What is art if it doesn’t tell a story? the human mind is always looking for a deeper meaning in every aspect of life especially art. From the master painters to today’s contemporary artists, all we’re told are stories of another world, another time and another life. These stories are always left open to interpretation which what triggers our mind because we look for a connection to the art in some way or another. I absolutely love that, I love seeking meaning in art not just for connection but also for hope or finding common grounds between the artist and myself.
As photographers our aim is always to tell a story in one frame. This is easier said than done in most cases we tend to miss out on key elements that play an important part in storytelling. There is no simple formula here but there are always a few things that we can add to our check list and grow from there. In this post I will walk you through a few of my tricks that I feel almost always work for me.
There are a few things I like to think about before shooting; my aim however is always to capture the essence of the subject I am photographing. I focus on the kind of energy they have, what is their personality like (if portraiture) what does it make me think of (still life) what is the one word that comes to my mind when I see the subject.
Elements of Storytelling:
What makes. up a story? When speaking of story telling in literature there’s always the five basic questions
Who, What, Why, When and Where
This – in my opinion is the same in art, because instead of drawing up an image with words we are actually placing visual elements in a frame and capturing the essence of the moment. When planning out your shoot always start with the location, where is your story going to take place, then WHAT are the elements that will help you build up your scene, the time of day that would best give you the kind of light you need to capture your audience’s attention and finally the WHO.
Now, the part about WHO – you can definitely drop in a character if you want to but honestly, you can even tell a story without needing a person to photograph. We don’t always have the luxury to have a stand in model so why not build a story without a person? add the drama with light and build up atmosphere.
One of the things that help with story telling is how you capture it, or in other words what elements of interest are present in your frame for the audience to want to look deeper into the image to see what is going on. My few tips would be to
Add layers in your image – have the viewer see the image from foreground to background.
Play with sizes – using small elements against large ones always adds an element of interest in the image.
Adding multiple props – by adding a lot of tiny details in an image (props or toys) always make the viewer look for more information in a frame.
Depth of Field – a shallow depth of field brings drama into the image and you can almost control what you want the viewer to see.
Expression – if you are using a person as your focal point it’s always best to take candid shots versus posing for the camera.
Minimalism – Another way to add interest is to have the least amount of things in one frame and using minimal colors as well.
Framing – I would always recommend to remove as many distractions from your shot as possible so post processing is not time consuming.
I have mentioned some of the elements that add interest to a shot but I will be further elaborating each elements in a post of it’s own with examples so there is a better understanding of how to execute each and every one of those techniques.
One of the most important things is to have fun with your shots, if you try to push a story through hard it will show in your image. I have from personal experience realized that putting too much pressure on to a shot or ‘your model’ will lead to unfavorable results or several sets of legos for ‘incentives’. My best go to shot is I set up the frame by laying out toys or books or a craft that I want to photograph and wait for one of my kids to show up and take interest. My camera is always ready at the time and as soon as they start getting involved I shoot remotely either with a remote or my phone. This takes the pressure off of them and I get to capture them in their most natural state.
I find story telling to be beautiful and I enjoy it more than I enjoy shooting simple portraiture. Each story is always open to interpretation by the viewer. I have heard several times how all my images capture the ‘quiet in between’ moments and I never shot with that intention but as I said before by leaving it open to interpretation you will find that your audience reads your work better than you.
Try out some of the techniques above and share with us on discord.
Until then Happy Creating!!!