Patia Stephens is a writer and photographer based in Missoula, Montana. When I am in Paris and long for Montana, her blog is the place I go for my fix. She has an amazing eye and a real gift for taking photos. Every time I open The Montanan magazine, I learn about worlds I didn’t know existed through her interviews and articles.
What books are on your nightstand?
I’m in the middle of reading an unpublished manuscript, “The Light from Tomorrow,” by Dirck Van Sickle. It’s kind of a grim road-trip love story set in 1934 during the Dust Bowl, which apparently started on the Montana Hi-Line. (Did you know that?) Dirck, the author of “Montana Gothic,” is rumored to be dead, but I discovered he’s still kicking in New York City. He let me interview him and I’m shopping the story around to lit journals.
Other books on my nightstand include “Writers On Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times,” “The Situation and the Story” by Vivian Gornick and “Wild Ducks Flying Backward” by Tom Robbins.
Why did you start your blog?
I started journaling on a Geocities website in summer 1998 during an online editing internship in Fort Lauderdale. I wanted to share my travel adventures and photos with friends. It became a real blog in 2003, although I got burned out and mostly stopped blogging last year. I still post some pictures and a few thoughts, but I recently redesigned my site and took most of my old posts down. I have loved writing and photography since my teens, and I guess I have a compulsion to share them with people, but lately I’ve withdrawn a bit.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a blog?
The most important thing to understand is that blogging requires a huge time commitment. The most successful bloggers post daily or weekly, depending on the topic, and each post can take an hour or more to write and format — especially if you include photos. Then you need to spend time responding to your blog comments if you want to encourage discussion. Plus, I always felt that as a member of the blogging community, it was important for me to read and comment on other people’s blogs. That’s another major time commitment.
I also think it helps if you have a niche, which I never really did. The most successful blogs seem to focus on a fairly narrow topic — like writing or food or politics or “mommy blogging.”
You have the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. What advice would you give to a novice photographer?
Thank you so much! My parents were artists and I think I inherited a good eye from them, although as an active Flickr member, I am constantly reminded that there are many incredibly talented photographers out there.
My advice to a beginner would be, first and foremost, to take lots of pictures. Shooting a lot will help develop your eye. Fortunately, digital makes it easy to take a lot of pictures without spending much. Also, a common misconception is that you have to have an expensive camera to take good pictures. But a good photographer can take great photos with a hundred-dollar camera. The most important thing is to know how to use the camera, so read the manual. Read a book on photographic technique. Study other photographers’ work and figure out what they did to get their shots.
Also, learning how to edit your images — whether in an expensive program like Photoshop or a freebie like Picasa — can make the difference between an okay photo and a great one.
I should also probably plug the website I write for, PhotographyREVIEW.com. It has great camera reviews and discussion forums.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Many pieces of advice come to mind. Two that I heard just today were, “Live vicariously through yourself” and “Illegitimus non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down).”
What is your favorite place to write?
I do most of my writing at my desk/dining table, which faces a big panoramic window with a spectacular view of the Missoula Valley and Bitterroot Mountains. I also like to take my Macbook to bed to write, although I tend to put myself to sleep that way.