Lessons from Masters, Photography

16 Lessons From Ami Vitale

Ami Vitale is an American photojournalist, documentary filmmaker, educator and speaker. In 2018, she published a photo book titled Panda Love which captures pandas within captivity and being released into the wild. (Source: Wikipedia)

1. There is a desperate need to tell stories that are somewhat off the beaten track and people are really hungry for them. You just have to work a little bit harder. Portray a bigger issue (more silent ones) in a unique way.

2. It’s great to be a photographer, because unlike a writer who has to speak the same language, you have strong visuals, and the text that you send in can always be translated if needed.

© Ami Vitale

3. Everyone on the planet, whether you are a photographer or a salesman, you struggle with this balance of life because we are all working at a faster pace. It’s really important, especially at the beginning of your career, to make conscious decisions and say no to assignments if they lead you off into another track. Be picky about what you do.

4. Read voraciously. Read all kinds of media (books, international newspaper etc). This will help you find better stories. When you’re reading, very often, a writer who has no visual sense about a story might write an amazing story or book and you can make a visual story from it.

5. Talk to many different kinds of people – the guy at the grocery store to the Mayor. Ask them questions. Get different perspectives on the same topic.

© Ami Vitale

6. Localise and humanize a bigger issue. It has got to be relevant to people on the planet – it can’t be something only you are interested in. Aim to connect people and help them understand each other.

7. Pick a person and tell the story through that person’s eyes. For example, Ami Vitale’s story on climate refugees from Bangladesh.

8. Make sure the project is visual. Sometimes a story might be great on paper, but it’s just not visual.

© Ami Vitale

9. Write a lot. Put your ideas on paper. Try to be thoughtful.

10. Apply for grants even if you don’t expect to get them, even if it’s a new idea. Go through the process of writing several grant proposals. It will help you become more lucid about your idea and what it is.

11. Try to be an observer of life. Don’t overlook all the subtle things around you in your own life. You’re the one closest to your story.

© Ami Vitale

12. Trust your own instinct about a good story. Keep working on a story if you think it’s good even when others don’t see it yet.

13. Aim to fail. You’re going to learn so much more than if you are this tremendous success. Have enough failures to know when an idea is a good idea.

© Ami Vitale

14. Work on your story a little bit first before pitching it so that others can have a sense of what it is going to look like.

15. It takes time to truly understand one another’s stories. Once you do, you transform. You will often find a story when you go to the location which is very different from what you had in mind when you were leaving home.

16. All of us have a voice, and the ability to ignite action. Use your photography for a cause, to raise awareness.