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Art is a creative expression. You can express it with words or through pictures. Do these media of expressions have anything in common? Can the art of photography help shape your art of writing? Yes, photography and writing are related in some aspects. There’s a lot you can learn from photography and then implement in your writing to make it better. Here are some ways of how you can use photography as a tool to improve your writing. ~ Ed.
While photography and writing are often put in competition (take as an example the quote “An image says more than a thousand words”), both arts turn out to be complementary in many ways.
As a freelance sports photographer and apprentice writer, I have discovered that some photography techniques can be applied to improve story writing.
In fact, I have found out that taking pictures every day has become an alternative way to help me incorporate certain important writing skills without being conscious of it.
The goal of this post is to teach you ways to use photography to improve your own writing. By only taking a few shots per day, you will open a door to new thinking and start weaving connections between discoveries in both fields.
How to Use Photography to Shape Your Writing
You don’t need a DSLR camera to learn from this method! Since smartphones are quite common these days, anybody can try this project out.
How to do it? It’s very simple! You just to need to focus some minutes every day into taking pictures and applying the tips and tricks listed in the article. Pay as much attention to the images you shoot as real photographers, trying to do better every day.
You do not have to always catch the same photos: they can be still or motion scenes, landscapes or family portraits, feature objects or animals, etc. You just have to let your creativity wander and pay attention to the technique.
What to Work On
What kind of photography-angled tips might be useful to help to shape your writing? They are not necessarily otherworldly.
Pay Attention to Details and Authenticity
Raw photography (the one whose product isn’t edited, like most images are these days) is about capturing a fraction of the world.
When you take a picture, you want to focus on something that will make it stand out. It could be a shared smile, a close-up of a fly, a veined pattern on a rock.
Because you have to focus on all the little parts that make up the picture, and you want it to as clean as possible, you will grow used to paying attention to little details. This will reflect in your writing when you’ll have to add some description to make the words come alive.
If we want to extend the definition of raw photography a little wider, we can say that it is about capturing the world as you perceive it. Writing is similar, in that it needs your own voice to become interesting, but it is also about including many more views into your work.
Characters see the world from a different perspective—a middle-school skateboarder will not naturally share the vision of a Wall Street businessman, who in turn will not share your vision (unless you are a Wall Street businessman)—and photography will help you to integrate this knowledge into your writing.
Taking pictures from different angles (from above or beneath an object, in front or behind, etc.) will give you an idea of how different things can be when caught from various points of view.
Capture Colors and Light
It is a truth everybody acknowledges universally that a writer has to pull the reader in the story by appealing to their senses, of which sight is perhaps the most important. Luckily enough, photography is based on the use of light, which is what allows us to see the world.
If you practice capturing light in different positions to give a different meaning to your pictures, you will develop a habit of using it in your writing as well.
There are many ways that light can appear in your pieces to add indications of time or mood: dapples could suggest noon sun and trees, sparks may jump from a bonfire, sparkles could glint under neon reflectors, weak light bulbs could cast a dim clarity in a poor apartment, a lemony vibrant atmosphere could remind of sunshine days.
You can choose to modify the way you expose an image to light to make it look brighter or darker. If you play with this possibility, you will get an idea of how a scene changes when it is displayed in different tones of clarity: the difference between the features that stand out, the mood that characterizes the scene, the shift in focus.
This can turn out to be a very good help when writing about the same setting under day or night perspective, or from a place of shadow versus a place directly hit by sun rays.
You can also use photography to learn about the different feelings and impressions that arise in natural light and how contrasting they are to those that appear in artificial light.
Build Momentum and Construct a Scene
Often, a good still picture is planned. Learning the mechanics of building images will make you realize that there is much more depth to a piece than what it looks like when you just admire it as the public, and not as the author.
Still images may require you to create a clean background (to make sure that nothing out of place will ruin the shot) or to find the right balance between how much space each object or feature should take in the picture.
Motion images may require you to prompt a movement, like splashing the surface of water or telling a child to jump. In any case, experiencing photography-construction will help you realize how complex introducing a scene or action can be; it will broaden the field of variables that you will take into account when writing a specific moment.
This doesn’t only apply to write an instant action, but also a whole set-up, like how a chapter should unfurl in order to be connected with the previous and successive parts of the story.
