The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial on a cloudy day

Crafting stories through images

By Geri Dreiling

There are many advantages to dating a kind and patient bilingual engineer and computer programmer with a master’s degree in design. In addition to being a considerate travel companion and all-around good guy, E is an awesome translator. When I encounter pesky computer coding issues, he is my problem solver.

And when it comes to photography, he shares his insights and opinions when I ask. 

I see scenes through the eyes of a writer. Words fill my head. I think about the people who built the landmark. I contemplate the history that the landmark has witnessed. I take mental notes of the scene as it exists in the present; of the people who live, love, work and struggle to survive in the shadows.  

Street vendor in Madrid

A Madrid street vendor selling roasted chestnuts late at night.


Madrid Protests

Protesters decrying bank bailouts as homeowners suffer.

When E looks at a scene, he’s able to look at it with a different perspective. He can separate out patterns, light, shadows and color. He imagines how all the distinct visual pieces will come together in a composition. He knows what Photoshop can fix — and what it cannot.  

Storytelling, especially in the age of the Internet, is about both the words and the images. And as someone with a strong need for achieving gold stars and A’s, I knew my photography needed a boost.

For Christmas, E gave me a Panasonic Lumix SZ1 16.1 MP Digital Camera with 10x Optical Zoom. (Affiliate link) Knowing my weaknesses, my strengths and my need to keep things light when I take at least two planes to get from St. Louis to Madrid, E researched and researched. Then he researched some more.

The Panasonic Lumix is compact. When time it tight, luggage space is limited and you’re already lugging around a laptop, a compact camera is convenient. With 16 megapixels, it is still powerful enough to create small poster-sized photos. When it comes to selecting the right mode for a scene, the intelligent auto mode gets it right the majority of the time.

I practiced using the new camera during my trip to Spain in January. I toggled between landscape mode, food mode, and intelligent auto mode. And because I’m no fool, I also leveraged the power of E. I often asked him to stand behind me as I took photos. Looking into the LCD monitor over my shoulder, he offered tips on how to adjust the picture. While he gave me hints, he also explained the reasons for his suggestions.

A flower in Plaza Mayor

A cabbage flower in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

For Valentine’s Day, he sent Picture Perfect Practice: A Self-Training Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Taking World-Class Photographs by Roberto Valenzuela. (Affiliate link) Written in a straightforward manner with lots of examples and exercises, it is a welcome addition to my photography education. After all, even the most expensive camera make up for weak composition.

I don’t expect to reach the mastery level of professional photographer. In my work life, I have had the privilege of working with photojournalists and photographers whose works appear in national publications, art exhibitions, books and glossy corporate brochures. They’ve spent years honing their craft. I am just a dabbler.

My goal is more immediate, grounded and focused: I want learn how to take photos to improve my storytelling. 

Caught in the Shadows

In the shadows. Enrique looks on as I take a photo in Avila.