Use Photographs for Writing Inspiration

Guest Post by Brenda Covert

English: A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera with K...I’ve loved photography ever since Mom snapped my picture with her Brownie Hawkeye and its big, grape-shaped, single-use flash bulb. Then, photography was for special occasions. Now, we use digital cameras and camera phones to snap photos of everything that interests us and upload them to the Internet for family, friends and the world to see.

After acquiring my first camera as a young teen, I set about capturing loved ones and my surroundings on film. I once took a photo of a fat green bush with one small white bloom among the leaves. The photo, once developed, didn’t revive the emotional response I had felt when I first saw that lonely bloom in person. However, it served to remind me of the emotion, and I penned a poem about it.  That was my first experience with using photography to inspire my writing.

Finding your inspiration in photographs can be a fun way to rev your creative engine and move your stalled project forward. There are several ways you can use photographs to accomplish this purpose.

  • Snap pictures of people, scenes, or events that spark an emotional response, whether pleasant or unpleasant. If you make a habit of carrying a camera with you at all times, you’ll be ready for those unexpected moments. This is easier to do these days since so many cell phones have a camera.
  • Take pictures of locations or events that could appear in your writing. These photos will serve to remind you of the details to include to give your readers a sense of being there.
  • Take snapshots of your subject/scene from different angles. You may find something intriguing that you never noticed from your own eye-level. For instance, would you ever think to take a picture from below a flower garden? My daughter did, and it looks like the flower is worshiping the Creator.
  • No camera? No problem. Study photos taken by others. Type the emotion or topic into the search box at Google Images or go to Flickr. Make up characters and story lines to go with different photos. Not knowing the facts behind the shot can free up your imagination. This can be a fun activity for vintage photos.
  • Blindly choose a photo and study it. Think of an analogy between it and your faith or an attribute of God. We occasionally did something similar during devotions at the Christian university I attended. (Sometimes it was a spur-of-the-moment exercise of passing a paper sack of common objects around the circle, and each girl would make up an analogy for the item she pulled from the sack.)
  • Bonus idea: By using Google Maps Street View online, you can explore locations/settings for your fiction or nonfiction project from the comfort of home. You can study 360-degree, panoramic, and street-level images. Just be aware that those photos may be dated. I looked for a specific address, and the map photo of that address was taken in 2008, while the business that now occupies that space opened in 2010.

Photography is a wonderfully creative medium that can enhance your writing. Use it as a driving force behind your project. It may be the tool that helps you stop idling and gets your project back on track.


Brenda Covert is an author who first sold her article to Today’s Christian Woman in 1999. She has had a variety of articles, short stories, and poetry published since then, notably with Union Gospel Press. Her editing career began in 2002 with online educational materials. In 2011, she became an editor for Ambassador International, a Christian book publisher.

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