Why and How Storytelling Can Transform A Nature Photograph – Part 1

You may believe that creating interesting photographs of nature depends on how the general photo project is defined, or your photographic identity, or your personal mastery of a camera.

I think that these elements are necessary, but insufficient. Interesting photographs that leave an impact on the viewer always have a beautiful story that supports and enhances the image.

We refer to this as “storytelling”.

This photograph of a 2-day old gelada required a week-long trip to the Simien Highlands in Ethiopia.
This photograph of a 2-day old gelada required a week-long trip to the Simien Highlands in Ethiopia.

The Definition of a Story

For this article about artistic photography, I will use a specific definition of the word “story”.

A story allows one individual to share personal events that were experienced while creating the photograph or series. It is an anecdote to entertain your audience.

This is not the whole definition though. In this article, the word “story” has a broader scope.

The Definition of Storytelling

To tell the story of a photo or a series, I advise you to use the technique of storytelling. This is what I do regularly in my professional activity.

Storytelling is literally telling a story for the purpose of communicating experiences. This terminology is often used in marketing for advertising purposes, as it appeals and personally connects with the audience.

The storytelling technique should normally capture attention and arouse emotion in the viewer.

In marketing, storytelling is used to promote a brand or product by creating an argument that “I personally appreciated this brand or product, here is why, and thus you also should appreciate this brand or product.” In this example, storytelling is used to convince the viewer through shared experiences. In our case of nature photographs however, storytelling asks the viewer questions about a theme or experience, using the photographs instead of the brand or product to share a point.

In photography, storytelling uses real experiences that happened to you in the field. Storytelling reinforces the impact of your photographs and illuminates your photographic vision to the viewer.

“A Good Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” Is Not Always True

You have certainly heard this quote that says, "A good picture is worth a thousand words".

Since the birth of photography and for several decades after, this quote was perfectly justified because the photographs were not retouched very much. However, this saying cannot possibly apply to modern photography. With the advent of digital technologies, this phrase has lost the truth of its meaning. Many photographs are retouched, transformed, or even digitally created from scratch with montages that are impossible to detect with the naked human eye.

This practice has become common in recent years. The main reason for this “fake photography” is that it is necessary to constantly create new photographs to please the general public. We must always advance in the direction of the general public.

Many celebrities and pop culture influencers were inspired by the techniques of commercial photography. While photography has become a way to sell products, it is also a way to attract followers to social media, magazine articles, newspapers, websites, and blogs. Everyone has something to sell, whether the purpose for doing so involves profit or fame.

The rule that prevails today is to closely adhere to viewer’s expectations in order to attract and retain a large audience. We must please everyone when trying to sell attractive products or gain the most "likes" possible. It is a narrow and difficult path to traverse in the world of photography.

Today, most published photos have been retouched to tell stories that appeal to an audience which has not taken the time to appreciate the aesthetics of a beautiful image or experience the emotions that are conveyed.

Are these pictures interesting?

In our opinion, the answer is no. With these fake photographs, the creator did not want to show emotions or transmit subliminal messages. He has merely chosen to side with an audience’s opinions in order to please them and attract the maximum number of people to the products or brands represented in the images.

I believe that before one claims that a photograph of nature is truly interesting, it is necessary to understand the context in which it was created and carried out.

This is what we call the story of a photo.

For me, it has become an important judgment criterion for the impact of the photo on our viewers.

Interesting Photos Have a Hidden Story

When you talk with your friends or other photographers about photographs that you enjoy, you are always able to tell the story of why you appreciate the particular photographs.

This story usually explains both the conditions in which the photo was created and the way in which it was taken.

Do a quick analysis and you'll see that even for the so-called shock pictures that are worth a thousand words, you will appreciate their associated stories.

Through experience, we have learned that the artistic photos we sold best had a story that we explained to our clients.

A Story Reinforces Impact

When someone appreciates one of your photos, the first criterion of their evaluation or analysis involves the initial impact it had upon them. The viewer is hooked because he feels a special connection at the sight of your photo. This is what I call the "Wow" effect. This impact is indefinable, non-quantifiable, and not explicable. It is a personal feeling; each person feels a different impact.

Your photographic technique, regardless of its expert quality, will have no effect on this initial impact.

If you know how to tell a beautiful story about a photograph or a series, you will reinforce this impact. The story will allow the viewer to gain a deeper connection with the image each time he sees it. He will never forget the image once he has that personal connection.

When presented with a story, your photograph will exist not only on paper but also in the mind of every person who appreciated it. This creates a group of individuals with a shared experience of viewing the image.

The story enables you to create an interesting nature photograph.

A Beautiful Story Affirms Differences

You may have realized that creating interesting nature photographs is challenging.

The number of photographers has greatly increased in recent decades. Creativity remains one of the best ways to affirm your differences and yet stand apart from the crowd.

Telling a beautiful story is also an effective tool of distinguishing yourself from others because each story is different.

When you propose a series of photographs for an exhibition, gallery, festival or photo contest, the choice of your story will influence the impact of your image upon the audience.

Dreams: The Heart of a Story

Do not think that stories are only for kids. Every person has a dream, regardless of age.

It is important to take a break from the hubbub of life and wander into your imagination.

To understand why we need to dream, just think back to your childhood or teenage years. It really wasn’t as long ago as you may think.

When you were young, you certainly did not have to worry about your daily life. Your parents took care of it for you. You were fed, clothed, and sheltered. Most likely, your only concerns at the time were to make good grades at school and spend time with friends.

However, you enjoyed stories, whether they were presented in movies or books, or told by a friend.

Today, you are an adult. Your concerns are most likely centered on your professional activities, your family, and your home. Moreover, you feel concerned by the countless problems of the world due to the media feeding you negative information daily. Even if you cannot do anything about a difficult situation or problem presented through the media, your mind still dwells upon it, weighing your spirit down.

Fortunately, a temporary way to escape this secular noise is to experience stories, which will help you to escape your daily life and dream.

Everyone around you has exactly the same needs, even if we fulfill those needs differently. In our society, we have the same concerns, which is why when you tell a story through your photographs, the audience will be captivated. If your photo helps your viewer to dream, its qualitative value will increase because it is more interesting.

Telling a story is a form of illumination. It causes the photo to gain significance.

An Example of Photographic Storytelling

To Read the Next Part of the Article, Click Here.

 

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