I’ve been a photographer longer than I’ve been a writer. In fact, the pursuit of landscape photography led me to develop and hone my writing.
While the two fields may seem disparate at first, upon closer inspection they’re more similar than you might think. Both serve as platforms through which to express the creator’s view of the world. Both value beauty—be that through elegance or eloquence—to communicate ideas. And, to become skilled, both require equal measures of the artistic and the technical.
As you digest this piece, I urge you to consider your own pursuits, and see how lessons acquired throughout the learning process might be applied to your own writing.
The Path From Photography to Writing
I first became hooked on landscape photography to capture—as best I could—the stunning scenes in nature. The pursuit unveiled to me moments of wonder the majority of the population will never have the privilege of experiencing. To see the sun rising over Sydney Harbour while the city sleeps. To hike through forests—in the rain—to experience the torrential fury of a waterfall at full flow.
What kept me hooked was not only to seek out new locations to discover, but to then share these images. To inspire others to do likewise and highlight the wealth of beauty our natural world has to offer.
As part of the discovery process, I documented my adventures through travel blogs. Early posts were image-heavy, or focused on the technical elements behind the photo. Yet, through my writing, I soon shared my thoughts about the places I visited—the people, the culture.
This led to fewer pieces about photography itself, and broader pieces about creativity and embracing failure. I began to fully appreciate the power words had in expressing and spreading ideas. So much so, in fact, I created Word Craft to focus solely on words and writing—there’s not a single photo on the site.
While painting can be thought of as adding elements to an image, photography relies on taking them away. For instance, a photographer’s thought-process could involve visiting a crowd-free avenue on sunrise, or moving a foot to the left to keep a particular tree out of frame.
Photographers remove distractions. Why? To focus the viewer’s attention on the key elements they wish to highlight—the elements which best capture their vision of the scene.
I’ve found the same approach holds true for writing. Perhaps even more so.
Writers can’t afford for their words to be confusing or to spill out aimlessly. The writing needs to go somewhere. It needs to tell a captivating story. It needs to share a thought, idea or opinion of value.
This is where masterful editors come into their own. They remove what distracts to heighten the impact of what remains.
Your reader’s attention is a limited resource. Don’t squander it.
Perseverance and Discipline
Landscape photography is a pursuit of perseverance and discipline.
It takes time to create stunning photos—I’m still learning after five years myself. It takes well-honed intuition to know how to align for the scene’s most appealing composition. It takes withstanding howling winds and torrential rain. It takes sacrificing hours of sleep in the hunt for the perfect light.
Often I’d go out to photograph only to return without having taken an image I’m satisfied with. Rather than being disheartened, I began to relish the pursuit of creation itself. To get out and practice as much as I could. To build and refine my skill set. Piece by piece, day by day.
Applied to my writing, this lesson taught me it was okay to give myself time to come into my own with my writing. It taught me to accept I wasn’t going to be the next Hemingway or Rowling overnight—but to respect the journey and critically examine my craft.
Landscape photography stressed the importance of viewing writing as a lifelong pursuit. To participate and persevere through today, so I might be better tomorrow.
A Platform to Share How I Saw the World
As my skill in landscape photography grew, so too did the number of people who viewed — and commented on—my work. I’d explain the process I used to plan and capture complex shots or share my advice on advanced editing techniques.
Even my Instagram captions became a source of creative expression. I’d use them as an opportunity to express my thoughts on appreciating the beauty in a natural scene, or advocating that drone pilots heed caution when they fly.
Becoming comfortable in openly sharing my thoughts and opinions through my photos, allowed me to do the same with my writing. I spoke to the importance of creating work with meaning. I advised caution in not becoming a slave to social media, chasing the next like or follower.
Writing allowed me to share my thoughts beyond the realm of photography. It gave me a voice to express and discuss ideas of value with others.
The Intersection of Creativity and Knowledge
Lastly, both photography and writing lay within the intersection of artistry and expertise.
In photography, for example, you can’t capture the Milky Way without the right gear or know-how—you need to operate a sturdy tripod, a fast lens, and have an understanding of the basics of astrophotography. Conversely, you can’t capture a fine-art photo without elements of creativity—you need to find a pleasing composition and manipulate light in novel ways.
Great photographers are well versed in both areas. So too, are great writers.
The best writers have a solid understanding on the rules of grammar, a broad grasp on definitions, and understand the ‘rules’ and customs of their field/genre. They must also act as artists—sharing original thoughts, crafting captivating stories or presenting ideas from new perspectives.
I’ve still got some way to go before I’m proficient in either area. Yet I’m taking the time to improve both, knowing my writing will be better for it.
When we pursue our passions, it’s often tempting to compare our efforts to masters in the field. And when we do, we’ll come up short. Early on, we’ll come up very short. Of course we will—they’ve been working on their craft for years, decades even.
Above all else, my journey with landscape photography instilled in me the importance of persevering with the craft I care so much about. Like writing, there are foundational elements to be built upon. There are techniques to study and apply.
However, it’s through continual practice and refinement that we begin to forge an approach of our own. We learn when to rely upon established conventions and when to go against them. We find our voice, so we might create and share work of value.