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How Spoon's Summer Writing Program Made Me a Better Photographer

Might as well call me Alfred Stieglitz or Sally Mann now.

Before this summer, the phrase “manual mode” turned me off more than clinginess and chapped lips. I was afraid of being a photographer, all the buttons and fancy terms (i.e. shutter speed) were intimidating to a writer like myself. My previous experience in Spoon was confined to words, punctuation, and the occasional iPhone photo; “DSLR” sounded like a Star Wars droid and Photoshop wasn’t even downloaded.

Although I was forced to use a Canon for my Photojournalism study abroad in Berlin, my professor encouraged novices to shoot in “automatic” and “no flash” modes – the cheaters’ version of using a professional camera.

My YouTube history was cluttered with “How does aperture work?” and “Dummies’ guide to ISO,” but my handmade photographs were still off-color trash. A luscious picture of currywurst bleached completely white! A landscape of Tempelhof Flughafen (abandoned airport in Berlin) reduced to black and grey! I felt bad for my Canon since it had to put up with my incompetence.

Summer Writing Program

Mackenzie Patel

A few weeks after I returned from Europe, I began Spoon’s Intensive Summer Writing Program, a challenge for writers to create 50 original articles during the summer. Acting as solo writers, photographers, and marketers, the participants crafted every aspect of their work and collaborated with HQ directly.

Still afraid of my Canon, I was convinced the Spoon image gallery within Secret Sauce would be my source of photos – after all, my photos were more Overexposed than the Maroon 5 album. However, I get this bizarre high from not knowing how to do something and then learning the shit out of it later.

I completed the photographer training in Secret Sauce, watched YouTube videos about long exposure shots, and practiced shooting pictures of my sister’s puppy. Pro tip: shoot anything in natural lighting (preferably with overcast skies) and your pictures will be flawless, regardless of talent.

Adequate Photographer = 50% Loaded

Mackenzie Patel

As my articles weren’t normal and I didn’t have a Spoon UF photographer on speed dial, I was forced to become a better photographer. My first pictures were rough, but after learning the relationship between lighting, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, it wasn’t scary anymore.

Also, the foods I was photographing were so damn photogenic that they put my awkward face to shame. It’s easy to shoot something naturally gorgeous, especially when it’s still, rich in color, and won’t throw shade about your various photographer stances.

#SpoonTip: DO NOT wear borderline booty shorts (or short shorts in general) when shooting food in public. All the bending over and crouching down for the optimal shot guarantees a free ass show. Unless that’s how you roll.

I also learned the basics of editing photos in Photoshop; mastering curves, brightness, hue/saturation, and contrast elevates raw pixels to Masterpieces. However, keeping these edits subtle and not overpowering is also important – pink absinthe might look sick on PS, but it’s misleading to potential readers.

Feedback from HQ and photographer friends was also indispensable, especially when I didn’t know the Rule of Thirds and other composition rules.

Photography Obsession

Mackenzie Patel

Might as well call me Alfred Stieglitz or Sally Mann now. That may be an over-exaggeration, but my photographs today are loads better than my first Canon ones back in March 2017. Learning photography was on my to-do list for ages, but it wasn’t until I was forced to shoot for my study abroad and Spoon that I improved.

Now, I feel naked without a five-pound weight around my neck, and I enjoy the photography aspect of articles as much as (if not more than) the writing. Current media is trending towards visual stimulation, while the art of writing is dying (*sadness*). However, thanks to Spoon, I have the skills to photograph a mean currywurst and be confident in my manual-mode fingers.