Storytelling Photography

Mastering Storytelling Photography

In Photography Tips by Stefano Caioni

Learning storytelling photography is one of the most important skills you can acquire as a photographer.

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.

Storytelling Photography

So how to master the art of Storytelling Photography? Here are a few points that you need to consider to create interesting stories with your photos.

Why Storytelling is Important in Photography

Telling stories without the need for words allows the photographer to deeply connect with the viewer, and vice-versa.

It’s not just about snapping away an image, for the sake of filling a social media profile. Photo Storytelling is art. It inspires, it evokes emotions, and causes the viewer to reflect upon the photo and express thoughts that can be different for each person.

Storytelling photography has been used in photojournalism, and the most famous photographs in history represent iconic moments that had an impact on people for generations.

It’s key to search for gestures, details, and interactions that will capture the attention of your viewers. Your images should let your viewers think, giving them a cornerstone from where they can work through your image.

Related: Why is Photography Important

Storytelling Photography Tips

You can tell your story with a single photo or a series of photographs. The best part is that you don’t have to be a professional photographer to do it.

To master storytelling photography you need to arrange and compose your images in a specific way to evoke emotions and captivate your audience.

What’s more amazing is that once you’ll become an expert in creating storytelling through photography you’ll realize that it’s a satisfying process.

Here are some tips to help you understand how to do it.

#1 Plan Your Storytelling Photography

Storytelling Photography

Planning is critical in storytelling photography. You need a plan on how you are going to visualize and convey your message using photos.

That’s why it is always crucial to answer the question why is photography important to you? What message you want to give?

Depending on your audience, your plan should include themes, colors, objects, and locations to establish a message that your viewers can relate to. Instead of relying on luck, think of a narrative, a back story you would like to tell based on the moment you are going to capture.

Ideally, you should select a topic and carry out some research on it before capturing your shots. Even though you may not capture the photos in the precise sequence as planned, early preparation will help avoid the chaos that may arise during the editing stage.

The beauty of photography is that the viewers have a chance to interpret the story in their own way. For instance, a hug at the airport could either be a sad goodbye, or a warm welcome. Essentially, the image should be open to different interpretations.

#2 Be Unique

To create captivating visual stories, you’ll need to learn how to be as original as possible. No one will bother to view your photos if the images and scenarios are all too familiar or copied from someone else.

Although it might be hard to come up with original ideas, you can find solace in the fact that even the most experienced photographers go through a similar challenge. 

Storytelling Photography

Learning from experienced photographers from the past or from your peers and challenging yourself to create similar images is a good strategy when you first start.

However, this doesn’t mean you should rest in your comfort zone. You should harness your creativity to come up with new, unique ideas that can help you stand out. Adding a new dimension to an existing idea can go a long way to enhance your uniqueness.

To stand out from the crowd, you want your images to look different. Don’t just do what’s easiest or limit yourself to subjects or editing techniques that are trendy right now. Strive to create your own style with shooting and editing aesthetics that match your stories.

Most importantly, learn how to give and receive constructive feedback and train your eye to spot details that can help you tell a unique story.

#3 Convey Emotions With Your Photos

African child at home

The essence of storytelling photography is to create stories that evoke emotions. We are naturally emotional, and we tend to relate more to stories that stir up specific emotions in us. 

Emotions make telling stories through your photos more powerful and memorable for the audience. Essentially, you are more likely to remember stories that made you happy, just as much as photos that made you sad.

Consider these emotions, happiness, excitement, loneliness, sadness, and darkness, among others. A good place to start if you want to learn how to create photos that tell stories is portraiture.

You might read these articles to get some extra tips and ideas:

#4 Opportunities for Storytelling Photography

storytelling photography

Learning how to tell a story through your photos, also means to realize that 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.

#5 Aim for Variety

Woman smiling at an event

Besides introducing original ideas to your photo stories, you should also aim for variety in order to stimulate the imagination of your viewers. Focusing on the same themes, backgrounds, and images will not tell the whole story.

peope dancing

Ideally, if you shoot the same subjects you should try out different light conditions, different angles and add a variety of dramatic effects to achieve the correct mood.

You can choose from portrait shots, wide shots, close-up shots to detailed shots to captivate and engage your audience.

#6 Craft a Unique Visual Voice

Visual storytelling does not involve words. However, this does not mean that your photos should not have a voice. Believe it or not. Every photograph has a voice, only heard by the viewer. Considering this, you should strive to craft a unique visual voice that not only highlights the important elements of your story, but also augurs well with your audience, psychologically.

Start by asking yourself why you take photos in the first place, and what story you would want to convey through these images. By answering these questions, you will be able to understand and create your unique voice and point of view in photography.

#7 Form a Chronological Narrative Structure

The narrative structure is one of the most critical elements in visual storytelling. Essentially, how you structure your photo narration will determine whether the message will get to the viewer or not. 

As with any other story, a photo story must have a beginning and an end. With this in mind, you must create a chronological narrative structure that provides the flow of your story, making it easier for the viewer to follow. 

On the same breath, you must determine whether your narration will consist of a single shot or a series of photographs. A single photo might deliver a powerful message, but it might not be enough to convey the whole story. Considering this, most photographers prefer using a series of photos to tell their stories.

The Takeaway

Inside any moment is an exciting story waiting to be told. If a picture does not have a story, then it is just a superficial image. You can capture stunning images of the most beautiful places in the world, but if you are not able to tell a story, the beautiful photos may not speak to your audience.

It’s your turn now. What elements of storytelling photography will you incorporate in your workflow to bring your photos to life?

Will you try to shoot the same scene at different times of the day? Or will you work on smiles, and facial expressions to convey your story?

Let me know in the comments.

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