly use my camera.

After watching countless hours of YouTube videos on how to compose light, I began to effectively make use of my shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. After experimenting with changes in my photography, it resulted in drastically better shots; they were crisp and the subjects were better focused and well exposed. After addressing the technical aspects, I found it easy to improve my technique; I would find myself standing over ledges, bending my knees to the ground, keeping my elbows tucked toward the sides of my chest.

Rooftop Seating by John Hafzalla

I couldn’t stop myself. It was exhilarating to see how much I improved in such a short period of time. I didn’t think that I would end up taking pictures at the bottom of trails or at parks around midnight – if there was an opportunity to try shooting something differently, I wouldn’t hesitate to take some risks to capture the moment. I say this because photographing something at night or during the day makes a big difference in how we perceive the image, our emotional response, and whether an environment appears safe or dangerous.

Space Needle at Night by John Hafzalla

My father was not tech savvy with computers; but I knew I had to pick up the missing piece that he left out of his repertoire of skills. Photoshop and Lightroom by Adobe are the programs that I used to practice editing my photos.

With enough practice, patience, and perseverance, my photos went from average to vibrant beauties: I was truly mesmerized by the difference I could make just by pushing a few sliders up and down and using a circle brush. It becomes evident how changing tones and colors of a photo effectively alter the mood of a scene, ultimately evoking feelings not possible from the original (the monochrome scheme is a personal favorite of mine).

Monochrome Book on Table by John Hafzalla

Photography and Writing

What does pushing a button on a camera have anything to do with writing? I found that there existed an overlap between the two fields of artistic practice.

Here’s an example to consider:

A writer may attempt to deliver a message through a story about a homeless man that describes his physical features, what he’s wearing, what he’s doing, his surroundings, and other such details for readers to envision through words.

On the other hand, a photographer may attempt to state a message by capturing a photo of an emaciated homeless man wearing tattered clothing in the corner of the picture while reading a book amidst a throng of passersby staring at their phones to elicit thought through imagery.

The writer uses words to create mental imagery while the photographer uses pictures to describe things visually: an imaginative and descriptive mind becomes the fulcrum of any story-telling.

Through my experience with photography, I became more observant of my surroundings during my writing sessions. Often, I would think back to the places I had visited in my photo shoots and try to remember the sights, smells, and sounds that were imbued in my head. It became easier for me to describe scenery by recalling the ambience, the temperature, and distinctive qualities about the environments and objects I saw. I would think about how I could describe the image I was photographing and the impression it left on me.

As is the case with creative writing, photography is a constant pursuit of broadening and refining one’s aesthetic potential. I encourage writers to pick up your camera/phone and see if you can tell a story using just pictures; ask someone what comes to mind as they look at your pictures and see how they compare to your vision and the story you’re trying to tell. Sure enough, you’ll wonder what kind of lens they’re looking through, and it will help you think about how you express yourself through words.

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In a few words, my greatest joys in life are fueled by words and pictures. Pretty simple right? I strive to inspire people through my writing and photography so they too can pursue their passions and fight for happier days when the rough times hit.

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How Learning Photography Made Me a Better Writer

When I was young, I was first exposed to the art of photography from my dad. He would lug around a large portable camera and camcorder back then. His hobby typically involved capturing moments of family get-togethers during the holidays as well as celebrations such as birthdays, baptisms, wedding ceremonies, etc.

As the years went by, so did the evolution of technology and photography. The innovation and introduction of Digital SLR cameras opened a new dimension in presenting photography as an art form. While many used photo editing software to render photographed images with dramatic effects and unique alterations, my dad shamelessly stuck to cheesy preset camera filters you typically find in a photo kiosk at the mall – the classic borders with stars, fireworks, smiley faces…you name it.

As the pace of technology grew rapidly, old school cameras and camcorders began to be replaced with smaller digital alternatives and smartphones, and there were many options available to amateur photographers. Well, it was only a matter of time before my dad slowly stopped carrying around that black camera bag of his altogether and carried on with life.

