Or does it? The writer in me wants to argue. Surely we can do more with our words than a painter or a photographer can do with a single image.
Then you see something like this:
And suddenly I am not so sure. Dang, but that’s good. That’s very good indeed.
This photograph was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936. It’s a mother and her two children, poor migrant workers in California.
Could we write a scene to capture emotions like that? Maybe, maybe not. There is a weariness and a sense of hopelessness. We could build it up in words, layer by layer. Show the emotions of the woman and the two children. Get beneath the skin by exposing their feelings.
Could we capture it all in an instant? That would not be easy.
You see, I’ve been experimenting with photography. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still first and foremost a writer. “Love, Death and Wyrds” – the sequel to “Love, Death and Tea” – is finished and will be published soon. I’m almost finished with the first draft of “First Contact for Beginners”, the sequel to “Global Domination for Beginners”. And there are three other non-fiction books nearly finished too.
I don’t think photography will ever be a huge thing for me. It’s an itch that had to be scratched. Nothing more, nothing less.
So I have bought a “decent” camera – a Nikon D3300 DSLR, if you must know. I’ve done my usual thing of buying lots of books and reading a lot. And I’ve joined a local beginners’ training course.
The first surprise is that the world of photography and the world of writing are very similar. There is a very flat pyramid with a huge number of amateurs at the bottom and a very small number of superstars at the top.
Most of the people at the bottom of the pyramid dream about making it to the top. Most give up. A small few make it to the middle and then sell books or make Youtube videos to the ones in the middle about how to succeed.
Both photography and writing are much easier to get into than before. I have read somewhere that there have been more photographs taken in a few years of smartphone selfies than in nearly two centuries of film photography that came first. That feels about the same as the huge number of self-published novels on Amazon.
But just because something is easy to do does not mean that it is easy to do well. Good technique is still important, and technique comes with practice, as it always has.
One other thing that has intrigued me is that good photography and good writing both rely on knowing what to leave out. With a few exceptions, the strongest photographs are uncluttered. Your eye rests on a main object or two. This is what differentiates a professional photographer from the sort of snapshots that I’ve been taking up to now. The professional takes time to find the right place to shoot. He or she is careful to exclude any unnecessary elements in the image. The average snapper sees an interesting scene and bang! takes a photo there and then.
It’s the same with writing. The amateur wants to stuff in more details, because details are good, right? Juicy adverbs, adjectives, unusual nouns and verbs. And instead of being more expressive the writing becomes more purple.
One difference is that photography lends itself to Youtube more readily than writing because it is a more visual medium. And, I suspect, photographers are more comfortable with the technology to make videos. If there is anything I don’t understand about photography – which is a lot at the moment! – I can quickly search for a video of someone showing me the answer. It is like having an army of teachers on hand to help me all the time.
Writing has its forums and discussion sites, but it’s not so easy to show someone how to do something.
There is one thing that is almost identical between writing and photography. They both seem to create little wars and disagreements between different factions. Some photographers get very heated about a thing called RAW which is apparently better or worse (depending on who you speak to) than a thing called JPEG. And that feels very similar to writers arguing about the word “said” or the split infinitive.
It’s an interesting adventure. As I learn a new technique in photography, I keep asking myself “would this also apply to writing?”
Much more than you might think.