Why are picture prompts such a good exercise for writers? One of the best reasons I can think of is that they help to develop our imagination and creativity. If I were teaching a class filled with twenty writers of all stages--newbies, intermediate and top pros--and I assigned the picture above for a writing exercise, I would receive twenty different stories. There is no doubt of that. Two main things enter into what comes of an exercise like this.
Experience: Each writer who studies this picture will see something different. A lot of what we see is based on our own experiences, or our dreams perhaps. If the writer had lived in a place where snow in winter was the norm, the many experiences taking place on snowy days would spark their writing. But if the writer had lived in southern Florida, a snowy day like this one is only a dream. Maybe a nightmare as it doesn't appeal at all to many of these people to be cold. They can only imagine the crunch of snow under a pair of warm boots. They don't know what it feels like to have the snow land flake by flake on already-chilled cheeks. Nor do they know the joy of making a snowball or building a snowman. So, yes, experiences do play a part in what we see in a picture prompt.
Imagination: Let's face it. Some people have more vivid imaginations than others. Walk through a museum of contemporary art with 5 people, stop before a colorful abstract painting and ask each one what they see in it. You'd get widely diverse interpretations depending on the imagination quotient of each person. Can you develop a higher degree of imeagination? Yes, I think it's quite possible. As stated above, doing these picture prompts is one good way to increase your imagination. We're all familiar with stories about small children who live with a pretend friend or pet. My youngest brother kept 5 baby fire dragons and a mama fire dragon with him for a long time, blamed many of his misdeeds on them, and cautioned the rest of the family not to step on them. He's not a writer today, but I have a feeling that he'd have a good result with a picture prompt as he had that imaginative spark from early on. Doing the picture prompt exercise on a regular basis should help develop your imagination to a higher degree.
So how about it? Give this picture a good look. Take time to study it top to bottom, side to side. Then start writing. Ask yourself where it is, what time of day it might be, who is going to come down that path and leave footprints. Add sensory details to let the reader know what it feels like in this scene. I wish I really were teaching a class of twenty writers who would hand in this assignment to me. I'd love to see what they created.