"Break Out Your Cameras to Enhance Your Image Writing" by Yours Truly

My craft article appeared today at Women on Writing. Ta-da! :)

Photo by Vera Ja, https://unsplash.com

Photo by Vera Ja, https://unsplash.com

“Break Out Your Cameras to Enhance Your Image Writing”

By Melanie Faith

For a year, off and on, I shot a series of photos called "In the Green." The series included many different subjects, some that you might expect (from an emerald, leafy landscape to the green whirls of a decorative cabbage I saw at a farmer’s market), and others that might surprise. A perfect example of the latter was the mint-hued upright piano I spotted at a craft store in the Midwest while visiting my sister one summer. Needless to say, I couldn’t let that piano, which also sported a giant ivory stencil of a splash of roses above the keyboard, go undocumented.

Not all of the elements in each shot were green—such as three clover-shaped skeleton keys I couldn’t resist from an auction—but I incorporated a Kelly green into the background.

Each image, several of which have been published over the past year, including in Fourth & Sycamore, includes at least one aspect of the color I’d chosen, which also happens to be my personal favorite. (A little trivia for you.)

My photography practice has enhanced my writing practice for years, and vice-versa. What can photography bring to enhance our writing skills on the page and screen?

- Photography is imagery-focused, just like writing. Do you like to take photos of your family dog or cat? How about landscapes? Or food shots from restaurants or your own kitchen? What about your children or grandchildren? Or sports? In each of these types of shots, and more, there is a subject in your composition that you zero in on, to the exclusion of other details in the shot. The same is true for our writing. In our writing practice, we narrow down the subject we’d like to explore and the best genre to explore it (poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and flash, to name a few options).

Just as in our compositions we decide if we want to take a long, wide view (as in a landscape) or the close-up view (as in a macro or micro shot), in our writing, we make choices about how we will present the protagonist(s) or antagonist(s). What will be their main motivations? What action will be the catalyst for beginning the story in conflict, in media rest? What word pictures will bring to life the tone and theme in our poem?

- Photography evokes numerous senses within visual imagery, just as good writing does. No, we don’t have scratch-and-sniff photos yet, but a great photo of a box of popcorn triggers our memories and associations with the scents and textures of popcorn just as multi-sensory imagery in prose or poetry within the minds of readers.

- Photography teaches us about connections, symbolism, and resonance. Just like in our writing, in photography there’s the surface subject—perhaps a platter of enchiladas—and then there’s the deeper meaning of the picture—your grandfather taught you to include a lime wedge to garnish them and so you always make yours with limes at the ready. The evocative personal and background details in such a shot will influence not only why you chose to document your delicious dish, but also will affect the way that viewers approach and appreciate the composition, even if they don’t know 100% (or any) of the backstory. Good photos, just like good writing, reveal key, carefully-selected details that draw in the audience.

- Photography, much like writing, is self-expressive and just plain fun. It can be easy, amidst craft talk, to forget that there’s a magical and exciting sense of exploration in both art forms. Many times, I’m surprised and entertained by the subjects and themes that both my lens and pen create and how much they share in common.

Try This Prompt! Choose a color from the ROY G BIV spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Make a photo every day for four or five days of something with this color. Warning: it’ll only take a day or two until you notice the color everywhere.

Feel free to use the camera on your phone, if that’s easier than hauling around a larger camera.

On the last day, use one of the images from your photos as a prompt to kick-start a new poem, short story, scene, or essay. Include unique descriptions to denote each color in your writing. Thesaurus.com is a wonderful resource for hue synonyms.

Consider continuing to take photos in your series for as many days or weeks as the idea appeals, and then repeat this exercise as often as you’d like with a piece of writing inspired by your new photo compositions.

Need more inspiration? Consider my upcoming Imagery Power: Photography for Writers class.