Every picture tells a story – but some pictures tell better stories than others. By taking just a few moments to consider the elements that make up a good story before pressing the shutter you can create strong storytelling images.
- Think about the mood you want to convey. Is your story about a lighthearted moment of children playing or a more serious story about a woman deep in thought about a difficult decision? To create a story with a light and airy feel overexpose slightly and meter for the shadows in your image. To create a story with a more dramatic feel, expose for the highlights or lower the exposure in post processing.
- Set the scene for your story. All stories take place somewhere and where your story is set will give the viewer immediate context for the story you are trying to tell. If you are telling a family’s story, get a shot of the family walking into their home or playing on the front porch. If your story takes place in a location like a farm, park, or city street be sure to get a wide angle shot to set the scene.
- Establish the characters. Good stories have strong characters. If you are telling the story of multiple people in your images, be sure to capture shots of each character alone. Ideally, these shots will tell the viewer something about the character’s personality and their role in the story. A picture of a Mom carrying her diaper bag tells the viewer right away what her role in the family is. A shot of a young woman with a diamond ring introduces her as part of an unfolding love story.
- Show relationships: While some good stories center around one character, most involve multiple people. Good stories and storytelling images will show the connection between the characters. A shot with siblings doing different things on opposite sides of a room won’t tell the viewer anything about their relationship, while a shot of sisters reading a book together or mirroring each other’s behavior will tell the story of how close they are. A shot of a man and woman laughing with each other tells the viewer about how much they enjoy each other’s company.
- Include The Details: If you think back to your favorite books, you will likely remember the richness of the details. Details add depth and meaning to storytelling images as well. When photographing an event, include details that make the event special, such as detailing on the cake, bottles of wine lined up ready to be served, or even unique aspects of the venue, such as beautiful door handles. If you are photographing a family, consider details that may be important to their story, such as favorite books the kids like to read, a special blanket, the messiness of cooking with children, or even newborn portraits hanging on the walls where teenagers now live. Change your perspective if necessary to be able to include details in your frame.
- Have a Conclusion: All good stories come to an end. Depending on the story you are telling, there are many ways to convey that a story is over with images. A story may conclude with a shot of the family walking away from the camera, a child sleeping, a couple leaving the church, a half-eaten cookie left on the dining room able, or an empty room with signs of a great party scattered throughout.
Jamie Davis Smith
Jamie Davis Smith is a photographer and mother of four based in Washington, DC. She loves capturing everyday moments with her children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org