Great Photography is Telling A Powerful Story with A Single Image

2. Single shot or a series?

It’s important to remember that a single image is only a “half truth”, because it never tells you the fundamental of a story, which is, “Why?”.When talking about photographs, an image might be partly true but it is only part of the whole truth and a snapshot of the bigger picture. This leaves part of our brain to interpret the image on its own, therefore making it difficult to always understand the photographer’s message.


On the other hand, a series of photographs allows the brain to process each image as a whole. A series of images emphasizes several ideas, whereas a single image usually emphasizes just one idea. Keep in mind that the first and last images in a series are the most important. These are called ‘goal images’ – the type of images that open and close the series to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s no different from judging a book by its cover – a strong opening shot will stop people and hold them in the story from start to finish.


3. Scope out the Scene

When I first arrive at a destination where I plan to take photos, the first thing I do is take a look around. I look at the setting and potential photo spots. The setting is going to add context to the story. Check out where the light is and consider how you want the light to play a role in the story. The light will significantly affect the mood of an image.


For example, consider a photo of a child crying. The photo would create much more of an emotional response to the viewer if the lighting was more dramatic, such as a low light situation. So, while I don’t always have control of my surroundings, I may make some decisions upon arrival that will help set the mood in the images or assist in telling the story.


4. Details vs. Landscape

When I am taking photos of my family on an outing, I try to make sure to get a mixture of both wide angle, landscape photos that show the whole setting/scene, as well as closer up, detailed shots, because both are important to the story. Notice in the photo below, I chose to focus on the apple that my one-year old daughter had brought me, but I also included her face in the background. 


Even though her face is blurry and the focus of the image is the apple, including her face adds to the story showing just how proud she was of picking that apple all by herself.


5. Take stronger images

You may have some brilliant pictures that are technically perfect; however, there are two particular elements that make a strong image even stronger for a photo essay.


Firstly, the images should be emotive to have some kind of emotional impact on your viewer. Not all images must contain a human element to be emotionally moving; rather it could be anything from a landscape to a still life. The images should evoke strong emotional feeling in the viewer’s psyche.


Secondly, the images should be thoughtfully layered with meaning. This is how you engage your viewer’s attention for a longer period of time. This is usually the most difficult process of telling a story with photographs.


You may not be able to consciously shoot images with several layers of meaning, but always keep an eye out for these layered pictures while shooting, selecting and arranging the images for the story.


In visual storytelling, images are ordered in a specific way, either chronologically or as a series, with the aim of ‘infecting’ the viewer’s vision and mind, just like Leo Tolstoy said. Captions are also an integral part of a photo story that should help the viewer understand each image. That said, it is important to remember that while captions may expand your understanding of an image, it’s the image itself that should tell the story – never the other way round.




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Great Photography is Telling A Powerful Story with A Single Image

Stories are integral to human culture and storytelling is timeless. Over the centuries people have gathered around campfires, in town squares, over meals and in other places to tell their stories and these gatherings have become central to the shaping of cultures and communities. In more recent times some people have lamented that the art of story telling has been lost amidst the rise of different technologies.


Perhaps there is some truth in this – but perhaps it’s just the way we tell stories that has changed. One such medium for story telling in the time we live is digital photography.


A photograph has the ability to convey emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages – all of which are important elements of story telling. Of course the gift of story telling is something that doesn’t just happen – good story tellers are intentional about learning how to tell stories and practice their craft. Following are a few tips for photographic story tellers.


1. Plan Ahead

Planning is an essential part of the process for visual storytelling. What your mind does not know, your eyes can’t see. This is probably most apt when planning your photo essay. Your plan should include selecting the topic, research on the topic, clarifying your topic, and finally planning your shots. Think about the type of images you want to capture to convey your message. You must plan well ahead to visualize the story. If I am headed on an outing with my family, such as a trip to the apple orchard, I often think about the pictures I may be able to capture on the outing.


On our annual fall trip to the apple orchard, I knew that my daughters would want to ride in the wheelbarrow, so this was an image that I had in my head to be prepared to capture. Sure enough, all of my kids wanted a turn riding in the wheelbarrow. So when the moment presented itself, I was prepared for how I wanted to capture it.

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