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Why Writers Are Better Than Photographers

October 30, 2014

You know Leslie, if you screw up the song, no one will remember it in a year. If I screw up the pictures, they will remember it forever.

You do realize I haven’t sung yet, right?

Oh. . .sorry. I’m sure you’ll do great.

We were at the wedding for my brother-in-law and his new bride Shannon. They were young and in love and poor. Otherwise they never would have asked me to be their wedding photographer. This was before digital cameras. I had a Pentax K1000, a nice flash and a couple of lenses. I bought some ASA25 film and prayed that I wouldn’t screw up too badly.


Years earlier, I had been the official photographer for my senior class. I knew how to develop my own black and white film. So, I did have some experience.

The wedding pictures turned out reasonably well. I know that not because I’m much of a judge, but Shannon later became a professional photographer. And given her critical eye and her love for her brother-in-law, I’m sure, she has announced that my pictures were well done. (Leslie did a marvelous job singing as well.)

But, the title of this post is “Writers Are Better.” So why am I talking about the time I was a photographer? Because those photographer experiences are what convinced me that when it comes to enjoying an event the writer’s experience far and away beats the photographer’s.

A while ago I wrote a post about the times where we are so busy trying to capture the moment on camera that we end up losing it. (The Greatest Picture I Never Took.) Monday night when I hosted the Haunting’s contest, (Do You Like A Scary Story?) I talked to Dana Johnson, the official photographer about how trying to capture the moment sometimes loses it.

I know what you mean Rodney. I photographed my daughter’s wedding. Fortunately there were two of us. But I have to remind myself to take a picture and then put the camera aside and enjoy the moment.

This is some of Dana’s work.

Founder April Johnson, 3rd place George McEwan, winner Daniel Bishop, 2nd place and people’s choice winner Stephen Gashler, and some guy who was overdressed.
(Photo Credit: Dana Johnson)

Looking back at my one gig as a wedding photographer, I remember being so concerned with getting the shot that I missed lots of the event. But, it was worth it to provide a wonderful gift to my brother-in-law and his bride.

So, why do writers have an advantage? After all, they can’t capture the detail that the photographer does. Their memory will fade, where the photographs will exist forever. It’s that memory fade that gives the writer the advantage.

Just as a photographer is always looking at the world through a lens, even if she doesn’t have a camera, a writer is always looking at the world from a storyteller’s viewpoint. A photographer is never more than an arm’s length from her camera. A writer is never without a pen and something to write on. And where a photographer needs to stay out of the shot, the writer gets to immerse himself in the experience completely.

As a writer I want to fully embrace an event. I want to see it, taste it, smell it, breath it. Because I know that I’m going to have to recreate the event from memory. So, I’m going to look for details and them commit them to memory. I’m going to talk to people. If I’m going to retell this experience as a personal story, I will pay attention to my own feelings. I’ll laugh or cry, be scared or excited.

Where a photographer creates crisp clean, picture-perfect images, a writer gets messy. We get to indulge in feelings, in imagination of what might be happening or what might have been.

And when the writer sits down to craft his story he has the entire experience to draw upon. Like a painter selecting his paints and brushes, the writer can pick and choose which details to include, which details to leave out. He can choose to ignore the weather, or draw parallels between the billowing clouds and the wedded couple’s blossoming love. He can look beyond what the guests are wearing and get into their heads and their hearts.

The father of the bride held both the sweet and the bittersweet in his heart as he walked her down the aisle and realized he was no longer the most important man in her life.

Yeah, that was me walking my oldest through the snow to a tent where the rest of her life was waiting to replace my arm with his.

As a writer, I revel in the freedom I have to transcend boundaries not only of physical location, but of time and even worlds. I can delve into the distant past or project myself into the far future. With nothing more than 26 letters arranged in various configuration on the page, I can build worlds without number, or linger over a single poignant moment. Yes, when it comes to recording the world around us, I definitely think the writers get the better deal.

(Just don’t tell my sister-in-law.)

Shannon Wilkinson Photography can be found here.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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