Photo Prompts for Writing

South Africa map rainbow

I often review a series of photos before writing a travel essay, putting myself more quickly back into the place, time or event I want to query.

For me, stimulating one sense (sight) usually creates a chain reaction, and I hear, smell, and feel what it was like to take that photograph, or be in the moment it was taken.

Today, I’m writing a piece related to an early journey we took here in South Africa, paired with a new insight on our recent trip to Botswana.  Since that early journey was so long ago, looking through the photographs helps trigger a few more connections that work into the piece. I stopped on a particular photograph, which relates to what I’m writing, but which struck me with its possibilities of also inspiring other poems or essays.

I wanted to share the photograph with you, as well as some suggestions for my fellow workshop instructors out there…

Teaching/Workshop Suggestions:

A) Using a photograph which has a lot of individual items or people in the shot, have all students look at it, study it, and privately choose one item or person in the photograph to focus on (ask them to be specifc, not to choose something general like landscape, but more specific like a bush, a tree, a stone, an animal, a person). Have them do this prompt in two parts: first, describe using all senses, the item they are focused on; second, create prose or poetry from the point of view of that item or person.

B) Take enough different photographs for each student. You can clip them from magazines or take your own. Have each student jot down the first 5 words that come to mind when looking at the photograph. Then have everyone pass the photograph two people to the left, so everyone now has a new photograph. Using the words they jotted down from the first photo, apply them to the new photo and create a short story, poem, or essay.

C) After studying a photograph, have the students create a piece from the perspective of the photographer, telling the story of why/how/when/where the photograph was taken.writing workshop ideas photographs overcoming writer's blockPersonal Writing Suggestions:Most workshop ideas can be done solo. I like to alter my workshop prompts for solo online inspiration when I’m trying to unblock my writing. Here are some ideas on how to inspire yourself…

A) You can use prompts A and C for writing workshops as-is.

B) Alter prompt B for personal writing as follows: Look at the photograph above. Write the first 5 words that come to mind. There is no right or wrong. The first five. No matter how normal (or odd) they might be. Now type those five words into Google image search, and, using the first photograph that comes up, create a piece that connects both photographs together.  For example, my first five words in looking at the above photograph were “river” “sand” “heat” “wide” “winding.”

Here is the first photograph to show up from these words:sand dryer machineI can either write not knowing what this photograph is about, or look into it further (it is a sand drying machine) and then create.

Do you use photographs to create writing prompts? I’d love to hear the ways you use them in your own writing, or as teaching prompts.

Welcome to August, readers!

Love, MarLa

3 Comments on “Photo Prompts for Writing

  1. In the past, as a game to play with a small group of writing pals, I brought six mini magazine collages I made on index cards. You lay them face down on a table and take turns drawing one that everyone free-writes about for a specified time – say, 15 minutes. When the buzzer goes off you take turns reading aloud. It’s great fun. Thanks for the reminder!

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