You'd think that storytelling is natural and obvious skill. We all grow up listening to stories and even falling asleep to them. You might have even been wrapped up in the dramatic stories of the big screen.
Storytelling with your camera can be just as engaging and can be an effective way to create images with impact. Not all great photographs need to tell a story, but the ones that do tell a story often stand out.
Listen to the podcast
Note: I recorded this episode during a Facebook Live broadcast.
Most storytellers follow a structure called the Hero's Journey, made popular by Joseph Campbell. It's a narrative used by just about every Hollywood blockbuster and uses up to 17 steps.
Photography storytelling options can be much simpler. I would look for any combination of these elements:
- A person or character. Who are what is your story about?
- A setting - a sense of place. The location can be a very important part of your story. Think street photography, for instance.
- An action - doing something. What is happening in your photo?
- An emotion - feeling something. What are your subjects feeling? What do you feel when you see the photo?
Unlike photography, where you might begin your process by looking for the great picture, in this process, you start by asking where is the story? What kind of story do you want to tell? Common types of storytelling might include:
- Documentary — Using images to cover news, an event, situation or idea.
- Personal stories — Show your unique point of view on personal events. These narratives can include you or others.
- Photojournalism — A truthful visual report on a news item.
- Fictional narratives — Use a creative mix of fantasy and reality to create your own visual story.
No matter what type of storytelling you choose, you should also consider the structure.
- Beginning - middle - end. This is the most basic structure. People all recognize this linear approach.
- Action & reaction. This is an easy approach when there is an event. What happened. What does the audience think or feel?
- Repeating theme. Take a topic or theme and use it as a prop to tell the story over time or locations.
Multiple frames vs one frame. How many frames will you use to tell your story? Sometimes you can do it in one image. Sometimes it takes more. Think about the final product. Where will the story go? How much space or time will you have? Let that also help influence your decisions.
At the ceremonial Changing of the Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I asked my photo camp students to tell stories with their cameras.
Here is one great example. Taylor, a 14-year-old photographer said she wanted to use their uniforms to tell a story.