Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

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The camera doesn’t lie, but your eyes might deceive you

Cameras, by their very nature, record objective views of whatever they’re being pointed at when you press the shutter. We all know the image you’ve just captured can be modified, played with and otherwise altered either in the darkroom, if film is used, or on the computer using one of the many photo processing programmes that are available.

One of these programmes is so popular its very name has become synonymous with altering photos – PhotoShop. (Personally I prefer Corel PaintShop Pro X6.) Given that most digital cameras darken an image by varying amounts up to 40%, all I usually do with my images is restore that brightness I saw through the viewfinder.

But manipulation of images isn’t the point of this posting. When you look at an image of yourself, or at yourself in a mirror, you don’t see the actual image or the reflection. We all carry a mental image of how we look in our minds and that picture affects what we see. Here’s an example:

five miles of leg 01 Sept 97 DRThis was taken in September 1997, on an evening I was going to a party with some friends. It took me six months before I could accept that image as the way I looked because it didn’t match my mental picture of myself. Now, for most people, once that realization hits home, it may elicit a reaction of “damn, I’m lookin’ good” or ‘oh God, tell me I don’t really look like that”.

But, if you’re a transwoman, the effects of seeing that image may be more devastating. To the person viewing that photo, there may still be signs of “him” visible in the picture. That nobody else may see those signs doesn’t matter, to the transwoman, the signs are there, shining like a spotlight. The effects of this can be demoralizing. All this time trying to put the past behind us and we feel betrayed by what we see in the photo.

As the title said, your eyes may be lying to you. You’re the only person who sees that former life in the photo. All the rest of the world sees is a good-looking woman.

When it comes to your reflection in a mirror, or a photo of yourself, just keep in mind that you can’t always believe what you see.

Cat.