Your characters, I mean. What do they see when they look around them?
Most romance authors I know search diligently for just the right image for the hero and heroine of the story, collecting photos of actors in various roles, imagining them with different clothes or different hair color, seeing them walking through the plot. When it's time to fill out the all-important cover art form, a picture of the heroine is well worth a thousand words.
But setting is also a crucial part of any romance, and for the author, that means visualizing the surroundings before plopping the characters down in them. To mean, pictures are invaluable in this process. Even if the setting is one I know well, looking at a photograph or painting will push me to select just the details I need.
Take the lovely rhododendron in this photograph. I'm currently writing a book set in north central Pennsylvania in late May. If I were doing this writing in December, I might be hard put to remember exactly what was blooming at this time, to say nothing of how it looks and my reaction to it. But the photo, saved with the date, is there in my file to remind me, and the rhododendron with its enormous blossoms was just written into a scene.
When I'm planning a new series, one of the first things I do is begin to collect images of the place which inspired the location of the books. For me, it's much easier to begin with a real small town and then make the changes the plot demands than to start from scratch in creating the story world. Since the same location will be used for each book of the series, I try to collect photos taken in different seasons.
For instance, my upcoming Love Inspired Amish series, The Kings of Lost Creek, will take place over a span of many months. Each book will have its own distinct feel, and while readers like to return to familiar settings, I want to highlight a different aspect of that setting for each book. So building my treasure trove of images will be helpful over the long haul of writing a novella and three full-length novels.
The novella, coming out in November, will require the snowy scene, but once I move on to the next book, it will probably be spring. And the creek, which figures in the series' name, has to be included. Of course, that part of it will be easy--all I have to do is look out my window to see the creek!
The pictures provide more than an identifiable image, though. If I look at the creek picture, I remember the feel of the cold water splashing over my feet on a hot summer day. I hear the birds chattering in the trees, and I can taste the wild raspberries that grow along the bank.