Telling great photo stories in your back yard

Tips for photo storytelling and a challenge to shoot wherever you are

I was jealous for a moment as I watched TED talks on photography. These were perspectives and photos by fascinating storytellers. They shared experiences in war zones, at the top of the Himalayas, or from news events that changed our times.

It almost seemed that I had to go somewhere exotic or dangerous to create an interesting or memorable story with my camera. That made me jealous. Why do they get to travel to faraway lands to take their pictures, and I am forced to create from mundane situations in my own back yard?

In my envy, I ignored a couple basic facts. Everywhere is someone's backyard, and every location or situation has the potential to be interesting. Sometimes it takes patience. Sometimes it just means you need to keep looking. Sometimes it requires better focus.

I find interesting stories around Washington, DC with my 100 Strangers projectFor instance, in the last few months I've met more than 30 interesting people, I might not have ever encountered without my camera. I'm working on a photo project called 100 Strangers. It's an interesting mix of art and life. Meet people you don't know. Find out a little about them. Take their photos. Tell their stories.

Suddenly, people I would normally just walk by became interesting. I had long, engaging conversations I couldn't even begin to capture in a short blog post. There were interesting people or situations, and they were not covered in ashes from Ground Zero or nursing dying orphans in Rwanda. They were interesting with their own stories. 

Interesting doesn't need to be in strangers. You can find it in the familiar. On Monday, someone is likely to ask you, "what did you do last weekend?" You will think for a moment and maybe relay a story of an encounter. It will be a story that you think is interesting enough to share, and it will have happened to you. Guess what, it will be interesting to others, too.

What will you do this weekend? Tomorrow? Today? How will you retell the story? Can you do it in pictures?

You don't have to go somewhere exotic to find your interesting story. If you decide to look, you can find it in your own 'back yard.'


Here's your challenge

Tell a story in photos from wherever you happen to be this weekend. You can tell it from between one to five images. It can be a person, place or thing, but keep these storytelling elements in mind.

Characters -- What or who is the story about? Remember the hero? Whether you photograph flowers, architecture, or people, make the story about something or someone.

Setting -- Where is it happening? Can you establish the location, time or mood?

Action -- What's the verb you will use when you describe the situation? The best stories are about something or someone doing something. Find the action.

Viewpoint -- Whose story is it? Will it be from your point of view or your subject's? What's the best placement to create that perspective?

Storytelling -- How will the story unfold? Will you tell it in chronological order? Reverse chronological? Geographic? Thematic?

Apply these elements and you can begin to make situations in your own back yard just as interesting as those exotic photojournalists.

Now tell your own photo story -- from wherever you happen to be. When you finish your story, post a link in the comments. I'd love to see it. I'll be working on my own version as well.