Framing the scene

I’ve been doing this thing called the 365 Project, which basically consists of taking a picture every day and uploading it to the website. The idea is to improve your photography skills through sheer practice, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about how photography relates to writing.

In really every kind of writing, it’s important to “see” the scene as you write it. In prose, you want the audience to be able to picture the action just from your words, but in television you’re also telling the director how you want it to look. (This is one of the major ways that TV and features writing are different. In TV, the writer almost always trumps the director. Why? Because in TV, a director normally has one week of prep, a week and a half or so of shooting, and a week in post production. That means the minimum number of directors a show can have is three, and shows will normally have many more than that in a season. But each writer is involved in some way in writing every episode, and directors are hired at the writers’ discretion. If the director gives the writers a hard time, s/he will not be invited back.) When I frame a picture, I’m looking to tell a story. I’m looking not just for an interesting subject, but also the angle I can use that tells the audience about that subject in an interesting way.

Metaphorically, there’s a lot more to it. What do I want the picture to encompass? Where does my scene begin and end? Is my subject centered in the photo or off to one side? Do I want the heart of my scene to happen at the beginning, and the repercussions follow, in the middle, or at the end of the scene and we’ll deal with the fallout in another scene? Do I want the sun to silhouette my subject or bath it in light? Where do I want the audience’s sympathies? I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve taken a dozen pictures of a subject, from all angles and depths, and find that the best one is the one where I simply stood in front and took the picture and let the subject tell the story itself.

Sometimes the hardest part can be finding an interesting subject. For the same reason that we only ever follow our characters into the restroom if we know there’s an assassin hiding in there, everyday things are only interesting if you can show them in a new way. So when you’re writing your scene, don’t just picture the action. Try to see what the still shot of your scene would look like. Make sure that one image tells the story, and that image comes through in your scene.

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About Generation Coax

I am an aspiring TV writer, amateur photographer, and craft hobbyist.
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