This Four Step Photo Walk Helps Writers Capture Setting

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WNY Young Writer’s Studio fellows recently took a stroll through Kenmore, New York in search of images that reminded them of the settings they were crafting for their own stories.

They were pleasantly surprised by the quickly changing landscape of our little village and the variety of buildings and spaces it offered them.

Conducting this kind of research brought their settings to life. Exploring the photos they captured with a very tight lens enriched the level of detail they added to their drafts as well. Here’s how you can replicate our four step photo walk in order to help your students make their own careful study of setting.

Step One: Take a Walk


Step Two: Shoot Your Setting

As we wandered, writers captured handfuls of images that reminded them of the settings they were shaping:


Step Three: Study and Slice

Writers made an initial study of these images, capturing what they noticed in their notebooks and adding those they didn’t intend to use to their Photo 365 project archives. Then, they sliced each photo into quadrants and made a much closer study of each piece:


Step Four: Mine Each Slice for Added Detail

The details gleaned from this deeper read of each photo made for setting descriptions that felt far more genuine. I expected this, but writers were rewarded in some unexpected ways as well. For instance, new story ideas began to emerge as writers mined each quarter of their photographs for finer detail. New themes rose to their surface of their conversations as well.

My own photo featured a barren street corner and a row of brick apartment buildings. The picture was washed in shades of gray and brown, and anyone glimpsing the surface of this shot might characterize its setting as drab and lifeless. But when we considered each quarter in isolation, we noticed so much more: tidy lawns and well-tended trees, a gleaming white vehicle parked along the sidewalk, a fresh coat of paint on the business beside the apartments.

“Someone cares about this space,” one of the writers in our group mentioned. “It might not be fancy, but it’s really well cared for.”

These conclusions may not have been reached had we left the photos intact. Breaking them apart enabled a far closer, slower, and more rewarding interpretation.

So often, when we speak about writing, we focus on building: characters, story arcs, tension, resolution, theme, setting, mood, and tone. I could go on. Revisiting this lesson reminds me that writers often need to break some things in order to build others.

How might this strategy serve you and your building this year?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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