Perfect Portrayal: A Photographer in the Making

Owen Moore

Artistic/Creative Endeavor

My STEP project revolved around taking photography workshops and spending more time with my camera to become a better photographer. As part of my project, I offered free photo-shoots to friends and peers in exchange for the opportunity to photograph them and use their portraits in my project. The last part of my project was learning to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit the photos I have taken.

The biggest thing about photography that I learned is the relationships that surround light. Being able to recognize how shutter-speed and aperture and ISO all affect each other and the end result of each is a huge part of becoming a successful photographer and imparting your personal taste into each photo you take.

One thing I uncovered about myself was the sheer amount of interest I have in photography, specifically portrait photography. I grew up loving cameras and photography but didn’t quite know how much passion I could have for the art until I was doing it twice a week. My love for communication and interaction was bolstered through this project, as I would plan with others for photo-shoots and we would tell jokes and stories as the shoot was happening.

Between my Shutterbug workshops and my field experiences, I learned that good photography doesn’t necessitate an amazing setting. A good photo can be taken anywhere, with any subject. One of the greatest things I learned from my workshop was to keep a sharp eye, even when I do not have a camera in-hand. I’ve learned to keep a close lookout for interesting phenomena and to look for beauty in the mundane, which I can honestly say has translated to an appreciation for my daily life.

After explaining the camera’s instinct/desire to average the light in every picture to grey, Braddley, my Shutterbug photography training instructor for both workshop courses, had us experiment with priority modes. These priority modes allowed us to set either aperture, shutter-speed, or ISO, and auto-determined the other two. Brad instructed us to look through the viewfinder and watch the tracker raise or lower shutter-speed as we moved the camera from light to darkness, or as we decreased or increased the size of the aperture. Even this simple activity was enough to teach the relationship between all three aspects, giving us the proof but also being present as a backboard for uncertainty and/or confirmation. A better understanding of these elements makes a photographer faster and more adept at creating the circumstances desired for any given photo.

This huge impact of seeing beauty in the mundane was set in motion by Braddley. One night, during instruction, he stopped in the middle of explaining a slide, and told us he wanted us all to look out the window. The light was coming over the trees in such an extravagant way. He explained to us that he spends five/six days a week in the same building, so the surroundings get somewhat commonplace, but that the image of the sunset made even power-lines and asphalt look peaceful. Braddley continued to explain the importance of always seeing beauty in your surroundings, as a photographer and otherwise. Surroundings physical and not. He divulged to us that his wife had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, but that the most important thing for her was for him to maintain his outlook and happiness. He and his wife’s friends threw her a pre-surgery party and did their best to see the beauty in an awful thing, and according to Brad this outlook made getting through recovery and remission so much easier for her. I have learned to try and adapt this optimistic outlook, both when looking through a viewfinder and when looking at my life.

I had an epiphany when photographing a couple a few weeks later. They were very joyful, and they laughed so genuinely. I hardly had to instruct them to do anything for the pictures, which made the shoot even better. Michael had told me beforehand that his girlfriend Caroline was moving in the coming weeks, and that he was staying in Columbus, and that they would likely part ways when that time came. This news was very sad for me, and I could sense his hurt in his voice. But once we started our photo-shoot, I could sense their optimism and resolve to enjoy the time they had left together. I was moved and elated, and I had more vision for my photography than normal, taking shots that I loved in front of backgrounds such as sheds and benches that I would have once found dull and wasteful of my time.

After brief posing instructions and minutes of pretending to look through photos on my camera, I disappeared in the minds of Michael and Caroline, managing to catch quite a few genuine moments with this beautiful couple.

This reimagination of scenery and new-found appreciation for the little details in life has sparked in me a new feeling of blessedness, and it has provided me a great bit of new opportunity, as a growing person and as a poet as well. My long-term goal is to attend grad school for an MFA in Poetry, and eventually use this degree to instruct these classes at a collegiate level. Not only is remaining positive and unjaded a huge part of pursuing a Master’s Degree, noticing details in something you’ve seen or interacted with every day makes for both better poetry and a better understanding of other people. Any chance I have to engage with others with empathy, as an instructor, a poet, and a decent human being is extremely important for all parties involved. Trust and vulnerability are a huge part of writing workshop classrooms – and life – and being able to recognize small but important details in the writing, actions, and expressions of others is so much more important than accounting for the amount of light in a picture.

Shot on a column of stairs set back in the northern Olentangy Trail, the hopeful curiosity of the girl contrasts with the lack of light and the feeling of fear to discuss the loaded complexity of what night means for women.

If interested in seeing a brief snapshot of my work over the course of this project, you can find my portrait Instagram account @omensphoto or at

Impact of Toursim on Yellowstone and Mesa Verde

Maggie Tullis

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor

1)For my STEP project I traveled to 2 of our National Parks, Mesa Verde and Yellowstone, to assess the environmental impact our tourism has on the sustainability of our land. I randomly surveyed 50 visitors from each park and took pictures of tourists breaking the Leave No Trace guidelines.

 2) This trip was one of my first solo cross-country trip so that alone empowered me travel the world and seek my own truth without relying on another person to coordinate logistics. The opportunity to plan every detail of my 7-day journey has given me transferable skills to running my nonprofit organization, Fresh Start, and my on campus job within the Office of Student Life as the Student Lead for Student Organizations. One skill that grew immensely while organizing my STEP project was my ability to diligently and independently craft and manage a project. This skill will help my future career within the pharmaceutical business as a Project Manager. Another ability I cultivated on this trip was the ability to network with strangers and asking them to take my survey while they were on their vacation. Prior to this trip, I have always been more reserved and always very considerate of others time. This project allowed to me expand my networking capabilities and has given me the confidence to go up to strangers and talk to them. Finally, this project allowed me to view people objectively and assess their actions to analyze their respect for our National Parks. Classic parks like Yellowstone has been a tourist attraction for decades. Upon entering the park, I was stunned how much infrastructure was built in the park and how close the attractions were to the animals. I felt extremely saddened that we have left our greed degrade the originality of these lands.

