On Writing Well « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

On Writing Well

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On our recent Wyoming trip Denise Ippolito and I spent lots of times creating pleasing fall-color blurs. This image was created with the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II zoom lens (hand held at 70mm) with the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 50. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stop:1/5 sec. at f/9 set manually. If you would like to learn to create images like this of a variety of natural history subjects, check out “A Guide to Pleasing Blurs” by Arthur Morris and Denise Ippolito.

On Writing Well

I received a very nice e-mail yesterday that prompted this blog post:

Dear Mr. Morris, Due to the pressures of life I am only a sporadic visitor and very occasional contributor to your wonderful sites (including BPN) but I wanted to thank you for all I have learned from your books and websites. Largely because of your instruction and encouragement, I gave my first Photoshop workshop today for the local camera club– a very large and active one. The workshop was very well received – one participant even sent me a thank you email which I have added below.

I wanted to let you know of another small ripple generated by the well-crafted rocks you lob onto plastic and into cyberspace. As a compulsive wordsmith I also wanted to grab the opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate the simplicity and clarity of you writing. Good, clear writing seems to be an endangered species and paired with your meticulous attention to detail, your writing makes your books and web posts some of the finest instructional materials I have ever found. You can be sure that I am recommending your work to participants in my workshop.

Thanks again, Caspar Davis Victoria, BC

The note I received today, from a Notary Public who attended the workshop: Thank you for the session today Caspar. I learned a lot already and I can sure see it’s a long term learning thing. Thanks for your help!


I realized early in my career, way back in the late-1980s, that learning to write well can be vitally important for folks wanting to sell their images. Why knock yourself out trying to sell one image to fit someone else’s article when you can sell five or six images at a time and be paid for the article to boot? Early on I wrote extensively for Bird Watcher’s Digest and for Birder’s World. I shall forever be indebted to Mary Beacom Bowers of the former and to Julie Ridl and Mary Katherine Parks of the latter for the help and encouragement that they provided back then with my writing.

When I write, I try to keep everything simple. Because I read so much when I was a kid, I usually have no problems with clarity, sentence structure, and grammar. My old and good friend Johann Schumacher advised that I should write the way I speak. “Don’t try to use fancy words,” he cautioned, “Be yourself.” Julie Ridl gave me some great advice also: “Include lots of first-person anecdotes in your how-to writing.” I hear their words each time that I sit down at the laptop to write.

Many folks do not realize that writing is a process; by reading what I write over and over I am able to make it better and better, simpler and simpler, cleaner and cleaner, clearer and clearer. Then if at all possible I will have a friend or two read what I have written and comment on it before it is published. The single biggest error that I see with beginning writers is the need to hang onto every word that they have written. If a word or words or a phrase can be deleted without changing the meaning of a sentence then the word, the words, or the phrase must be deleted…

I have never taken a writing course in my life. Writing for the most part comes naturally to me, again as a result of my youthful reading habits. For folks interested in improving their writing today I can strongly recommend “On Writing Well” by William K. Zinsser. After that you can add “The Elements of Style” (4th Edition) by William Strunk and E. B. White. Writing is just like photography; you need to study hard and work at it to get better. Good luck with your writing.

Shopper’s Guide

Here is the gear that I used to create the image in this post.

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II lens
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body

If you are considering the purchase of a major piece of photographic gear be it a new camera, a long lens, a tripod or a head, or some accessories be sure to check out our complete Shopper’s Guide.

11 comments to On Writing Well

  • avatar Chris Wyatt

    Hi Artie,
    Thanks for getting back to me regarding lenses for Africa. My longest lens is the 100-400. I talked with Todd and told him that this was the longest lens I had. With the 7D this is “comparable” to a 600 on a full sensor camera as to length not quality. He said I should have no problems having only this lens. I read an article from Joe Johnson of RRS and he said the drivers got so close to the animals that he never really used his longer lenses. If I had a perfect situation I would love to have the Canon 500 f4 and the new Canon 70-200 f2.8 with a 1.4tc. Financially I know that this is not going to happen, unless I win the Lotto. I realize that there is an overlap on the 2 lenses but thought this might be my first step towards getting my 2 lens setup. I considered getting a used 500 f4, but I’m worried about getting one that is in poor quality, and if it is in good shape, there is little price savings. My other idea is to buy a non Canon 500 but I’m not sure of the quality. As you can tell I am spinning around on all the possibilities. I have a second camera body, Rebel XT, and would use one body/lens for long shots and one for shorter ones. Of course, my other option is to rent a lens.

    I know the final decision is mine, but I value your thoughts. If you know of good places to buy used gear or to rent gear, that would be helpful.


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  • Nice blur – great tips for aspiring writers too. I’ve heard it said, Hemingway used to say 80% of writing is editing.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Bruce: Different strokes…. Some of the folk who have problems looking at blurs have eye problems. Seriously.

    Michael & Robert: thanks a ton 🙂

    Mike. I am loving the 70-200 II. I will be trying it with the 2x for flight and if it works, I will buy one.

  • avatar Chris Wyatt

    Hi Artie,
    I want to thank you for your books, guides, and blog. Every bit of information helps me become a better photographer. I’m glad I saw Michael’s comment that you write like you speak as I can now vision you “telling” me how you would do it and more importantly, why.
    I see you really like the new Canon 70-200 lens (since you are selling your old one); what are your ideas on using the new lens vs the 70-200 f4 ? Before you liked the f4 as it was lighter and easier to handhold, but you are now handholding the new f2,8. I look forward to your thoughts on the 2 lenses. I am going on Todd Gustafson’s migration safari and was considering getting a 70-200 lens to go with my 100-400 and Canon 7D. I know you have gone to Africa with Todd and would like your advice on what lenses to take. Thanks again!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for your kind words Chris and 🙂 I love my 70-200 f/4 especially with the 7D on sunny days because of the light weight and the fact that I like 7D images made on clear days a lot better than those made on cloudy days. As I just wrote somewhere a few minutes ago :), I am gonna see how the 70-200 f/4 does with the 2X for flight photography. If it works I can replace a lot of lenses with that combo. And the f/2.8 offers very close focusing so small birds at very close range will be chopped liver for the 2.8 with the 2X…..

      Do you have Todd’s safari book? We carry them 🙂 I would never go to Africa without a long telephoto. Any 70-200 along with the 100-400 does not make a lot of sense because of the overlap….. What is your long lens?

  • Hello Artie

    The Blur is very nice! But how do you like the 70-200 F2.8 IS II lens?????


  • I’m not a big fan of blurs; however this one is pleasing.

  • Great image Artie!! I’m out each day looking for great opportunities and you found one here!! Having met and spoken with you I’ll agree.. you write like you speak.

    My mantra when writing is: “Don’t use seven words if you can say it in five.”

  • avatar Bruce Gove

    Hi Artie,

    This is the first image I’ve seen from you that I just don’t care for! Makes my eyes crazy!!


    Bruce Gove