Photography 101: Introduction & Philosophy

As recently mentioned, we’re excited to present a series devoted to photography and visual storytelling. We’ve rounded up talented photographers…

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

As recently mentioned, we’re excited to present a series devoted to photography and visual storytelling. We’ve rounded up talented photographers in our community to introduce the essentials, as well as their tips and tricks.

Our community is made up of all levels of bloggers and photographers: some Daily Post readers are just beginning to blog or experiment with a camera, while some of you are ready to sharpen your visual eye, hone your photography skills (whether on a film or dSLR or mobile phone camera), and think about blogging visually.

Simply put, there will be something for everyone in this series, and we’re excited for our guest photographers to share their ideas and techniques. But before we roll up our sleeves, let’s talk about the philosophy of photography, and why we take photographs.

Broken Light is a collaborative site of photographers who live with, or are affected by, mental illness. We talked to its founder, Danielle Hark, about her own philosophy of photography to get you thinking about blogging in a more visual way — and the power of visual storytelling.

How did your photography collaborative, Broken Light, come about?

I have always loved photography. I studied cinema and photography in college, and eventually became a magazine and book photo editor in New York City. When I had my daughter, I decided to start my own photography company. Unfortunately, six months after my daughter was born, I crashed. My depression and anxiety returned, and I had trouble doing anything, even leaving the house. And despite having an adorable baby and a loving husband, I still felt incredibly alone. I pushed everyone in my life away.

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

My therapist encouraged me to start photographing more, not just when I was able to take on shoots professionally, but daily, whether I left the house or stayed in bed all day. I could always find something to photograph, even if it was my bedroom ceiling. I realized that photography could be a powerful tool: it helped bring light to certain mood states and areas of my life that I could not articulate with words.

I started the Broken Light Collective in March 2012, in the midst of that depression, because I wanted to encourage other people who might be going through difficult times (or their family and friends since it affects everyone), to keep creating, sharing, and supporting each other. Broken Light has become a supportive community of talented individuals beyond what I had imagined. It has become a tool for inspiration, support, and healing, and is visual proof that we are not alone when we are struggling — even when we feel that way.

What role has photography played in your own life?

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Photography plays a major role in my life. I love taking photos and am most comfortable with a camera in my hand, whether that is my digital SLR or my iPhone camera. I’ve found that it’s the taking of the photos, not the quality of the camera, that’s most important. In recent years, photography has become both a creative and emotional outlet for me — a way to express what’s going on inside at a conscious and subconscious level.

I take photos to stay present in certain situations, or as an escape. I also use viewing photos as an escape. I am not good at traditional meditation, but I can view photos of nature and be transported to a more relaxed place.

We’re interested to hear your philosophy on photography and visual storytelling.

Photography is the art of storytelling without words. You don’t just take a photo with your eyes, you take it with your experiences, emotions, and heart.

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Photography is also a way of looking at the world. It’s a way of seeing the outside world and capturing it with the light of your inner world. The more tuned in you are to your inner story, the more stories your photos can convey. Those stories do not need to be literal. If you’re sad, you don’t need to photograph someone crying to convey that emotion or story. You just need to view the world as you. A macro photo of a single drop of dew can convey a narrative of agonizing sadness, or delight and joy, if you let it.

Can you tell us how photography promotes mindfulness, and how we can approach our craft in this way?

Photography can be a tool for mindfulness. When you look through a lens you must be present to take in the sight, and orchestrate your shot. By focusing on what you see (the composition, the lighting, etc.) you are being mindful, whether you realize it or not. You are focused (literally) on the present moment and not worrying about things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future. You are in the now, at least for that moment. And sometimes one moment is all it takes to bring you back from a negative place.

What draws you to a photograph?

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

There are the obvious things that can make a photograph pop, like unexpected composition, lighting, or contrast, but sometimes it is the not-so-obvious things that really draw us in. The mood. The tone. The story, both seen or unseen. We love when a photo tells a story, whether that’s a family playing in the woods or a candle on a table, but beyond that, there’s really not one particular thing we’re looking for.

I think the variety of photographers and photos that hang on the virtual walls of our gallery is part of the beauty. As long as someone has a personal connection to mental health issues, and a camera to tell their story, they are welcome, no matter their level of experience.

Is there a tip you could give to bloggers who are interested in weaving text and images, but aren’t sure how to approach it?

I think using photography thoughtfully can really enhance text on a blog, and draw in new readers. Some people might be turned off by using photography because they think they need photos that are of exactly what they’re writing about. I encourage people to think outside the frame, and use photos that might not be a literal match for the text. Photos can be a match in tone or feel even if they’re not a match for the subject or content. Nature and still life images are especially good for this purpose.

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Credit: Danielle Hark/Broken Light Collective

Technically, I encourage people to use what I call “focus with intention,” which means the subject or a piece of the subject is in focus unless blur is purposeful, and to be aware of the background. A messy background can take away from the subject, whereas a clean background brings attention to the subject.

It’s amazing how you can shift your body positioning while you’re shooting and increase the power of the shot exponentially. However, for every “rule” there is an amazing photo to break that rule! So, the only real rule is to keep taking photos, and to experiment and have fun along the way.

