Although it is often said that “a picture is worth a thousand words” sometimes one picture is not enough to tell your entire story. When more than one photo is needed to tell a story, a triptych, or a series of three photos, is a powerful way to tell your story through images.
Series of three photos are so popular because they have the ability to tell a story in-depth in various ways. A triptych can tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end or can portray different elements of a story. Moreover, three photos can fit comfortably on a page, screen, or wall and our eyes tend to prefer groupings of odd numbers.
In order to be effective, the three images in a triptych need to be related and the connection between them should be clear. The viewer should not have to think about or guess why the photos belong together. If you cannot explain the relationship between the photos in one or two sentences the connection between them is probably not strong enough to work as a triptych.
A strong triptych will tell a story with images in much the same way a story is told in a book. A popular way to approach a triptych is to set the scene, introduce characters, and a detail. In this approach, The first photo in a triptych will set the scene for the story, although there are different ways of interpreting the scene. The scene could be a church in the story of a wedding; a skyline in the story of a vacation; the outside of a home in the story of a family; a restaurant, table, or kitchen if telling a story through food; or even a child’s bedroom if telling the story of bedtime. The second photo should introduce character or characters in your story. If there is more than one character, this photo should establish the relationship between them. This can be done by showing them holding hands, laughing together, etc. If your story is about one character only, the photo should show them in the context of their environment. The third photo in your triptych can show a detail of the story, whether it’s a close-up of hands entwined or a detail of a meal. If you choose to show story with a beginning, middle, and an end the elements should be clear from the order in which you display your three photos.
When choosing photos for a triptych, select photos that are similar in as many respects as possible. The photos should all be the same orientation (horizontal or vertical), should be edited in the same style, and should flow together well. Even photos taken months or years apart, such as those showing a child’s growth, can make an effective triptych if they are similar enough in style.
You can be creative with the subject of a triptych! Consider the story of a city with a broad view of the skyline, a shot of many people walking down a crowded sidewalk, and a close-up of a street sign of one of the city’s famous streets. A landscape can also make a good subject for a triptych with a broad view of a park, a shot of a field of tulips, and a close-up of one flower. Even a meal can be the subject of a triptych with an opening shot of ingredients, a photo of a chef’s hands chopping an onion, and a closing shot of the finished dish.
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