What is photo storytelling?
Help your viewer to be involved in your picture. Get them thinking. Then they will look hard at it. So, tell a story with it. To get viewers thinking draw out the threads of a story with a time line. Aim to help them see how the story came about. Show clues for what might happen next. Photo storytelling is about making your image clear on what is happening.
The best photo story-tellers are photo-journalists. They capture an event or activity. They try to show the progress of a story. Things you see in the shot tell you what’s happened, what is happening now, and what is possible. In short, it is a time-line.
Photo storytelling :: Keep it simple
Don’t obscure the story. The more interesting you can make the shot, the more viewers will want to look at it. Your story should portray the fullness of events.
Try to make the shot as simple as possible. If there is too much going on it distracts the viewer. Too much clutter does the same. If you do distract the viewer it will confuse or obscure the story.
Have a plan
Ensure clarity in your story. Have a complete plan of what you want to convey. You should:
- Know what you want to say.
- Have a clear idea of the main subject.
- Know the story line (as simple as possible).
- Know how to express the storyline.
- Know the composition you will use.
- Be aware of light, mood, time.
- Know what to exclude (de-clutter).
- Know how you are going to work the scene.
- Have technical settings worked out.
Behind the subject
It is easy to confuse the viewer with the background. Ensure it is consistent with the story. The little romantic exchange in my picture above fits with its background. If this were an urban scene the knights would be out of their expected context. That throws the story off.
How people and things relate to each other
As the story unfolds show the relations between people. That is juicy eye-candy for viewers. The relationship between people and things, in the scene helps too. Working with one photograph, your photo storytelling is going to have to show these links.
There are three relationships in the photo storytelling above. The horse is engaging with the viewer. It stares back at us. The knights are engaging in light-hearted flirting. The peasant is clearly amused by the whole scene. The story tells the viewer where the people are, but also about the feeling between them. Looks, and the direction of gaze, are important. Facial expressions speak volumes. The position of things and people show how they relate to each other.
You must be careful to pick up these traces of relationships. Without them you don’t have the sense of interaction. Then you don’t see photo storytelling in progress.
Time in photo storytelling usually comes from action, expression or movement. In this picture the horse shows boredom. The knights show an on-going and flirtatious conversation. The peasant clearly enjoys the moment. These things show the story is not static. And, it has a future because the knights are clearly enjoying the exchange.
In another type of photo storytelling you might see strong movement. A race is a story. The action shows the progress of time. The race positions tell of the competition. The place where the race is sets the scene.
Clearly there are many ways to express progress through the story. The important thing is that you do actually make sure that it is obvious to the viewer.
The fresh, candid look
Clearly, if the story is staged and forced, the fresh look will be lost. Capture it as if it was unscripted. Captured on the spur of the moment makes it look fresh. Even better if it was a complete candid shot. Nothing beats an honest, true expression. The best scenes are spontaneous. The whole discipline of street photography is based on that concept. However, make sure that the elements of a story still hold true. It will look false if they are not.
If doing candid street shots your post-production work can help. In your editing look to find the shots with the elements above. Then crop or work your post processing to bring it out. Don’t try staging them through a plan. Urban scenes make poor acting scenes for photography.
Photo storytelling takes patience. So does trying to spot a story in progress. To shoot a scene like the one above takes a few moments. It may only involve a few quick few shots. But the right result may not happen the first time. Take your time and work on the elements needed for your Photo storytelling. As you get better at the things mentioned here you will bring out the story easier.
Photo storytelling :: In Post-production
A story is almost always completed in post-production. Often the composition has to be done quickly in order to capture the right moment. As a result you may need to think about the framing and the crop later. Also think about cloning out clutter and distractions. When Photo storytelling, that is especially true for candid shots.
Photo storytelling is helped by a title
If my image above was called “knights on horses”, there’d be less interest. The title sets the scene. It shows the viewer the link between the knights. A good human relationship or a juicy gossip-phrase gets attention. Photo storytelling is all about those human things. Bring them out in a title.
The actual story
Most important is the actual Photo storytelling itself. To get that right you have to check you have a story at all. That means finding the shot that expresses the story. That is an editorial task. Be ruthless when you try to tell a story with a picture. Show only the shots which actually tell one. Otherwise you will have a fudged concept. There is nothing worse.
Enjoy your Photo storytelling. It’s fun and a challenge. Your skill as a photographer and as an editor of your own work will improve.
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By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.