Outside the comfort zone: A newbie learns to appreciate the camera

I play a LOT of golf. Once you graduate from outright beginner, you learn some enduring truths about that game rather quickly.

For example, there is in golf a mechanical / technical component to success and an artistic / creative one. You need the right equipment and swing fundamentals (technical), but also the vision to navigate your way around the course in a way that maximizes those fundamentals (artistic). It does a player little good to have a state-of-the-art driver, for example, if he uses it overzealously and is regularly out of bounds.

That, to me, is the emerging truth from these three weeks of camera introduction. The best photographers are those who can unite their artistic vision with the capabilities of their equipment.

As a professional drawn to this industry by a love of words, and the power they generate, the camera always has been an abstraction to me. The language of photography — so vastly scientific — seemed to share more with technical writing, not journalism, so why bother?

Paradoxically, as disinterested as I was, I still held in the highest esteem those who could execute so precisely the challenges of photojournalism, which, as my examples indicate, I cannot.

So I am either well-placed in my industry or incapable of professional development. Take your pick: It’s perhaps a bit of both.

Hidden in every cliche is a small truth. You have heard people say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It is perhaps an overstatement, but there is no denying the impact of compelling photography to any work of journalism.

To create compelling images, however, it helps to have an understanding of what a camera does. To be honest, I had very little. It’s only after three weeks of readings and discussions that I am beginning to comprehend the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and how that is manifested in the photos I took, most of which, again, failed to hit the mark.

Why is all that important?

Writers with outsized egos might not want to admit it, but words alone never will inspire a reader to invest his or her time in the morning paper or daily website. Images drive reader interest better than any pithy turn of phrase or salient observation. Yet images alone often can be orphans crying out for the context words provide.

So it is essential for any wannabe journalist to recognize how the harmony of these two enterprises helps the news organization reach its maximum potential. And while photojournalists practice an art distinct from my native one, if I want to better understand the challenges they confront it’s best if I at least can speak their language.

Advice to potential reporters and aspiring editors: Pick up a camera and owner’s manual. Don’t be overwhelmed by their sophistication. Take your best shots, literally and metaphorically.

Test the limits of your camera’s capabilities and your artistic vision. Make this an inspirational undertaking not an intimidating one.


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