Everybody loves a good story because stories are the best way to evoke memories and emotions in people. They can make us excited; they can make us laugh or cry or make us feel empathy for someone. Visual stories help us to understand each other better. For me, photography is not just about making photographs, it is about choosing a life of curiosity, exploration, and wonder and sharing my story in a visual presentation to others. Photography is a visual language. It is not just about composition, but how composition can help us capture the mood and tell the story we want to share.
There are certain types of photography that elicit more emotion than other types, such a photojournalism, wedding photography, street photography and so on. But the truth is, regardless of the type of photography you do, there is a story to be told. Sometimes a single image can tell the story, such as the famous photograph of Afghanistan girl that Steve McCurry took several years ago. Or it may be several photos that illustrate a beginning, middle with a climax, and an ending.
It all starts with a creative vision. Stories take us places. Before going to a location, I research the area to see what might interest me about this location. I use a Photographers Ephemeris app to help me see how the light will fall on this location. A program of this sort is invaluable. It will allow you to see the exact direction of the sunrise and sunset on a map in order to plan out your shoot. Explore the region you want to photograph. What are the top ten things to do there. Learn about the people and their culture. And then with all that done, go into the photo shoot prepared but with an open mind.
Photography is largely about capturing the moment, so anticipating the moment becomes crucial to great story telling. Waiting for the right moment when the light, expression, and movement all converge is critical for great photos. Serendipity does happen, but often it is the preparation that counts. Good photographers rarely wait for inspiration; instead, they seek it out by training their eye to see what most people do not see. Try a street portrait challenge with strangers. Photograph 100 strangers over a period of three months and capture the story they tell. Capturing a moment in time can create a relatable story.
Composition is perhaps the single most important aspect of photography and it can bring life to a story. It is true that you need to look for a point of interest in your story, but you also need to arrange the image in a way within the frame to draw the viewer’s eye to your story. Composition is about what to include or leave out of your frame. Rules of composition may include using the “rule of thirds,” creating depth with “leading lines,” “focusing to fill the frame,” choosing a “suitable depth of field,” or perhaps using diagonal lines to add energy. A good photographer arranges the visual elements within their frame to enhance their story.
It is important to develop a deep understanding of light, how it works, how to capture it and how to use it creatively. Our eye naturally goes to the brightest part of an image, so the main subject of your story should be the brightest part of the image. Shadows, highlights, and varying levels of warmth and tone evoke emotions to the viewer, so you can create a unique mood just by toning an image. If the light is not right when you get to your location, you are best to scout out the area and come back another day when the light is better.
It does not matter what kind of camera you shoot with. Cameras keep improving and even the latest iPhone’s take great photos. The camera does not tell the story – You do! As Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it” , and that is so true. The raw file from the camera is just the canvas we paint on to enhance our story. By applying the visual language of photography, you will become a better story telling photographer, regardless of what equipment you are using.