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Photographic Storytelling

Photographic Storytelling

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words 

An English language adage that is used frequently in the photographic world. One that is hugely relevant when creating photographic storytelling, especially if a story needs to be conveyed within a single image.  It requires the skill of a creative photographer to introduce a start, middle and end with a narrative that takes the viewer on a journey.  

In the context of a short film story of say five minutes, at 24fps that generates 7,200 frames or images.

Telling Stories

Stories are an engaging way of communicating that can excite and inspire.  I remember the bedtime stories told by my father, each an invention of his imagination that would conjure up visualisations that I still recall vividly today.  That is the point! those visualisations are linked to an emotion, time and place, and remain memorable many years later.

I personally love telling stories, thinking them through, embellishing with creativity, enjoying the connection that they create with my audience.  As a photographer, this is my core purpose, to influence and engage the viewer with memorable (even iconic) visuals.  

How does a Photographer Tell a Story?

In a Single Frame?

The job of a single frame is to instantly capture the attention of the viewer, maybe make them gasp, but definitely to trigger a binding curiosity.  There is no clear story timeline, but the composition will support a visual flow that starts with a compelling initial focal point.  Once engaged, the journey through the image will depend on the viewers own personal interpretation.  Stimulated by their own life experiences, personal opinions and emotions.  

The viewer may also project beyond the single frame, continue the story for themselves based on their own imagination.

Single frame stories are popular with street photographers, they usually have one shot to capture the essence and often taken instinctively.

This is my street photography image of a couple engaged in conversation.  The water fountain in the foreground has visually frozen the moment but what is their story?  Are they simply taking time out in a busy city? Are they romantically a couple? Are they making up after an argument or his he asking her for a date for the very first time?  In which case, how did she respond?  Is the man sitting in the background looking at them, the photographer or nothing? 

A Series of Documentary Style Images?

The series is similar to the aforementioned short movie.  A set images that provides the narrative for the journey.  The purpose can be varied; a documentary of an event or perhaps to establish a lifestyle around a product or service.  

Each image needs to be impactful, capture a mini story ‘moment’ and maintain the interest of the viewer.  

For events, the use of documentary style photography is powerful.  

Documentation photography is a style used to capture real moments during and event.  They are often candid and a great way to capture the emotions of the people – think of a wedding or engagement at a business function. 

Business presentation and workshop.  What do you learn about the location? How passionate were the presenters about their topic? How engaged were the audience?  If you were looking to hire a company to deliver training, would you consider this business?

Photographs taken at High Wycombe Frogfest 2019.  What does it tell you about the event? Was it fun? Would you go want to attend in 2020?

Less is More

There is a commonality between the single frame and series.  That is; less is more.  Let me explain.

In a single frame, too many details in one shot can quickly feel chaotic making the story hard to determine for the viewer.  The majority will simply give up and move on or worst still not bother to invest their time.

In a series, it is important to aim for a variety of specific moments, maybe vary the edit style. Each image is a mini-story, will be more distinct whilst still maintaining the overall narrative.  Occasionally, you will see photographs posted from an event that include multiple images of a single performer, each image in a slightly different pose.  My advice; keep the best most impactful image and lose the rest.  You risk the viewer becoming bored flicking through what is fundamentally the same image.  Then you lose them.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Visual imagery is a very powerful medium commercially; think of successful brands, think of the imagery they use, and you will recall the stories being told that may have enticed a purchase.  

Alternatively, those of you who will remember the golden age of vinyl records.  How many times would you sit with the album cover looking at the images whilst listening to the music?  I bet that the experience was not just about the music!

As a business, are you using standard stock images to tell the story of your brand or are you using your own bespoke photography?  How would that help?

Storying telling is compelling.  For some it is talking about experiences or writing words, my passion is using a lexicon of imagery within photographic visualisations.  

Btw… I like the use of lexicon in this context 🙂

Music Photography

Music Photography

Over the past 7 years I have developed a passion for music photography.  Enjoyed building an extensive portfolio, gained a huge amount of experience and importantly made a number of new friends.  With a camera in hand listening to live music, the creativity, energy and emotion of the moment is consuming, and evening will disappear in what feels like minutes.

There are plenty of books, blogs and probably courses available.  In short, a lot of information that could potentially lead you to over think the whole concept and make it feel stressful, which it is not. 

To help a little I have distilled my experience into six tips.

 

1) Where to start

My first opportunity came about by chance.  I was taking some photographs at a business event and was asked if I could stay on and capture some images of the evening live music entertainment.  A really good band, great music performed by a group of seasoned blues and rock performers.  Being my first time, I took plenty of shots and the results were not particularly exciting.  However, during post editing I realised that I had captured passion and emotion in the faces of the band members, this triggered my curiously and desire to explore the genre more.  So, I started to research local venues, starting with pubs and jam sessions.  

