Writing Resource 3/100: Photos

So, the header image above is to establish one thing right away – I am not, have never been, never will be and would never dream of claiming I am a photographer…

And this post, only number 3 out of a proposed series of 100 for writers may seem a bit unfocused but it was written for 2 reasons

  1. to give an early idea to any reader that this list is going to be a bit more random than a list of books or guides you can read to help with writing (although there will be a lot of those.)
  2. To cram in that really bad unfocused gag above.

So, my background with cameras.

I have memories of Dad bringing back the holiday snaps from the chemists; the majority of which had stickers on them explaining why they didn’t come out.

I remember my first time in New York; some fifteen years ago, buying a throw-away camera from some high-class photography shop where the guy behind the counter looked at me pityingly in my choice but said “At least you haven’t gone over to the dark side“. When I asked him what he meant he hissed, “Digital

I remember going over to the dark side after years of getting similar results as my father did from ‘real’ cameras, or just flat out ruining entire rolls of film by opening the camera when I shouldn’t – so yes, I did buy one of them there new fanged digital cameras ahead of our honeymoon a few years ago (and there is a story of my being ripped off by a camera shop in San Francisco which would make David Mamet blush…) and have used it casually ever since. Annie Leibovitz is not, it is fair to say, trembling in her shoes.  I also downloaded Photoshop – initially to try and tidy up some of the shocking efforts I produced, but increasingly to play around with random images shot by me or ‘sourced’ from the Web.

I am on Instagram, but haven’t bothered included it within the follow me links on this blog or anywhere else, because – well, basically I have to date posted a total of 5 photos on there. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not dissing Instagram, I just don’t use it: my wife on the other hand is a dab hand, shooting, filtering and uploading pics wherever we go and uploading many of them to her site RagTagMagpie

What’s all this got to do with writing? Well, here are three ways I use photography in my scribbling life.

Note: There are probably, estimating conservatively. around 5,810,000,000 better articles on photography available around the Web (well, that’s what happened when I typed ‘photography’ into Google…


When this writing thing starts paying all the moneys I may use professional photography for my covers…or maybe hire talented artists to produce the covers (See Post coming this Sunday…for more on this…). A quick google search suggests most don’t though:  best novel covers throws up relatively few photos in the images suggested.

The cover of Basement Tales was a photograph I took at an interesting art exhibition which I won’t name here as I’m not altogether sure I was permitted to be photographing… suffice to say the exhibition was not paintings, photos or other artistic representations of skulls and other body parts – it was, very much, the bodies in all their glory. I took a number of photos, and for BT’s cover, took one of them, photo shopped the hell out of it in terms of colour, texture, cropping and  and disassembling for the finished cover. It ended up a very different looking image – almost to the point of ambiguity as to what it was, but that was the intention.

If this was any sort of professional approach here I’d show the before and after photo – but it is not, and I can’t find the original. It did look different though…

Photo used in photoshop for Basement Tales collection
Mid stage photoshop of Skull (Basement Tales)

From the same art exhibition I took a shot of a different display which I was considering using for the forthcoming You Could Make a Killing before Nicola produced a rather fine Saul Bass inspired piece – you can read more about that on the RagTagMagpie Blog and I’ll be re-posting the article on here in the near future.

I had been considering using this type of motif for all future books but decided against it for two reasons:

  1. Where to source materials from after my initial collection from the unnamed exhibition ran out started to concern me.
  2. I wasn’t sure how it would work for my forthcoming novel ‘Inside The Skull of Scalp Cranium: The Mind Hunter‘.

Anyway, I guess photos could work for covers. (Not the strongest ever ending to a point…)

Blog Post Illustrations

In trying to keep this new blog thing interesting I have peppered with images a much as possible, and am conscious of how many book covers/ film posters and similar it currently has: pretty unavoidable to keep any semblance of visual interest when talking about books and films and…well, similar.

I’ve tried to use some of the photos I’ve taken over the last couple of years to pepper around the place – so the main page header is a backdrop of an extreme close up I took of a particular roll of material being sold in Central Park in New York (yeah, I know it just screams NYC doesn’t it) with the profile inset image a sepia photoshopped image I took down our cellar of my rusty old typewriter (and no, that wasn’t meant to be ‘trusty’ – the thing is filthy). I’m not saying this is good, or a fine indicator for users of what the site is about – I just quite liked it and I decided to use it.

Reduced image size of bewbob header
Header used for Bewbob.com

There are too many examples dotted around the blog already to go into detail- and most of them are not worthy of said detail – but as one other example: here’s the photo I took and shopped for one of the free fiction pieces you’ll find on this site – my first ever published story ‘An Apple A Day’  The photo is about as subtle as the story….

Photoshopped image of a bleeding apple
Photo taken for ‘Apple A Day’ short story

And finally, in this in-depth, sure to be snapped up as the basis for a full length work by Taschen any day now, a third way I use photos:


Inspiration and Prompts

The great thing about the ‘dark digital’ especially for awful users like myself, is you can take sooooo many pictures – and it doesn’t cost you anything more than the micro penny the memory card cost you. I probably delete 80% of the terrible snaps I take: but it doesn’t cost me the fortune it would have done twenty years ago taking them to Boots to develop. That being the case. just snapping something that catches my attention – whether it’s a building, structure or landscape which tend to be filed away in a ‘Prompt’ folder. They don’t tend to evolve into full blown stories, but i do use them frequently for ‘colour’ within a tale. This might be for description, mood or world-building.

A couple of examples:

After half an hour trying to get a good action shot of a particularly ugly bird, while lying on the beach on holiday (didn’t get one- bird bastard.) the sky went a bit funny, and looking up, saw the sun doing this, I later photoshopped it into a fiery red image, which I think does appear accompanying something somewhere around this blog (top researching here, eh?)but really, I don’t think this one needed any playing with. I think a spark of a story might come out of this…assuming it doesn’t signal the world is about to end, which I assumed at the time.

Photograph of semi-eclipse of sun in Jamaica
Strange Jamaican Sun


And just in case there was any lingering doubt that this was still attempting to be a ‘look at me I’m arty’…rather than saying photos can provide a physical record of a mental flash that says, ‘there’s got to be a story there somewhere’ in the every day, I present three things I shot which I’m sure I’ll find a story or an element within for one day.

I present without (much) comment:

bad parking across multiple handicap spaces
‘The Biggest Asshole in the World’ – a short story….

Even when you mess up the photo completely: I’m sure there has to be something about a man selling his wares as a ‘6’7 Jew who will freestyle rap for you…




And finally, an example in practice. Visiting New York we popped into St Bartholomew’s Church, 325 Park Avenue at 51st Street. I was trying to come up with a story for a themed anthology and had come up with zip, (in NYC parlance), nowt. (in more North East)…

And then I saw the site I snapped below. A story came from it- written in a blur of activity all stemming from this: 24k in a scant four days. I won’t curse it as I have no idea what will happen to that story *(even in its’ massively reduced form), but it’ll be out there some day, in some form, even if it’s just to give it away free here. Because I really like my photo inspired story…

Votive Candles in St. Bart's New York City

Votive Candles in St. Bart’s New York City

Well, that turned into a long one… but writing this post, I actually have an idea for a short story about an intrusive snapper which I think I might just have to start on quite soon…

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