3)There were three main events that lead me to really realize the personal transformation that occurred while completing this project. The first of which pushed me to expand my network and enhance the relationships I already had. My STEP mentor, Greg Booton, was a vital source to helping me coordinate my project and allowed me to expand my vision. Over this year long interaction with him, I formed a friendship with him that has set me up for success. He became the Faculty Advisor for my student organization and is now my President’s Prize letter of recommendation. This mentorship that developed because of STEP will always be one of the most valuable aspect that came about because of my project. With relation to the expansion of my network, I reached out to Leave No Trace prior to my trip and I was able to communicate with an employee there to learn more about their guidelines to accurately create my survey to assess the effect of tourism on our National Parks. While at the parks, I met multiple park rangers to get an insider’s perspective of the impact that the tourism has on the ecology and environment within the grounds.

 Secondly, on my project I gained immense self-confidence and self-assuredness while traveling alone across the country. I had always dreamed of doing a solo trip where I could explore the world without the expectation to conform to another person’s agenda of the trip. Throughout the academic year, I formed my proposal and began planning all of the logistics of my project. By meticulously going through all of the details that I gained many administrative skills and the ability to generate surveys that would accurately depict what I was seeking to find out. This project has allowed me to embrace my self and the ability I have to be independent. As I was traveling out west, I met many people who were vacationing and one event that really surprised me was that nearly all of the people I had met were foreigners and came from across the world to drive across our country. After multiple conversations, many of them stating how beautiful our country is and how excited they were to be here. I came to two conclusions, one being that as Americans we are taking our country for granted. I don’t mean politically, we take nearly every park we have for granted by underfunding the upkeep and preservation of their environment. Secondly, I decided that I need to do more research to analyze the public’s opinion on how important the parks and other American attractions because I know many people who have never traveled even a few hours to see our country’s capital. Conversely, I met multiple families who had travelled across the world to see our National Parks.

Lastly, while traveling alone, driving 14 hours a day and camping by myself were all challenges that I was excited to tackle. I found myself day by day getting more comfortable being alone and surround by nature. The second night I slept in my tent within Yellowstone, I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard a rustle near my campsite. I immediately turned on my lantern and peaked out from my tent and I saw a buffalo walking around the campgrounds. I was obviously very scared, but I soon realized that he was just wandering throughout the park and I was in his territory. I became very grateful for the land that I was sleeping on and found a new respect in the nature that surrounded me. This realization has changed my perspective on the National Parks and infrastructure in general. I have decided to seek out environmentally conscious companies for nearly everything I purchase to try and ease the impact our industrialization has on the rest of our world.

4) As stated above, I gained many transferable skills by completing this project ranging from building interpersonal relationships to gaining administrative experience. Prior to going on this trip, I hade been on the fence about becoming a physician and attending medical school post-graduation. After completing my project, I realized that I did not want to go into the medical field and wanted to pursue my other passions. One of those being the expansion of my nonprofit organization that focuses providing essential hygiene products to the homeless population. This trip gave me the confidence in my leadership abilities and management skills to start this process. Since then, my organization has donated 2,500 GoBags to the Columbus homeless community.  Another passion of mine is the pharmaceutical impacts on the neurologic systems and nervous system. This project allowed me to expand on my networking abilities that will help when seeking a job after I get my MBA next year. I’m really grateful for STEP for giving me the opportunity to expand my horizons and enable me to gain invaluable skills that I plan to take with me in my future endeavors.

Matt’s STEP Project: Produce and Release Guitar Instrumental

My step project was to develop my guitar skills and create a song and have it produced. In order to get the skills, I needed to make an instrumental song, I took lessons from Dan Peters, a renowned guitarist in the Chicagoland area. I also went in to a music studio to have my music recorded and produced.

This project taught me that there are so many aspects of life, and that what I choose to spend my time on is what will shape who I am. For example, when I saw the expertise that the producers in the studio had, I was amazed. They knew all the ins and outs of producing music. This is a rather specific skill to have, and made me realize how many potential paths that I could take in my life. They chose to spend much of there time becoming experts in the art of music. My guitar teacher spend much of his time becoming an expert in playing guitar. What I choose to spend my time at is what will define who I am.

My interaction with the producer at the studio changed the way I saw the world. As I mentioned in my previous response, I was amazed at the expertise that they possessed. Not only that, but the specificity was very impressive and intimidating at the same time.

It is such a specific field, and takes thousands of hours to become proficient at. The same idea applies to my guitar teacher; there are tons of instruments, all (arguably) equal in value. So why do people chose the instruments that they choose? Why do people decide to put tons of hours into becoming so proficient in a particular art form? These are questions that I never asked myself but now find myself asking constantly.

And finally, I realized the importance of family, and that they are my number one support network. I came to this realization from both positive and negative experiences. One of my parents was very supportive of my music and made me feel good and like what I was doing had meaning. My other parent made me feel like I was wasting my time and all this effort that I was putting into this was useless.

This transformation is valuable to my life because it not only taught me a different way to look at myself, but also it taught me a different way to look at others. We are all different, we all have different interest. What I might find valuable and “cool”, another may find worthless and “lame”. This project taught me the importance of acknowledging that not everyone has the same objective reality. When communicating with others, I must realize that we both don’t see the world the same way, and that I must appreciate what is important to them, even if it isn’t important to me.