Let the Creative Streak Flow
Have you ever read a writer’s line and thought: “Woah, this is the most perfect wording ever”? What about seeing exposed photography and marveling at how talented the photographer has been to capture it?
I remember a precise picture of mine that made people go out of their minds. It was taken during a sports event organized for disabled people, and it received many compliments and was featured on several web pages because it presented tenderness, delicacy, effort, and love all at once. It was a great shot, I cannot deny it, but it had not been a strike of genius, nor a question of talent.
Often, and by often I mean 99% of the times, THE perfect picture is part of a series of 10, 100, 1000 shots. It has not been premeditated to the perfect degree, it is not a one-sample masterpiece; it is the one among many that have turned out to be great.
The same happens with words, sentences, and paragraphs. Many writers get stuck on a sentence because they do not feel able to move on until they find the phrase that will give chills to the reader. They spend an unnecessary amount of time blocked on this fraction of their work, which only kills the momentum in their inspiration.
Of course, it takes background practice to capture an image correctly, it takes experience to select the point of view and voice of the picture, but it most of all takes a lot of uninterrupted clicking from different angles and with different lighting.
As you practice with photography, you will understand that it is better to let the creative streak flow and later select what you like the best rather than to create-edit-judge small bits by small bits of your work.
There is a time for producing, and a time for editing.
Always Have Your Tools at Hand
Motion-photographers develop the capacity to focus their lens in the fraction of a second because they need to immortalize a sudden and brief action.
In tennis, the sport that I cover, photographers need to be permanently alert: a player can conclude a tremendous point and celebrate like they’ve won it all, then go back to normal in just a couple of seconds.
The same goes for wildlife photographers: they need to be ready to catch the fluttery moment when the lion is yawning or the butterfly lands on the dog’s muzzle.
A writer’s inspiration is just as unpredictable as a motion photographer’s subject.
Consider the fact that the human brain is capable of holding certain memories for only a few seconds. Because they are the ones that come “out of the blue,” if you don’t cling to those sudden ideas, you are very likely to forget them. If you think of something that you really like, you should note it down instead of opting to “remember it later.”
Just like a photographer learns to bring their camera along wherever they go, writers should always have something at hand to take notes, be it a note app on a smartphone, a small notebook, or a paper napkin.
Be Patient and Work Hard
If you had never thought about photography techniques before and had just used the basics of it to catch fluttery memories, it is possible that you may struggle to find an artistic balance when you start to work with this method.
In other words, it is very possible that you may be dissatisfied because your first shots are not the masterpieces you would like them to be.
This is another important thing that you may further learn during the experiment.
Novices are never really satisfied with their work, but intermediate and advanced people rarely are as well. This is because we seek perfection, which is a very pretty word but a very hard concept to achieve.
Professional photographers, like professional writers, have many hours of experience to back them up. They have honed their skills through practice and patience—a lot of both.
The more time you will spend trying to get good pictures—each time focusing on perfecting something more in your technique—the better you will get at it.
Try this: At the end of each day, select the best picture that you took. At the end of the week, set the seven pictures side by side, in chronological order, and notice how the last one is better than the first (more focused, better lit, artistically twisted, more creative, etc.). At the end of the month, take the last picture of each week and compare them in chronological order. You certainly will notice a change in the quality of the shots.
Since progress in photography is visual, you will get a graphical understanding of how time and practice have made you improve, and it will be easier to apply patience and hard work to your writing as well.
Wrapping it up
If you decide to use photography as a tool to improve your writing, you will find out that it can help you to further develop:
- Your ability to incorporate authentic details and different perspectives in your pieces.
- The habit to use light and colors to set your scenes.
- The mechanics of momentum and action construction.
- A wider sensibility when it comes to letting your creative streak flow and leaving editing for later.
- Consciousness about being ready to catch inspiration at any time.
- Your patience and a habit of constant practice.
Grab your smartphone or camera, and spend some minutes every day trying to get nice shots.
Play with your creativity, and you’ll notice that your techniques for both photography and writing will get better by the day.
Over to you
Have you ever used photography to influence your writing? Do you know about photography-related tips that might be helpful in writing too? Tell us about it in the comments!