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Storytelling and Photography

Journalists, travelers, and freelance photographers all depend upon the ability to tell a story with their photographs. For the amateur photographer, however, this important skill is often tossed aside in lieu of more concrete ideas such as correct composition, depth of field, and anything that corresponds to a button or knob on a camera. It’s true that there is no automatic setting for storytelling, though the fact remains that a story is one of the most important elements of a great photo. Read on for some tips on training your photographer’s mind to incorporate a story into every one of your photographs.

Train Your Brain

 No matter how flashy or expensive your camera, it cannot tell a tale. That’s your job as the photographer. A great photo doesn’t need to lay out an entire story arc with beginning, middle, and end. In fact, it shouldn’t. What it should do is set the scene and introduce the important characters. The goal is to get your viewer to ask questions, the unknown answers to which would complete the story. Therefore, choosing what to photograph is key. Train your brain to always be on the lookout for interesting subject matter. If it interests you, it will likely interest a viewer.

Stick to a Theme


It will be easy to remember you’re trying to tell a story if you have thought of a specific theme to follow. Your theme can be simple, such as telling the story of your vacation or time spent at a specific location. It can also be more specific, such as the daily happenings at a local park, or life in a particular city or neighborhood. Staying within the parameters of a theme will force you to consider each shot and ensure that it relates back to the story you want to tell.

Don’t Forget the Details

Program your mind to be on the lookout for the details that make a place or event unique. For example, if you are shooting in a desert, don’t forget to look for the small bugs and life forms that can tell a story of amazing desert survival. Patterns, textures, and epic scale are other examples of powerful factors that can lend a lot to a photograph. By looking for the details, you will likely see something that you may have never noticed otherwise.

You Don’t Have to Limit Yourself to One Photo

 Many photographers make the mistake of thinking they need to pack everything they see into one shot, and the result can be hectic and unappealing. On the other hand, realize that it is rarely one single element that gives a place or event its unique quality. The solution for both of these common “mistakes” is to shoot a series of individual components. It could be that each individual photograph is meaningless on its own, and that’s okay. But display two or three photos of the same theme together, and suddenly you can tell a story that is both powerful and meaningful.

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