If you really want to improve your photography, you need to master the art of telling a story with your photos. In the video below, I share some of my secrets for effective story-telling. The article then delves more deeply into some of these concepts. At the end of the article, I also share a video that is available exclusively for PRO members which demonstrates how I bring story-telling into the digital darkroom.
Everyone and everything has a story to tell, and it is your job as a photographer to figure out what that story is, and present it to your viewers in a compelling way. It is important to capture moods and moments that arouse curiosity and get the imagination of the viewer revved up. In a sense, to be a great photographer you need to be a master manipulator. What you’re trying to do is to sway your viewers both visually and emotionally to forge a meaningful connection between them and your photo subjects.
This guy certainly tells a story! I was doing some street photography one day in Minneapolis when I saw a bunch of mostly naked people riding bikes in my direction (someone had organized a naked bike ride. I guess). I had a lot of riders to choose from, but when I saw this guy, with his bright red beard and fashionable sunglasses, I suspected I had found the most colorful character in the group, who would most powerfully tell a story. My instincts were right: when he noticed me taking pictures, he gave me a hearty roar as he rode by. Any viewer looking at this photo might not be able to figure out the actual story, but sunglasses guy has a lot of photogenic personality, and this immediately draws attention and triggers the imagination.
Creating a mood is an effective way to tell stories with your photos. For the photo above of a polar bear cub, I did several things to capture the forlorn mood of the dreary arctic day. First, I shifted the white balance a little bit to blue, knowing that the cool tone would trigger a feeling of sadness. Second, I zoomed out enough to include the bleak landscape surrounding the cub. Third, I waited for the moment when the bear lay down to rest, a pose that reinforced the downcast mood. All together, these story cues tell the viewer something about the harsh and unforgiving environment where this bear lives.
I love to use weather creatively when telling stories with my photos, especially when doing landscape photography. I took this photo on an extremely windy day while visiting the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park. The wind was so ferocious, there was a full-on sandstorm in the dunes. Despite the miserable conditions, I went out into the dunes for photography (if you haven't done so already, you should watch my sandstorm photo adventure video). All of the sand blowing in the air backlit by the setting sun makes the dunes seem positively alive. The weather tells a story, helping to take this dune photo to the next level.
Sometimes, telling a story relies on finding something to photograph that really stands out and has a lot of character. I took this photo in the Harenna Forest of Bale National Park in Ethiopia. The forest had a lot of shapely trees, so I explored extensively to find the most interesting and twisted trees I could find. This particular tree had a lot of personality, so I put it front and center in this composition, letting it tell its own story in the final photograph.
A photo should say as much about the artist as it does about the subject. Each photo you take is an opportunity to share your story as an artist by showcasing your particular and unique creative vision with the world. Personally, I love working on the edge of light, so when I found this male lion in Kenya's Masai Mara, I asked my driver to position the safari vehicle with the setting sun behind the subject. I underexposed the photo, revealing only the backlit fringe of fur around the lion's mane. The end result is a more mysterious presentation, helping to arouse the curiosity of the viewer and to share my artistic vision.
PRO Video: enhancing the story in the digital darkroom
In the video below, I take a look at how you can enhance the story you are trying to tell with you photos in the digital darkroom. This video is only available to my PRO subscribers. A PRO subscription takes a deeper look at how compelling photos are made, and unlocks access to these videos as well as a number of my other courses and tutorials.