Sunday, 29 June 2014


Using digital photography to aid your writing isn't about taking perfect pictures. It's about capturing atmosphere.
   I knew, climbing this Italian hillside in the rain, that I'd turn the journey into a story. So I took loads of pictures.
   It didn't matter to me whether or not I took great shots. Only that I took shots. They are all time-stamped.
   If I tell you how long it takes our so-called hero to reach the summit, it takes that long. Based on my digital photo record.

I kept my footing, firing off snaps every few seconds. You'll excuse me for not caring if I took the perfect shot.
   The perfect shot snapped on the edge of a 900-foot drop...
   ...may just be inherited by your nearest and dearest when your estate is wound up.
   The hell with the perfect shot. Sometimes, the blurriness is what makes the picture work.
   Or light bleaches the detail from a landscape and you are left with an idea, which you run away with.

My intention, in firing off 300+ shots of trees, was to create a map my hero could travel.
   Readers can follow that trail by studying a real map. But would a real map point out a bench half-hidden in the gloom?
   Climbing alone, I was in story-mode with my paranoid character. Wondering where he'd face his foe. For foe there had to be.
   A few images were taken in pairs, looking forward and then back - as befitted the actions of a dangerous man.

The smell of nothing much. Greenery. Rain.
   Relative quiet. Breezy leafery. Rustling of fabric as I marched on. I added the sense of paranoia.
   At that point, I had my assassin climbing to a rendezvous and a double-cross.
   We make stories up as we go, when we go walking in new places.
   Where do you get your ideas?
   Strangers leave them lying around for me. I pick them up later. The ideas, not the strangers.

Footing. That became more important, the higher I climbed. I didn't add a sense of paranoia when dealing with the slicker rain-swept rocks nearer the summit.
   No need.
   I went looking for a story. Every junction was an opporchancity. I walked alone. That became part of it.
   The idea of the lone assassin was reinforced on this people-free climb. Eventually, people showed up.

Before people showed up, I discovered a trace of people. This glove, propped on a branch, became part of the story.
   Yes, I plan stories. I also leave room for the unexpected. The point is, you pick and choose your moments. I chose this glove. It begged to be included.

Heeding the cry, I made sure that glove went into my tale. Who left it there, when, and why?
   Our anti-hero suspects enemy action. An omen.
   Or he's unjustifiably paranoid. The item was placed by someone who found a single glove on the path. A joke.


I took uniformly blurry shots, mainly as I tried to avoid falling over, and falling off, the rocky terrain.
   The camera's half-pressed button generates a focus function, and often it wasn't possible to walk and chew gum at the same time without plunging off the hillside.

Periodically, I made the effort to come away from the experience with a few shots that weren't taken through a veil of Vaseline.
   Here, I stopped dead to capture the rain-slicked rocks. To the right, a drop. That's a technical term.

Often you spy an image that must go straight into your story.
   Here, I saw the rock at the base of the sign, and decided this detail would come in handy.
   Our assassin ends up in trouble here. But only a good twenty minutes after I was off the rock, did I rumble into further plotting.

Photos are good for noting the words, the whole words, and nothing but the words.
   You should carry a notebook for the purpose, in case your camera fails ye.
   Perhaps unwisely, I drew near to read the sign warning me not to draw near.

About twenty minutes after I left the hill, there was an earthquake.
   My story was fixed on a specific date. At least, as far as the climbing sequence went.
   Didn't need to change the description of the season. You might photographically revisit scenes in winter, to give long-range description more realism.

Just a few feet beyond this clump of grass, there's a 900-foot drop.
   This was the best photo I could take, given the buttock-clenching circumstances.
   Had the earthquake struck then, I'd have been blogging from the lower reaches of hell.

 Was the view worth the climb? Yes. As exercise, the climb itself was worth the climb. And as an exercise in using digital photography to aid storytelling, the whole thing was worth snapping away.
   Take plenty of pictures. Don't worry if they are blurry. Paradoxically, it's harder to capture motion - you want to see the speed of the horse, not the saddle-maker's logo. Settle for crisp detail if that's all you manage to film.
   You are staring at Lake Garda in Italy. Pleasant people, wonderful climate, great food. Someone should outlaw the place for being so nice.
   It's not so nice for Harvey, anti-hero, paranoiac, assassin, and target in The Madonna Gambit. That's the story I gained, clambering up a hillside in the rain.

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