Be prepared to feel a little conspicuous at first, it can be difficult to blend into a music crowd with a camera.  The best approach is to take a little time to absorb the atmosphere, enjoy the music and then limit your shots, take a few and put your camera away.  Keep going, become a familiar and friendly face, share some of your images if asked and use social media.  Talk to the band beforehand, let them know you would like to take pictures, they will be amongst the first to be interested in the results. As your reputation grows so will the opportunities and access to other venues.  

The most important tip: Enjoy the atmosphere, immerse yourself into the event, listen to the music, watch the reaction of the crowd and visually get to know the characters of the band members.  Think about composition, alternative angles and don’t be afraid to get down to floor level. Then you will start to know what you want to capture and hopefully relax and take some awesome shots.  

Be prepared that shots from the first few concerts maybe disappointing, blurred, out of focus, under/over exposed or simply a poor composition.  You will find some gems in that first ‘reel’ to edit but more than anything, it is a learning exercise for the next gig.

Become a part of the audience

 

2) Equipment

Music photography does not need to be an expensive activity, you don’t need a high-end full frame DSLR camera worth thousands, but you will need a camera with the following technical abilities.  

Sorry, this is the techie bit…

  • A decent sensor with the ability to set the ISO to at least 1600 that will take pictures in low light without a flash.  The venue will likely be dark but hopefully stage lighting will illuminate the band allowing for a high shutter speed to avoid shake and blurring.
  • A camera with full manual settings – use the ‘M’ on the dial.  So be brave, switch off all the automatic settings other than auto focus. You need to have full control of the camera and set it up with a wide aperture (f2.8 to f4.0) and a shutter speed of 1/125 second or higher.  You will be surprised at the results; the performer is after all being studio lit.
  • A zoom lens 28mm to 200mm or on a bridge camera a x8 zoom or upwards.
  • You do not need a flash, nor should you use one.  Firstly, it won’t achieve the results you want and secondly, no one, the audience and especially the band will appreciate having a flash firing all evening.
  • If you can and the camera has the facility, shoot in RAW not JPEG.  This I will explain later on.

Now, I am a big fan of taking pictures with my phone and yes you can at a music event, especially those atmospheric back of the audience shot.  You know the ones, stage lights illuminating the head, dry ice hanging like mist and lighters in the air.  But for the close stage shots, not so great to be honest. 

Find a second-hand DSLR with a zoom lens or a bridge camera capable of manual exposure.

 

3) You are not the main event

I have been to more intimate music events; the audience has been small but there are a number of photographers near the stage taking pictures.  It is important to remember that the audience are there to watch band and enjoy, not treated to the silhouette of a person with a camera. 

My ‘rule of thumb’ is simple

  • Wear dark clothes, blend in.
  • Be aware of the audience, find places that are out of the way and that may mean using the dull stretch of your zoom lens.
  • Short burst photography shoot for perhaps just one or two songs, a mix of energetic and slow to capture alternative emotions.  At festivals or specific band shoots, a concert photographer will only be present for at the most 3 songs then gone.
  • As above, don’t use a flash.
Music photographers at work

Actually, it is always interesting to turn the camera into the audience.  They are very much a part of the show and it is an excellent way to capture the energy and atmosphere of the event.

 

Capture the energy and atmosphere of the event in the crowd

 

4) The curse of red light

Unless you have been specifically engaged by the venue and have had the opportunity to talk to the lighting engineer, you will need to adapt to the environment.  A lot of engineers and bands like red light, but this will play havoc with your shots, be prepared to get home and see a lot of red burn out.  My advice is to avoid shooting when red lighting is being used, undoubtedly other colours (white, blue, yellow, etc.) will be used as well, often more than one colour giving some contrast.  Red, however, does give you the opportunity to de-saturate converting to high contrast black and white images, which can be very powerful.  Oh, and I would strongly recommend underexposing a little.

How to manage red light

 

5) Editing

So, you have had a great night out and have a memory card bursting with images.  As said above, prepared to be disappointed as you flick through the images but also be prepared to find the gems, because they will be there.

  • Editing software: Use a tool that will enable you to quickly sift the gems and that has uncomplex set of tools to apply edits.  There are free tools out there but if you are thinking more seriously, then I would recommend Adobe Lightroom CC.  It is excellent for quickly selecting and editing a set of gems from the download of a bursting SD Card.
  • Edit quickly: Aim to have produced a final set of shots by the next day, especially if your intention is to share them on the pulse of the event.  Your final gallery should include a range of interesting shots that excite you and will excite the viewer – avoid duplicates.
  • RAW: If your camera is able to capture RAW files then use the option.  Simply put, these files are the largest, they contain ALL the critical information recorded at the point of capture.  When editing, particularly trying to rescue red light images, you will have much greater ability.
  • Develop a style: There are literally thousands of music photographers out there, to standout, even a little, find a photographic style that will differentiate you from the crowd.  It does not necessarily mean that you should rigidly stick to it, but it could become your ‘trademark’.
Create a photographic style

 

6) Sharing your work

You now have a gallery of images, some ideas on what to do with them.

