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lion chasing zebra in Tanzania

The Art of Storytelling Through Photography: A Guide for Amateurs

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When a photographer says, “tell a story,” they aren’t suggesting you sit your camera down and recite a fairy tale to it (although, if that works for you, go for it). What they mean is you should channel your inner visual bard and use your lens to craft a narrative that could make even Shakespeare raise an eyebrow.

Imagine you’re at a family reunion, and instead of capturing Aunt Mabel’s 87th birthday cake in a straightforward shot, you document the chaos in the kitchen, the anticipation of the kids, and Aunt Mabel’s beaming smile when she sees the cake placed in front of her. Suddenly, you’ve got a series of photos that not only show a cake but you tell the saga of Aunt Mabel’s special day, complete with drama, suspense, and a happy ending.

Photo Subject: A Grandmother and Grandaughter visiting through a window
Story and Emotion: This is a photo taken during covid lockdown. So many families were finding ways to keep connected. This photo evokes the emotions of LOVE, SADNESS, and transports us all back to that time because we all lived through this.

Just like a writer uses words to create a narrative, a photographer uses visual elements to weave a story that speaks volumes without uttering a single word. It’s like being a magician, but instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, you’re pulling emotions out of pixels.

Photo Subject; Zebra and Wildebeest
Story and Emotion: Zebra and Wildebeest migrate together for many reasons, mainly because the sight of the Zebra and the strong sense of smell of the Wildebeest compliment each other, allowing them to identify predators.

UNDERSTANDING VISUAL STORYTELLING

Visual storytelling in photography involves these five key components:

  1. Subject: The main focus of the photograph. It could be a person, a landscape, or an object.
  2. Composition: This refers to how the elements within the frame are arranged. This includes the use of lines, shapes, and space.
  3. Lighting: The way light interacts with the subject and the scene. Light can create mood, highlight details, and add depth.
  4. Context: The environment or background that surrounds the subject will provide additional information about the story.
  5. Emotion: The feelings and emotions that the photograph evokes in the viewer.

Each of these elements plays a crucial role in creating a compelling narrative through photography. You learn these by practicing and looking at images online to see how these elements are creating emotions for you.

Photo Subject: Wildlife on South Georgia Islands
Story and Emotion: This photo shows the significant amount of wildlife that live in South Georgia. Its shows off how inhospitable the area can be. You feel the isolation and see the cold because of the cool tones in the image.

TIPS ON TELLING A STORY WITH PHOTOS

As an amateur photographer, learning to tell a story with your photos may seem daunting, but with practice and a few key tips, you can master this skill.

  1. Find Your Subject:
    • Choose a subject that interests you or one that you feel passionate about. Your passion and connection with the subject will come through in your photos.
    • Look for subjects that have a story to tell. This could be anything from a candid street scene to a quiet moment in nature, even a wild animal in its environment.
  2. Focus on Composition:
    • Rule of Thirds: Divide your frame into a grid of nine equal parts and place your subject along these lines or at their intersections. You can read more on the “Rule of Thirds” here.
    • Leading Lines: Use lines within the scene (like roads, fences, or rivers) to guide the viewer’s eye toward the subject or into the environment in which you want them to explore.
    • Framing: Use elements in the environment to frame your main subject. This helps when you want to draw attention to your main subject matter.
Photo Subject: Icelands Mountains After A Storm
Story and Emotion: An early morning storm had rolled through. The temperatures were starting to warm up. I wanted to embellish the warm tones to help you feel the warmth. The joining of the land and clouds by using the leading lines created by the rays of the run gives this image an ethereal and calm feel.

3. Play with Lighting:

  • Experiment with natural light at different times of the day. The golden hour (just after sunrise and before sunset) offers soft, warm lighting. Cool tones and warm tones each create a different set of emotions.
  • Use shadows and highlights to add depth and dimension to your photos.

4. Capture Emotion and Movement:

  • Look for moments that convey emotion, whether it’s joy, sadness, excitement, or calm.
  • Include movement in your photos to add dynamism. This could be a person walking, leaves blowing in the wind, or waves crashing on the shore.
Photo Subject: French Gardian and the Camargue Horses
Story and Emotion: The Camargue horses have adapted to this marshy climate. They are strong and impressive animals. Capturing them running through the water creates a sense of motion, and the conversion to black and white is a nod to the timeless beauty of this old breed of horse.

5. Include Context:

  • Show the environment around your subject to provide a sense of place and context. This helps viewers understand the story behind the photograph.
  • Be mindful of background elements that can either enhance or distract from your subject.

6. Tell A Story With A Sequence:

  • Sometimes, a single photo might not be enough to tell the whole story. Consider creating a photo series that captures different aspects of the narrative.
  • Plan a sequence of shots that together convey the beginning, middle, and end of your story.

7. Edit Thoughtfully:

  • Post-processing can enhance your storytelling by adjusting colors, contrast, and exposure to match the mood you want to convey.
  • Avoid over-editing, as it can distract from the natural beauty and authenticity of your story.
Photo Subject: Himba Woman in Namibia
Story and Emotion: I took this photo to tell a story of how the Himba woman bathed. They use scented smoke that gives off a fragrant odor

Final Thoughts

Storytelling through photography is an art that requires practice and patience. Start by taking your camera with you everywhere and capturing everyday moments. Analyze your photos to see what works and what doesn’t. Join photography communities online or locally to get feedback and learn from others.

Remember, the most important aspect of visual storytelling is to convey your unique perspective and emotions through your photos. As you grow in your photography journey, your ability to tell compelling stories will naturally improve.

You can always attend one of our photography workshops where we teach the art of telling a story. See those workshops here.

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