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.
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.
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 https://www.instagram.com/omensphoto/