Photography

  • Why writers benefit from a 365 photo project

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    Why authors benefit from a 365 photo project

    Why writers benefit from a 365 photo project

    Many years ago, I embarked on my first 365 photography project. At the time, I didn’t have my Nikon, just a digital camera with a less impressive megapixel count. I’d seen 365 projects on LiveJournal. So, I decided to do my own. I have since completed three – two 365s and a 366 (leap year). And one important lesson I learned is how writers benefit from these 365 photo projects.

    Immediately, I began looking at the world in a different way, constantly attentive to small and previously overlooked details. Like beautiful old stonework with moss growing in the cracks. It reminded me of the knitting designer Kaffe Fassett who used walls as inspiration in his older work.

    Anything was a potential subject. Including the pot drawer in the kitchen. Late one night, needing to take my photo fast, I opened the pot drawer and snapped the pots in there.

    In a year where I took much better photos, which languish now on some old machine, this is one that stays in my mind. Shiny pots with annoying finger marks, the curving metal distorting my reflected face.

    So if pots ever appeared in a story, I could have a character who longs to erase every last one of those finger marks. Maybe they’re a perfectionist, or maybe they start polishing when they’re stressed. A small detail, but a quirk that helps flesh out a character.

    Writers need to be present in the world and notice the small details. And with mobile phone cameras, a regular photo project is easier than ever.

    How to get started

    If you’ve never engaged in a regular photo project, you don’t have to wait until the beginning of next year to start. Choose a starting date – the beginning of a month, or even your birthday – and work from there. If you want to give it a try, here are some suggestions:

    • Decide on a time period and stick to it – a year, 90 days, whatever.
    • Don’t fixate on taking the perfect photo – that’s not the point.
    • Don’t fixate on the best equipment – whatever fits in your pocket is best.
    • Be constantly attentive for a photo opportunity – study your surroundings.
    • Just about any object is a potential subject – including spilled refuse.
    • Don’t just look for attractive subjects.
    • Try taking your photo from an unusual angle.
    • Keep a file of your photos or post them somewhere.
    • Categorise them so you can find a subject easily – insects on flowers, etc.

    Ultimately, the point of this project is to get you to observe the world around you in ways that can be used in your writing. It’s not about writing long descriptive passages, but describing things in a more evocative or unusual way, even if it’s just a phrase here or a sentence there.

    If you haven’t tried this before, give it a go. You can even try it for a month – which is a shorter commitment.

    One warning I’d give is that with projects like this, you might get off to an enthusiastic start and then find yourself flagging. It becomes an annoying task some days, but I strongly recommend you push through. 

    As writers we often live in our heads, not noticing the world around us. But if we want to better represent that world, we need to pay more attention.

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