I never really thought much about his past hobby in photography until recently, when I told my father how desperately I needed a good camera to take with me on my study abroad to Japan. Perhaps fueled by nostalgia, or as a rite of passage, or as a father passing on the torch to his son – or maybe a little bit of it all mixed together – he bought me my very first Nikon DSLR. At that moment, I felt like I was somehow meant to take his place as the photographer he once aspired to become.

My Development as a Photographer

Besides taking pictures of all the uniquely shaped buildings I came across, I kept my friends and family up to date with vlogs describing my first impressions of my stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to learn much about using the advanced DSLR camera before the trip, and I wasn’t surprised that I missed several shots because of my lack of understanding how it worked.

Auto mode saved me through most of my trip, though, but I really wish I knew how to properly take pictures using the manual mode; no amount of Photoshop can recreate the precious moments of smiles and laughter, much of which is now a blur (literally and metaphorically speaking).

After my return to Seattle, I went through my photo collection of everything I captured while in Japan. It was difficult for me to hit the delete key every time the main focus of my shot was blurry: I think I facepalmed enough times to realize how essential it is to educate myself on the fundamental art of photography and how to properly use my camera.

After watching countless hours of YouTube videos on how to compose light, I began to effectively make use of my shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. After experimenting with changes in my photography, it resulted in drastically better shots; they were crisp and the subjects were better focused and well exposed. After addressing the technical aspects, I found it easy to improve my technique; I would find myself standing over ledges, bending my knees to the ground, keeping my elbows tucked toward the sides of my chest.

Rooftop Seating by John Hafzalla

I couldn’t stop myself. It was exhilarating to see how much I improved in such a short period of time. I didn’t think that I would end up taking pictures at the bottom of trails or at parks around midnight – if there was an opportunity to try shooting something differently, I wouldn’t hesitate to take some risks to capture the moment. I say this because photographing something at night or during the day makes a big difference in how we perceive the image, our emotional response, and whether an environment appears safe or dangerous.

Space Needle at Night by John Hafzalla

My father was not tech savvy with computers; but I knew I had to pick up the missing piece that he left out of his repertoire of skills. Photoshop and Lightroom by Adobe are the programs that I used to practice editing my photos.

With enough practice, patience, and perseverance, my photos went from average to vibrant beauties: I was truly mesmerized by the difference I could make just by pushing a few sliders up and down and using a circle brush. It becomes evident how changing tones and colors of a photo effectively alter the mood of a scene, ultimately evoking feelings not possible from the original (the monochrome scheme is a personal favorite of mine).

Monochrome Book on Table by John Hafzalla

Photography and Writing

What does pushing a button on a camera have anything to do with writing? I found that there existed an overlap between the two fields of artistic practice.

Here’s an example to consider:

A writer may attempt to deliver a message through a story about a homeless man that describes his physical features, what he’s wearing, what he’s doing, his surroundings, and other such details for readers to envision through words.

On the other hand, a photographer may attempt to state a message by capturing a photo of an emaciated homeless man wearing tattered clothing in the corner of the picture while reading a book amidst a throng of passersby staring at their phones to elicit thought through imagery.

The writer uses words to create mental imagery while the photographer uses pictures to describe things visually: an imaginative and descriptive mind becomes the fulcrum of any story-telling.

Through my experience with photography, I became more observant of my surroundings during my writing sessions. Often, I would think back to the places I had visited in my photo shoots and try to remember the sights, smells, and sounds that were imbued in my head. It became easier for me to describe scenery by recalling the ambience, the temperature, and distinctive qualities about the environments and objects I saw. I would think about how I could describe the image I was photographing and the impression it left on me.

As is the case with creative writing, photography is a constant pursuit of broadening and refining one’s aesthetic potential. I encourage writers to pick up your camera/phone and see if you can tell a story using just pictures; ask someone what comes to mind as they look at your pictures and see how they compare to your vision and the story you’re trying to tell. Sure enough, you’ll wonder what kind of lens they’re looking through, and it will help you think about how you express yourself through words.

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