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7 Steps to Storytelling Through Photographs

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Photography is a great means of storytelling. Just as a writer speaks using words, a photographer speaks through his images. A photographic story can be anything from a complex social narrative to a simple emotion. It does not need to be complicated, but has to send a message and invite curiosity. As Steve McCurry puts it, a powerful image is the confluence of several key elements, such as composition, design and emotion, in a pristine moment that reveals a deeper truth. Here are 7 steps to help you transform your images into good photographic stories.

1. Choose a theme / envision a story

Stories are all around us, one just has to look with eyes wide open. Start from your everyday life: each of your family members has a story, your friends may share a few, even an old teapot has something to tell. Most importantly, the topic has to inspire you as a photographer. Think of the message you want to convey, and it will give you the direction to work in.

Storytelling Image

2. Start with a simple story composed of simple elements

All of us want to create a masterpiece, however, if you are just an apprentice storyteller, you may need to take a few more steps before your image turns into an icon. Do not overwhelm yourself with a task too complex to deal with, start with simple things. Your Mom makes the best marmalade? Your child just came home with the best grade in class? You are a dancer and your favourite shoes have seen the dance floors of three continents? Anything works, as long as you retain an emotional connection with the story you are going to tell.

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3. Choose a suitable format

Adapting the right format to your story is crucial for getting your point through. Would your image be a scene, a portrait, or maybe a detail that speaks of a whole? Use a wide-angle lens if you are planning to include several people or a scene in your image, and opt for a zoom lens if you want to get closer to your subject. Determine whether your story can be told in a single image or will be best revealed in a series.

You need to find a technique that you enjoy. There needs to be an element of pleasure, and you have to be photographing in a way that allows you to find your comfort zone.
- Steve McCurry

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4. Think about your audience

Ask yourself whether the image gets your point across to the audience? A good practice is to try to put yourself in your viewer’s shoes. Imagine you are the one who knows nothing about the story you are going to tell. Will the image speak to you? Once the image is taken, test in on your friends without telling them your idea. Do they get your message or do they still have questions?

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5. Engage emotions

People tend to place themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. An image that contains a vivid emotion is more likely to attract the viewer. It will also create a special bond between the audience and the main character or subject of your photographic story.

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6. Be aware of the background

In photographic stories, background is as important as the main subject. It helps to show the context of the story, adds the details that make the story rich and true. The background has to work for you, not against you, so be careful with how much or how little you include for it to reinforce your idea.

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7. Stay candid

The best images are usually those where the photographer is invisible. They make the audience feel they are in the moment. The story becomes more immediate and alive when people are not posing for the camera.

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Storytelling is one of the most challenging, but also one of the most exciting and rewarding tasks in photography. Using your photographic skills and experience to share your point of view is a great opportunity to express yourself.

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.