Telling a story through your photos is an art form. It’s easy to snap a few good pictures. With a little luck and a little post-processing, they may even be great pictures. But it’s unlikely that they’ll tell much of a story.
Storytelling adds an emotional component to your photography, presenting viewers with a brief narrative or character study or with a detailed look into a special event (i.e., wedding, milestone birthday). The following techniques will help you transform your snapshots into rich stories.
Creating a photo narrative requires advance planning. While you may occasionally get lucky and capture an image that tells a great back story, these shots will be few and far between. When you have an upcoming event or are putting together a photo project, think about the emotions or message you want to convey and the narrative you want to create. It may be helpful to assemble a checklist to get the shots you want. Depending on the nature of the shoot, you may have to take your shots in a different order than you’ll put them in for the final product. Anticipating the order of the shots will ensure that you get everything you need when you need it.
Shoot a Series of Photos
A single image can tell a story. For the right image, it can tell a very powerful story. However, typically, the story you tell with a single image will be pretty limited. It’s much easier to tell a story through a series of photos. As a beginner photographer, you’re likely to have much better luck with the storytelling process through a photo series. You’ll take the pressure off yourself to convey a detailed, rich message through one image and will give yourself the opportunity to present a lengthier story. Think about how many shots you want in a series to tell the full story. You don’t want to stretch a limited number of shots, but you also don’t want to overdo it.
Emotions tap into the human element of stories, making them more powerful and memorable for the audience. Learning to convey emotion through portraiture is a great place to start. From a candid shot of a young birthday girl opening presents to a posed shot of a couple right after their wedding ceremony, you know right away if you’ve captured the emotions effectively. In time, you’ll learn how to convey emotions through other subjects. For example, the time of day you shoot a specific location greatly impacts the emotion of the shot.
Watch for the Right Opportunities
Regardless of the type of story you’ll creating through still images and the amount of planning you do, you never know when ideal opportunities will present themselves. When you’re in the woods, a bird may land on a tree near you at just the right moment for a great shot. When you’re at a wedding reception, you’re likely to convey more emotion through candid shots on the dance floor than of the happy couple cutting their cake. Waiting for and embracing these opportunities will add more to your narrative than anything you can plan for in advance.
Dare to be Unique
You can learn a lot from copying someone else’s work. As a creative exercise, it’s a solid strategy. However, as a way to develop your own style and tell a unique story, it’s not a good strategy. To stand out from the crowd, you want your images to look different. Don’t just do what’s easiest or limit yourself to subject matter or editing techniques that are trendy right now. Strive to create your own style with shooting and editing aesthetics to match your stories.
Learning to tell a story through your photos isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes practice and patience to plan properly and then execute your strategy effectively. Review your photos with a critical eye, and think about how you can adjust your technique to add more narrative for future shoots. Don’t be afraid of failure. The more you take pictures with a story telling element in mind, the more you’ll improve your work.
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.