A Priceless Piece of Advice From Stephen King

In the first half of this blog post I share some of the happenings in my photography life from last week, if you want to skip that for Stephen King’s advice scroll down to the STEPHEN KING’S WISDOM part.

Last week I took a wonderful road trip up to Napa in Northern California for a commissioned assignment. Not only it was an exciting 6-hour drive through the entire state to the beautiful land of vineyards and home of Californian wines, I also got to photograph Mr Rob Schneider again and some gorgeous dancing stallions for his new project.

This shoot was not my usual type of photography, but I am very happy to be challenged like this. I used to shoot a lot outdoors, in fact, a few years back I would be more confident with natural light, or mixing natural light with strobes, rather than shooting in a studio. But it’s been so long since I shot outside that I was a little nervous, so I chose to bring everything I might need, and stuffed my relatively small car like a festive piñata:

The shoot was a lot of fun, Mr Schneider is an amazing client to work for – very considerate, kind, down to Earth and supportive. The rest of the team and the ranch owners were just as wonderful, and, if not for the + 100° F heat, this would be the most enjoyable shoot in my entire life. I should probably also mention that I have been always fascinated by the beauty of horses and my very first drawing at the age of 4 was a horse. I attempted to draw and paint horses in the past few years as well:

I miss painting horses ☺️

A photo posted by Julia Kuzmenko McKim 🔆 (@juliakuzmenko) on

I don’t think it’s humanly possible not to adore these majestic animals:

I woke up early on Tuesday, and instead of driving back down to Los Angeles, I drove further north to see the beautiful vineyards and buy some local wine to take home. Franciscan Estate Winery was recommended by the friendly hotel staff, so I headed right there, tested and purchased a couple of bottles of red and white wine and headed back home.


At Franciscan Estate Winery, CA


On long road trips I often listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and this time it was Stephen King‘s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”. I’ll be honest, I am not a big fan of Stephen King’s books, or movies based on them, but I recognize and respect his enormous success as a modern writer and admire his discipline and personality, so I always enjoy hearing what the man has got to say.

This time his words on improving our artistry and skills struck a chord with me. He talked about having to read a lot and making it a routine to write every day in order to be able to write well and in big volumes. It very well translates to photography – or any other type of art or craft for that matter – and in order to be able to shoot well, one must view, observe and analyze a lot of imagery to develop their visual taste and an eye for greatness within the medium.

In my 2-year photography course (International College of Professional Photography, Melbourne) we had a handful of modules and a dozen of subjects that covered many aspects of commercial photography. Among them, only one subject lasted for the duration of the entire course and it was Visual Appreciation. In it, we studied History of Visual Arts, looked through hundreds – if not thousands – of the most remarkable paintings, sculptures, architectural masterpieces and, of course, photographs of all times. Many of the same images popped up in our classes again and again, until our eyes became so sensitive to visual balance and harmony in the images we were looking at, that we were bound to make the right decisions when capturing our own photographs and directing our models.

So when you read what Stephen King says about reading more in order to write better, think “viewing a lot of art” and “shooting for practice”:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.

You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Simple as that.

And when it comes to photography, oh man, every word is true! If you want to shoot well, make sure you view strong images in the type of photography you are interested in on a daily basis: browse on Pinterest, search for specialized curated blogs and websites, buy magazines that feature the images you want to be able to create.

And practice like a madman!

Featured image by my dear friend and amazing artist Renee Robyn, BTS snapshot from our shoot for Dr. Brandt skincare company last Sunday.

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