How writing is like photography…from writer and photographer Emilie Hendryx

Melissa Tagg On Writing, Welcome Mat Wednesday 13 Comments

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Internet is awesome. Why? Because it means I get to “meet” fun people like writer and photographer Emilie Hendryx!

Emilie and I met late last year when she interviewed me via email for the ACFW website. In our emails, we got to chatting and at some point decided we were destined to be friends. And I’m super excited about her post today. If you’re a writer, this one’s totally for you as Emilie shows us what photography has in common with writing. Or, if you’re not a writer, seriously you need to check out her post solely to see her fabulous photos. So good! Take it away, Emilie…


Word Photography

Emilie HendryxIn addition to being a writer, I’m also a photographer, and I think the part of me that understands the concept of why a photo works is the same part that allows me to depict emotion and feeling in my writing. There are a few things I think through when I’m writing that are very similar to when I photograph clients. I thought I’d share some of them here with a few photos I’ve taken to help get your creative juices flowing.

1)    Look for the light

When I’m photographing a couple or even just a single client for a portrait session, I am always in search of good lighting. There are many different types, but I would say (for my style of photography especially) light is one of the most crucial things that “makes” a photo.

As a writer, how can you explain the light in a scene in a way that helps your reader feel it? Is the sunshine dripping like golden honey? This would give it a deep and rich feeling.

Picture 1

Or, is it merely casting a faint shadow? This type of light is usually cooler than it is warm and would even have a dull, bluish undertone to it.

Picture 2

These different types of light will help mold and shape the mood of a scene.

2)    Depict what isn’t there along with what is

Picture 3

The subtlety of photography is something you don’t usually think about. Sometimes, what isn’t there is what’s most important. This could be seen in the way of cropping off faces where all you see are clasped hands, or it could be that moment before the kiss versus the kiss itself.

Picture 4

For writing, I think of emotions that are deep beneath the surface and are either guessed or hinted at, not said outright. Your hero rubbing his forehead reflects deep thought or concern. The heroine pursing her lips showing that she’s holding back words. Even one outstretched finger toward someone could indicate attachment without coming out and saying it. Here, I think of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 version) after he helps Elizabeth into the carriage and we see his hand move as if it’s “tingling” from the touch. That action spoke volumes to me and he wasn’t even looking at her.

3)    Emotion sometimes isn’t seen so much as felt

It’s easy to describe that “she loved him” or “he adored her” but what does that actually mean? Better yet, what does it look like? In writing, it’s a gentle touch of the hand or a glance shared between lovers, but other times it’s an electric current buzzing in the room that isn’t seen but experienced.

Picture 5

With photography, that chemistry is obvious in engagement photography. Once you have a couple in love in front of the camera and you get them focusing on one another (rather than you with your camera) something magical happens. They are suddenly in their own world and it’s truly a beautiful thing. When I write, I try and depict those moments with my characters, making sure that they are unique to my characters and how they would express themselves. If he fixes cars and doesn’t know a thing about poetry, make sure his vernacular is in line with that. Maybe he equates the pumping of his heart to the pistons in a fuel-injected engine. (Ok, I’ll be honest – I know nothing about cars so that could totally be wrong, but you get the point.)

Picture 6

4)    Make sure it feels real

I can tell when my clients feel awkward. Usually, this happens in the first 10 – 15 minutes of the session where they are getting used to being together in front of a photographer they don’t know too well. I often use humor to bring them together and ease the tension, and this trick can sometimes work with writing as well.

Picture 7

Just remember, if you’re describing a scene with too much direction or it’s physically impossible or doesn’t make sense, you’re confusing your readers. As I suggest below, act it out. Does what you’re saying feel natural? Is he touching her face all the time? Is she repeatedly placing her hand on his arm? All of these things can make the writing feel forced or unnatural. Make sure your actions are in line with the mood of the scene and the characteristics of your characters.

5)    Can you see it?

This last one is probably the most important. Can you see what you are trying to portray? You may not all be quite as visual as I am, but that doesn’t have to stop you from really seeing what you’re writing. I guarantee that if you can’t see what you’re describing, your readers will have trouble visualizing it too.

Picture 8Picture 9

Some suggestions:

Picture 10-Find a photo (you can look on Pinterest or photography blogs) that captures the feeling you want a scene to portray.

-Act out a scene with someone. Experience the movements so you can accurately describe what it feels and looks like. (This can get fun if it’s a fight scene 😉 Did I mention I write Romantic Suspense?)

-Watch a movie and try writing out a scene from it. Use descriptions and try to accurately portray what you see with words.

-Read it out loud. Did it make sense? Could you “see” what you’re saying?

-Have someone else read the scene – could they “see” it? If not, ask them why.

Thanks for having me Melissa. I love photography almost as much as I love writing and this post was a lot of fun to create. Description is such an important part of writing and approaching it like a photographer armed with words can be a lot of fun. I wish you all good luck with your “word photography”.


Emilie is a small town girl who moved to the big city. Now living in Los Angeles, she is a writer, photographer/owner at E.A. Creative Photography, and a musician.  She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers organization and loves to read and write Christian fiction in addition to writing her blog Thinking Thoughts.  She believes in doing all things for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31) and her passion for Christ fuels everything she does. She also likes spending time with the girls from the high school youth group she volunteers with and, in her free time, you can find her curled up with a book and a cup of coffee.

Instagram: @eahendryx


Twitter: @eacreativephoto

Facebook: (and)

Note from Melissa: Readers, were those not some of the prettiest photos ever?? And fabulous tips too! Which is your favorite–photo or tip?

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    Comments 13

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      2. Emilie

        Thank you so much Patricia! I just LOVE taking photos and it makes me so happy to see something that turns out just as I envisioned it would! Thanks for reading!

    1. Lindsay Harrel

      Beautiful photos! I really like the ones with light streaming in. It’s interesting how light can change everything. That’s very metaphorical, if you think about it in a spiritual sense! :)

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      2. Emilie

        I agree Lindsay! I am often struck by the fact that, for my photography, light is EVERYTHING just as in my life Christ is (and always needs to be) EVERYTHING. Thanks for stopping by :)

    2. Gabrielle Meyer

      I loved the perspective of describing a scene, like you would set up a photographic shot. Look for the light, the right placement, the natural chemistry of the subject(s). In my senior pictures in high school I had a photographer who took some awkward pictures–and the entire time I posed, I knew I wouldn’t like them when I got the proofs. I need to try to remember not to put my characters (and thus my readers) into awkward positions that feel forced and unnatural. I’m trying to get better at “seeing” my scene first, and then writing it. Usually, it’s the other way around. Thanks for this great post!!

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        Melissa Tagg

        I like what you said about seeing your scene first. A lot of times, my productivity side kicks in when I’m sitting down to write and I just want to get the words on the page. And yet, it’s always such a better scene and a better writing experience overall when I take the time to see the scene before writing it.

      2. Emilie

        Thanks so much Gabrielle! I know what you mean – I sometimes run away with an idea in a scene and think, “This is great!” but when I re-read it I stop and realize it’s impossible for him to be caressing her face at that moment or something like that (hehe). Being in the scene in my head always helps with this!

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      2. Emilie

        Crystal I know what you mean! The second photo under tip # 3 is one of my favorites and I have another similar to it but it’s a little closer to the woman and it crops off the guy’s head creating the perfect “who is he?” affect (I just made that up ha!). I’ve thought about doing book covers before and definitely need to look into what it takes. I love designing things as well so it would be a win-win!

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