What Photography Has Taught Me About Writing… and Vice Versa

Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta
Behind the Veil by Sally Wiener Grotta

I am often asked what I mean when I say that my photography and writing inform each other. Photography, storytelling, and, yes, life… it’s all about what we see, how we convey it to others and whether we can make it meaningful.

When I look at the world through the lens of my camera, I see so much more. My field of vision might be more limited, but everything becomes more focused, limned with greater clarity of shadows and light. Life resolves into aesthetic patterns and colors, giving definition and meaning, and making the ordinary everyday more noteworthy and memorable.

It’s as though my lens has the magic ability to see through to the essentials of a moment or of a personality, to tell me a story that I might have missed if it weren’t for my camera’s eye view.

I often think about my photography when I’m writing… visualizing what I want my readers to see, focusing my words as I would my camera lens. To go even further, I believe that being a photographer makes me a better writer, just as being a writer strengthens my photography.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing, and about life, by watching the world through my camera lens:

  • Stay focused on the central subject, but don’t lose sight of what surrounds it. The context (the background) of a picture (or a story) often gives it weight and meaning.
  • Don’t stay stubbornly rooted in place. Explore different perspectives, even if it means getting down on the earth or climbing mountains.
  • Crop (edit) until you’ve zeroed in on the essentials and have removed anything that might distract from what you want the viewer (reader) to see.
  • Pay close attention not only to what the light illuminates, but also what lurks in the shadows and how it changes how you feel and think about the picture (or story).
  • Small details, carefully captured, can often tell a whole story.
  • If you’re going to lie, make it a glorious story.

(Originally published as part of The Wordsmiths Project)

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