As we begin this series, my biggest tips for bloggers who want to explore photography and add more photos to their blogs would be:

  1. Always keep a camera with you, even if it’s your phone camera.
  2. Experiment.
  3. Have fun with it!
Danielle Hark

Danielle Hark

All that we’ll explore and learn in this series can be used to take better photos, but how you use the tools and techniques can make the difference between a nice snapshot and a visual story. Keep shooting, trying different things, and pushing the boundaries of what feels comfortable to you.

We asked Danielle to introduce the main elements of photography that we’ll cover in this series. Click on any image in this gallery to get a taste for what we’ll explore:

Thanks, Danielle, for introducing your process and philosophy of photography with us! In the next post, another photographer will talk about viewing the world with a visual eye and dive into the element of composition.

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  1. Love this. It actually made me start to tear up…I recently struggled with depression and anxiety, and realizing that I was actually struggling was hard and eye-opening, but I think it’s helpful to know that I do have those struggles, so that I can work through them instead of thinking I should be fine and being upset with myself, or just ignoring it. I’ve been taking photos for most of my life, so this piece relating those struggles and my love of photography did some crazy number on my soul. Thank you for this. :)

  2. Thank you for this article. I have a new camera which I really wanted,then left to sit there.
    I will now try to recapture that yearning to do something interesting with it.

  3. My daughter has been suffering from an eating disorder, severe social anxiety and depression for many years now. Danielle is absolutely right that mental health illness affects every member of the family, not just the sufferer. Photography is my therapy; I am able to lose myself in it and forget my troubles at least for a while, and when you’re dealing with MH this is key – take it one day at a time, one picture at a time.

  4. I’m very excited to have this focused new series. Thank you for sharing your personal story Danielle. Very inspirational.

  5. Bravo Danielle! You have such a moving story – your courage is inspiring. Thank you for using your incredible gift of your knowledge of photography to help us tell our own stories. I am looking forward to future posts.
    Thank you Word Press for featuring this gifted artist.

  6. Such a healthy plan Danielle! Did you read my mind, I just put up my photo blog called “Slam on the brakes pull over take the picture” to help remind carry my camera phone and look for photos every where I go.

  7. Great interview .. informative and detailed. I’ve been following Broken Light for some time. The photos posted there are incredible as are the people. I’m sure we can all identify with their stories.
    Funny … I remember when I first started my blog no one was posting images with their writing or poems. I did it for the effect and to help tell the story. Now, it’s a trend.

  8. What a great piece ! ! It’s amazing how in the midst of challenges our true purpose is revealed.
    Can’t wait to take this journey with my fellow bloggers.

  9. Broken Light Collective is an extraordinary site to which people who are searching simply gravitate. I’ve been blessed to be a part of that collection and Danielle’s life. She has so much to offer.

  10. Danielle’s samples within this post are of such a range of content and context and composition I am recharged with new determination to be more active in pursuing and capturing pot-shots of the world of my neighbourhood.
    Thank you Danielle

  11. I love taking pictures! I think it’s because I have none of myself as a kid or any special moments in my life. Since my daughter’s birth 5yrs ago,I have thousands of pictures of her and alot of them convey how I feel about her and how I feel about being a mother.

  12. True creative expression is in the eye of the beholder. Photography is a wonderful way to visually capture the stories of our communities, our world and ourselves!

  13. Wow! that one great mixture of thoughts to inspire and encourage…
    Come lets join together and have fun and learn something new everyday!
    Thank you for starting this !

  14. Fantastic post… thanks so much to both of you… so looking forward to the rest of the series! I am working on improving my photography skills at the moment so this has come at just the right time! :)

  15. There are so many different facets to photography, found the philosophy behind the Broken Light Collective moving and uplifting, as well as Danielle’s advice on the practical side of the process. Great to have this opportunity to learn more, thanks Cheri. I look forward to reading the next installment of the series.

  16. Really enjoyed this – I love taking photos, but had recently started to wonder why I do it, when so many of them just get saved and not looked at again. Now I realise that it is in part the creative process that I enjoy, and also the way that it makes me be ‘in the moment’.

    Loved Danielle’s pictures too. Thank you.

  17. What a terrific post. I love thinking about my photos as my form of meditation, as I think it’s the closest I get to meditating as well. Thanks for this.

  18. Wonderful photos Danielle. My photography has been my “therapy” since the day I picked up my camera a little over five years ago.

  19. A macro photo of a single drop of dew can convey a narrative of agonizing sadness, or delight and joy, if you let it.
    Thanks for mentioning it, I get never tired from looking at water drops and discovering the stories they tell, if listened to carefully. Recently I wrote down a long story of how the fleeting reflections on and within the rain drops are “in fact” tiny pieces of the world’s outlook that has to be given to each new person coming to this world, otherwise it would remain unseen. Creating more and more outlooks increases the intensity of our experience of the world = its existence (and ours): [giving faces]
    But the visual-literary genre I created, the photo-poem, shows all kind of objects (not only water drops), and tells different stories I read in(to) the small details on the photos.
    Some of the photo-poems are in English (e.g. those published in April):
    Not all of the stories are poems, some are simple small-talk:

  20. I’ve been following Broken Light for a while so it’s very interesting to hear the back story. Danielle, you write well and take great photos, but I think what struck me the most was your sane advice – things like this – “However, for every “rule” there is an amazing photo to break that rule! So, the only real rule is to keep taking photos, and to experiment and have fun along the way” speak to your wisdom, however hard won.

  21. I’ve been following Broken Light’s Photography for long time and always been their silent reader.

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s worth interviewing.