Photography for Writers

 A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away. Eudora Welty

In this quote, the writer, Eudora Welty, reminds us that photographs capture moments; and moments frozen in time can inspire writers.

I have loved taking photographs since I was a child. When I was ten or eleven, I had a clunky Polaroid Model 20 Swinger instant camera and loved to capture the world around me. I grew up in a neighbourhood filled with trees. One day, after an ice storm, I grabbed my camera and rushed out to photograph a giant tree covered in ice. It shimmered in the light and I was in awe of its beauty. While that photograph exists now only in my memory, I remember the thrill of taking the photograph and watching the image emerge before my eyes.

DSCN6087These days anyone with a smartphone has a camera with them at all times. As a writer, there are many ways that you can use a camera to capture images that can inspire your writing. You may wish to take a short photography course to learn more about the features of your camera and some basic photography principles.


Photo-taking Tips

I’ll leave the highly technical advice to the experts, but here are a few tips I’d like to share from what I have learned:

  • be careful that you don’t move the camera when you depress the shutter release (the button you use to take the photograph). This will result in a blurred image
  • if possible, steady your arm against a stationary object as you shoot
  • you may also choose to use a tripod
  • don’t photograph an object or a person lit from behind by very bright light
  • avoid taking photos in bright overhead sunlight. Overcast days are great for photographing gardens
  • experiment with the macro setting – it allows you to get great close-ups and capture lots of fine detail.

As a writer, being able to observe the small details of life that others often miss, is a great skill. Ron Rozelle, author of Description and Setting – Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places and Events says “to be a good writer, you have to be a persistent and meticulous harvester of detail.”  One of the benefits of using a camera regularly is that taking photographs increases your powers of observation.  You begin to see and photograph the intriguing details of life.  And someday those details will show up in your writing.

Suggestions for Using Your Photographs as a Writer

DSCN7873You can photograph the settings for your scenes.  Let’s imagine the short story you’re writing is set in Kensington Market in Toronto. You might draw on memories from previous visits to the area, or you could tour the market, camera in hand, capturing it in photographs. When you sit down to write, you can refer to your photographs for details.  You may even notice details in the photographs that you didn’t notice during your visit.

Does a character in one of your stories have a hobby?  Why not photograph the supplies that a character uses or the beautiful results of their work? 

DSC01732Photograph the “everyday” experiences of life and weave them into your stories; think cracked egg shells, steam rising from a cup of coffee on a cold day, or as in this photograph – lace curtains billowing as a breeze flows in through the window.

Take photographs that tell a story.  They can be used as writing prompts either for yourself or to share with a writing group. Here are some examples:

  •  what stories do these photos suggest?







If you write memoir, you are keenly aware of the important role photographs play when writing about your life. It is important that you label your photographs and identify the subject(s) and date the photo was taken, for future reference. Photographs are a great conversation starter when asking family members to remember stories from the past.

Travel provides the perfect opportunity to capture photographs that can inspire future writing.  When I visited Paris in May, I made a point of photographing “writerly” haunts such as the famous Café Flore in Paris, frequented in the past by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus.

Historical research benefits from the use of a camera. When visiting sites of historical significance to your work, a camera is invaluable for capturing the large and small details. 

I hope I’ve encouraged you to grab your camera, look a little more closely at the world around you, and to consider the many ways that the photographs you take can inspire and enhance your writing.  I’d love to hear about the results.

Until next time,


Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, November 3. We hope you can join us.

If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe to our blog? Just enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top right hand corner of this page.  The names of new subscribers in October will be entered in a draw to win a copy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  Our September winner was Brenda Harper who wins a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

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