Photographers Can Teach Writers How to See

Journalists and photojournalists (or writers and photographers–however you want to label them) live in intersecting worlds. Although the work they do is ultimately very different, I believe they can help each other.

Palestinian boys in Deir Istiya, West Bank pose themselves for my camera. (Genevieve Long)

Good photojournalists are tenacious and often daring. They are willing to wait for hours to get the shot they need. How often do reporters do that? Photographers are also keenly aware of their surroundings, and move their way into the right space to get the photograph they need or want.

Even though I am a journalist and writer primarily, a few years ago I took up photography to at least learn the basics. The first thing I realized is that most photographers are very committed to practicing.

Gabby Kanahele in Honolulu, Hawaii. Gabby was taught by Duke Kahanamoku how to surf, among others. (Genevieve Long)

During a four-day training session I took, the photographer giving the class told us, “If it’s been one day since you’ve picked up your camera and used it, it’s been too long.” Imagine if writers–other than those who have excelled at their craft–had that mentality. There would probably be mountains more work produced by writers and journalists every day.

Boys in Granada, Nicaragua kick a plastic bottle as a toy. (Genevieve Long)

Many accomplished photographers will also tell you that they carry a camera with them everywhere they go. Ashley Gilbertson does it. Paul McDonough does it. They do it because it’s natural to them to photograph; it’s how they see the world.

The ancient, famed aqueduct remains in Caesarea, Israel. (Genevieve Long)

I love photographers because the good ones can get to the truth just by getting behind their camera and taking a picture. They think and act and move in response to the situation they are in. They look at what is in front of them and find the pictures waiting to be discovered.

Writers could learn from that. I know I have.

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