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thank you

the photo by design class i’ve been taking at that i’ve referenced here a few times before just came to a close this last friday. the instructor did not ask us to write any formal reviews or fill out any formal surveys but i wanted to write an open thank you letter to the teacher, kim manley ort on my blog because i believe she deserves the recognition and because i believe anyone interested in photography, at any level, should consider this course and learning more about “contemplative photography.” it is helpful to me, too, to be able to put this all down in writing and as kim has also been extremely supportive of me and my photography, it is my pleasure to support her as best i can by sharing this publicly.

dear kim,

thank you for such a thoughtful, thought-provoking, supportive, rich learning experience in the “photo by design course” over these past four weeks. i’m not sure i can fully express how significant this class has been for me, but i’m sure gonna try. . .

as i tried to write in the beginning of the class, one of my main goals for the course was to marry what was, for me, the more “intuitive” (for lack of a better term) part of my photography and myself as a photographer with the more “technical” side…until this class these were competing sides for me, but this class changed that. at the risk of souding oprah-y, this has been an “aha” moment for me both in my photography and, to be honest, in life. i know that sounds kind of overly-dramatic and possibly trite, but it’s true. one of the things i love about photography is how full of metaphors it is and this experience has been another one that has taught me as much about myself as it has about photography.

there are a number of reasons why i started and stayed with photography, many of which are very personal to me and that i’m not necessarily ready to share, but one of the reasons is the therapeutic nature of creating images — i find the entire process restorative — from thinking about the image i want to create to being behind the camera to processing the image after i’ve shot it and making the final image (hopefully) match my original vision. . . when i first started photographing, i relied heavily on my intuition and my eye and didn’t know enough to know how to balance that with the foundations of creating a photograph. in short, i shot on auto. and it was fun! now, i am not one of those people who will go on and on about why you MUST shoot on manual, but i will say that i got to a point where auto wasn’t working for me any longer and i wanted to learn more…i got to the point where i couldn’t make my final image match up with my original vision mostly because i didn’t know well enough how to use my camera. so i studied, took a class, talked to other photographers and most importantly used my camera as much as i could in order to learn about my camera and the exposure triangle of ISO, aperture and shutter speed and then how i could manipulate these things to, as much as possible, create the image that i wanted to express. i’m of course grateful to have learned these things and to continue to practice and study them, but i found, at least in the beginning before it became a little more natural, that i was sometimes thinking of these things and less about “creating the image” (and sometimes vice versa.) i was neglecting some of what i now understand as the “contemplative” parts of photography and other ways of seeing and crafting an image.  thanks to your class and having the opportunity to practice using these parts of photography together, i am now better able to visually create a photograph the way i want to and experience photography in an even more exciting way.

this is not to say that everyone who takes your class needs to shoot on manual which brings me to another thing i love about your class and that is that it can be enjoyed by people of many different levels both in their photography and their equipment and that your class is excellent at not only meeting people where they are but in supporting and celebrating them. this isn’t easy to find in photography (or elsewhere for that matter!)

one of the other extremely valuable lessons that i take away from this course is that it has given more voice to my photography. as i’ve always felt, photography allows me to communicate with the world in a way that i’m not able to otherwise. but i didn’t always have the words for WHY i was shooting an image the way i was or WHY i am drawn to certain imagery; WHAT i want to shoot, HOW i want to shoot it. even the term “contemplative photography” was exciting for me to learn as it gave a name to what i think i’ve been doing for a long time without realizing it. you’ve helped me become a more confident photographer in shooting and in speaking about my work.  how can i thank you enough for that?!

i suppose all of this is to say that i really feel your photo by design class has taken my photography and me as a photographer to another level. and, really, what more can you ask for from any experience?! you’ve helped me grow and for that i’m extremely grateful. you’ve got me thinking in new ways, seeing in new ways and talking about what i’m seeing in new ways. perhaps to the annoyance of my family and friends, i’m even more excited about photography then i was before!


for more information on the photo by design class and adventures in seeing with kim manley ort, please visit her website:

kim is about to kick off the a follow-up course that is “a six-week online class in visual design.  [ . . . ] all about learning to see the elements of light, line, shapes, texture, and perspective.” enrollment is now open and you can learn more here. i’m definitely signing up and would love to be in class with you!

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