Gopal M S On Writing More & Photographing Better

 

Gopal M S talks about simple ways in which writing more will actually help with your photography.

This story was originally published in June 2014.

Even before the active democratisation of photography that we are participants of, there was a democratisation of words through self published blogs. Technology has made it possible for all of us to share more images and stories than ever before. Images can convey what words cannot. Words often convey what images cannot. But in daily practice, words and images are inseparable.

Many of us are already thinking of when and where we will be sharing our images even before we click a photograph. Once we share the image on the blog, we are thinking of captions, tags, hashtags, and if you are a blogger, you will even write a 1000 words to add to the thousand an image is supposed to contain. If you are shooting images for a photoessay, on an assignment or for a book, words become critical. While you have the option of getting a writer to add words to your story, knowing how to write will be an added asset.

I have a friend from Kerala who shoots the most amazing landscapes. He is probably one of the best I have seen but he is not the most sought after photographer. You rarely see photographs by him in the major travel magazines even though he could outdo what you find there. That’s because while he spends seriously good time to get the right photograph, he doesn’t think before he shares his image online, or when he makes a presentation when he meets people they often dismiss him because he comes across as talented but doesn’t understand what a magazine wants.  His captions are quotes found through online search. He doesn’t bother to correct spellings. He often just describes the image which if left alone would speak a thousand words. His words kill the image.

Photo editors from magazines who see our images look for more than just beautiful images. While the photograph is most important, how you present them and in most cases it’s the words that accompany the images that make a huge difference.

Words are more than caption, title and descriptor that you chose for your image or set of images. In a world where images are used and seen in many different ways, they take the form of a script for a multimedia show, a slide on a website, even the online album of photographs you took at your sister’s wedding.

While we go to zoo to observe and learn about animals, it's also interesting to observe ourselves, our habits and social interactions. Here is a typical Indian family on holiday, outside an enclosure in the Darjeeling zoo. May 2014 Photograph/Gopal M S

While we go to zoo to observe and learn about animals, it’s also interesting to observe ourselves, our habits and social interactions. Here is a typical Indian family on holiday, outside an enclosure in the Darjeeling zoo. May 2014
Photograph/Gopal M S

When you learn photography from the masters, they teach you great techniques and way to see the world. But the biggest difference they make is in the way they edit their images and present them to the world.  They are great because they are the best storytellers in the field. Their photographs tells stories like the great writers.  And more often than not they can be good writers and speakers if they choose to do that. It’s mainly because they understand how to use words.

So what are the secrets of using good words?

–          Less is more.

–          Keep it simple. The images are the hero and your words should provide something more and usually what is not seen in the image.

–          Words should add to the story you are trying to convey.

–          Words give wings to your idea.

–          Write slowly and think before you use each word. Writing makes you think.

–          Never describe your image unless it is something that your audience does not understand.

–          Read more. Reading good writing is the best way to improve your writing.

–          Look at more photoessays and books of photographs by the great masters.

–          The language you use is not important. Write in the language you communicate best in

–           Just because most people online use English does not mean that you should use English too. Each Indian language has more speakers than most major International languages and they are all online and reading newspapers and books. If you can use multiple languages like most Indians, use them to reach out to more people.

–          Don’t feel shy to use songs and poetry. If you can experiment with photography, you can experiment with words.

–          You are a photographer because you are creative. You like experimenting with new things. You see the world differently from others, so when you write, bring that difference out with the simplest of words.

–          Read more. Write more. The more we shoot, the better we get, similarly, the more we think and write, the better we get.

–          Everyone loves stories. Whether it is one picture or a set of images, always engage people with stories.

The simplest thing to do among all this is pause for a moment before your put words that accompany your image. That little moment could transform you image from good to very good.

William Egglestone's Guide has an introduction written by John Szarkowski. you can read it here.

William Egglestone’s Guide has an introduction written by John Szarkowski. you can read it here.

Gopal M S is a blogger who documents Mumbai’s streets at www.mumbaipaused.com He is also a copywriter with an ad agency in Mumbai. You can find him on Twitter: @mumbaipaused and on Instagram: @mumbaipaused 

Tags: Gopal M S, Photographing better, photography, shooting better, Visual Musings, Write more, writing, zoo