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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 🙂