Mike Cantwell Photography and Writing headshot

Being a Writer: Photography and Writing

There are many kinds of writers - and we all come to it from our own creative space. Michael Cantwell, today's guest poster, shares how his creativity in photography and writing are connected.
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Photography and Writing

by Michael Cantwell

Mike Cantwell Photography and Writing headshotOver twenty years ago, photography became a hobby of mine. My mentor informed me that, “It will take you ten years before you understand the dynamics of making an image.” At the time, I thought the guy was nuts.

Learning the Basics

Then he taught me about the darkroom. I learned about different developers and how they react to different papers. I learned how to overexpose and underexpose in the camera as well as doing it in the darkroom. I learned about composition and the zone system, among many other things.

“I realize my mentor was wrong”

Fast forward more than twenty years later and I realize my mentor was wrong. After twenty years, I am only now learning how much I still need to learn. With the age of digital cameras, people believe they are cheating the system. They think you can adjust the little doohickey to the sports guy on top and take an action shot. Flip it to the scenery icon and you can make the perfect landscape. I chuckle to myself when I run across people who believe you don’t have to learn the basics. To this day, despite having one of the best Nikon digital cameras made, I still adjust every shot manually. I cringe at the thought of using what the camera’s computer chip believes is the image in my mind. I want to control the light. In other words, I write an image in my voice.

Thinking back to the first few images I would show my mentor, his comment was always, “Is that your best?” I would stare at him with my ignorance and ego and proclaim, “It’s darn good.” He would again look at me and ask, “Maybe so, but is it your best?” After putting in a full day at work, then standing on my feet for several hours in his darkroom, it quickly became my best. Years later I look at those images and shutter.

Is This Your Best?

I started writing on a bet. I had no mentor, no direction, only a lunch bet I couldn’t do it. I pumped out that first manuscript and envisioned myself reaping all the awards of any bestselling novelist. It was my best, so I thought.

The following summer I joined a writers group. I also read everything I could find on the internet about being a top novelist. I ran across an article that stated you had to write ten novels before you have a clue about writing. I scoffed at the idea. I then thought back about the lesson I learned in photography and scoffed anyway. Writing and photography are so different I thought. There are plenty of examples of authors having success with their first offering, right?

“it takes several novels to find your true voice”

I am now writing my fifth novel. It’s likely I will read my first novel again one day and once again wince at my words. My first photographs were technically excellent but not in my voice. Maybe it takes several novels to find your true voice. For others, maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that every day when I sit and write, I hope to become better. People enjoyed my first novel and I am proud of it. Considering what I accomplished with as little knowledge I had about writing at the time, I am even more proud.

I still work as a freelance photographer. I shoot high school sports for a national company. Many of my images have been sold and published in books and newspapers as well as to individuals. I did find a voice in photography. But I learned the basics and paid my dues.
I am finding a new voice with my writing. Some of my readers think my first novel is the best. Others think it is the second and so on. Just like some people see something in an image and others don’t, I guess it’s the same way with books. It’s a matter of taste. But in the end, I now have learned yet again, whoever wrote it takes ten books before you can find your voice is dead wrong. I never want to think I have learned all I can learn about anything after ten years or ten books. My voice is constantly improving. What about yours?

Michael's fifth novel, Soul Directive, is available from Amazon in paperback and kindle format.

Finding your voice as an author is a process - how did you find yours? Tell us about it in the comments below. If you're too shy, please share the article with your friends!

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