The Post – As Promised, What Photography Teaches You About Writing

As I mentioned earlier, photographing fiddler crabs helped me to “be one with them.” Armed with the heart of a crab, maybe I can get that across in the book.

In a broader sense, there are some similarities between the arts of photography and writing:

1) Narrow the topic:

The viewfinder of a camera sets the limits on how much you can fit in the picture. A photo is a one-moment slice of an event. You can’t show everything, so you have to choose. What will you focus on?

Good writing, especially essays and short pieces, needs limits too. Start with too broad a topic and the piece runs too long, lacks focus and depth, and leaves the reader wondering it’s about. You can’t say everything, so you have to choose what you will say. Choose a specific slant and give the reader depth for that one topic.

2) Composition – Create the Scene:

Part of the art in a good photograph is its composition. What did you include and why? How did you choose to portray it? What angle was it shot from? Lighting? Shadows? Contrast?

In a good story, “show don’t tell” is done with scenes. You’re the director. How will you set it up? Who will be in it and who will be left out? Why? What will they say and do? What are they holding? Wearing? Where are they? Is it frigid or tropical? Are they scared or serene?

3) Detail is the life of the creation:

The camera’s eye doesn’t miss much and often sees more details than the photographer did when taking the shot. The details that show up in the picture bring it alive, especially in things like still life and macro photography. The details ARE the photo.

In writing, specifics are the spice that creates the picture. Something doesn’t smell good, it has a licorice herbal aroma that wafts through the sunlit cottage and makes you salivate with anticipation. Something doesn’t feel rough and hurt you, it has a gritty surface that grinds against the tender flesh of your palm until it strips the skin raw and bloody. Specifics create the image.

4) Deliver the vision:

You can see the image you want in your mind’s eye, but if you can’t work the camera, all you’ll get is a dark blur. Master the technology.

The most amazing story may run through your mind. Yet if what appears on paper lacks organization, moves too slowly, leaves out needed plot points, has poor sentence structure, bloated dialogue, or no sensory details, no one will get it. Master your craft.

5) Know what you want to say:

A photograph may be wordless, but it will still speak to the viewer if the photographer knows what he’s looking for.

In writing, you may have a 500-page novel but you still need to be able to sum it up in a line or two. If you can’t do that, you don’t know what your story is about.

In the future, 10 or so things an oil painting taught me about the writing process. Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to “The Post – As Promised, What Photography Teaches You About Writing”

  1. alice pettyjohn Says:

    Hi Deb,

    I really enjoyed your blog entry on writing. As a sometime photographer and sometime writer I related to all that you wrote. I found it to be so true and exact in describing the process of both mediums. When I am at my best in writing it just flows and I am amazed at what comes out of me and other times I struggle and struggle. Your outline of the process and the needed focus is a good reminder for me. I’m enjoying your blog and will keep checking in to see what you are up to–especially enjoyed the kingfisher entry and the poem “Kindness”, one of my favorites.

  2. debrabailey Says:

    Alice,

    Thank you for the kind comments and especially sharing your writing/photography process observations. You’re right. At it’s best, you’re “in the zone” as many athletes will say, and it’s like someone else has taken over. You just go with it, it flows out of you, and you try to stay out of the way of the creation. Other times, it’s like trying to get through a brick wall by digging at it with a teaspoon. In any event, thank you.

    Deb

  3. Donna J. Shepherd Says:

    I enjoyed your observations. Excellent advice.

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