  • Share them with the bands/venues on social media, use tags and reference the event.  Watermark the images and ask that people credit you for your work.
  • Use them on your own social media streams.  Instagram is an excellent forum to share images and also research other photographers.  
  • Setup a website, maybe start to advertise your services.  
  • Publish low resolution files (72dpi).

Your images are now out there in ‘The Ether’.  Be prepared to find them copied, re-posted and shared – it comes with the territory.  It is worth remembering, as the person who composed and took the photograph you own the copyright.

Oh, and a ‘free’ piece of advice.  Use ear plugs…!  Especially at loud venues where a few pence could protect your ear drums.

Now, go out and enjoy.  Go to a new venue with someone, a person that you enjoy spending time with, who like you appreciates varied and quality music and also appreciates your photographic style (may even suggest ideas or have a camera as well).  Make it an evening out.

Check out some of my Music Photography in My Work.

Fisheye Film Festival 2018

Fisheye Film Festival 2018

Cinematography. This is one of my favourite words, not so much the actual word itself but as a creative person the imagery and narrative it conjures. Thinking through the list of movies I cite as favourites, one in particular stands proud in my mind and I never tire of watching it. I refer to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The combination of the close-cut cropped photography, Ennio Morricone’s dramatic score (including deliberate silent breaks) and storytelling builds tension on top of tension, totally absorbing me. A great example of this can be experienced watching the final gunfight (link below). The first five and a half minutes of the clip easily delivers a short film in its own right – it tells you a lot about each character their relationship and joint purpose through to the climax without a single word of dialogue.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly final gunfight

 

This movie and others like it serve as an inspiration for my own photographic style irrespective of the assignment.

Recently I was contacted by Mariko Francombe to join as official photographer for the 2018 Fisheye Film Festival. Mariko had seen many of my images posted on social media and wanted me to employ my style and capture a more unique narrative, atmosphere and creativity of the festival.  An opportunity!

It was a brief too good to pass by. Following a discussion to understand the aspirations and note specific requirements, I was given the “carte blanche” to allow my own creativity to flow. During the fortnight, I was also privileged to meet passionate film makers, watch films they had produced and become involved in deep conversations regarding their own inspirations. I immersed myself into the festival and will admit to feeling a little bereft after the final shoot.

The events were varied, everything from highly interactive showcase presentations to more simple evenings with an audience of people watching niche movies. The latter representing a challenge in two key respects; it was dark (flash not an option) and how do I deliver an interesting shot of an audience watching a screen.

 

 

As a boy, the TV channels were much more limited than now but during school holidays one of those channels would often show old Harold Lloyd silent movies along with a backing musical score. The visual comedy would unfold on a backdrop of wonderful 1920’s Art Deco American city architecture, the stunts performed at dizzying heights by Harold himself. These movies have since disappeared into the dusty corner of my memory until brought back to life at the Fisheye Film Fantasia evening, live music provided by pianist John Lenehan. Do I photograph or do I enjoy the experience an trip down memory lane, actual I did both.

 

 

A tour given by Paul Fields (Senior Lecturer) around Bucks New University was next up. The university was used as the location to film episode one of Black Mirror, the group were guided around all of the sites followed with a showing of the episode itself. Having stood in other locations used in films myself, notably Silverton, Australia (location for Mad Max 2) and Charlestown, Cornwall (Poldark) I could the sense that the group’s excitement was palpable.

I enjoyed photographing the interaction of the group with the surroundings, making a connection with the film locations and capturing their excitement and interest. Use of black and white amplified the atmosphere on some of the shots. No pigs were involved in my shoot!

 

 

The Competition Showcase brought together creativity and passion in one room. The filmmakers had the opportunity to present their short films for all to watch, appreciate and critique.  After each film, a ‘Graham Norton’ style sofa interview was hosted along with questions fired from the audience. Getting in amongst the filmmakers allowed for some more intimate documentary style photography capturing the energy and engagement within the room. The film craft was stunning, thought provoking stories, drama and humour.

 

 

The Fisheye Festival wrapped up with final Competition Showcase hosted by Glen McCoy best known for ‘Eastenders’, ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Emmerdale’. The venue, screen two at Cineworld High Wycombe with international movies shown to an broad audience. Usually I would go to the cinema to watch the latest main feature but this evening was very different, short films with compelling stories. My favourite of all the films was Chuchotage, a short file centralised around two langauge interpreters during a professional conference in Prague.

The location afforded me with the opportunity to capture a cinemascope crop within the cinema, which I considered a fitting nod to the world of film making and cinematography.  Hopefully a great reflection for the Fisheye Festival as we look forward to the 2019 event.

 

 

Finally, what does a photographer do during downtime at the back of an audience, whilst relaxing with a glass of wine?

 

 

Please take a look at my images from the festival in the Fisheye 2018 gallery.  Take a look at the Fisheye Film Festival website, there is a lot of information about the festival plus an overview of the all of this years events fisheyefilmfest.uk.

 

Video credit: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone.