Why and How a Storytelling Will Make Your Photographs of Nature Even More Interesting – Part 2
An Example of a Storytelling About a Photograph
We are on the highlands of Simien in northern Ethiopia. I have been dreaming for years of going to photograph wildlife and landscapes in this part of the world.
For this first trip, I went with my two best friends, Philip and Andrew. They have agreed to share this extraordinary journey because they are fond of new experiences and pictures that are out of the ordinary.
We started our journey at an altitude of 2000 meters (6 000 feet). We went up little by little. We are now at 5000 meters (15 000 feet). We are looking for Ibex. They are endemic to this region of the world. They are very rare and very difficult to find. We have to walk on the slopes of the mountains to find them.
The slightest step or slight climb, we are out of breath. We have to carry our camera equipped with a 500mm and our tripod. We decided that every 200 meters (600 feet) of walking, we would have a break. Oxygen is rarer. We gasp as if we had just traveled 10,000 meters. We are exhausted by these small efforts.
Suddenly, down below, at the bend of a trail, we see the Grail. A family of Ibex: the two adults and a young one. It's unexpected. The decors are superb. The morning light is still very soft.
We only have to go down 50 meters (150 feet) to meet them. This is our first meeting. We are afraid to frighten them. We take our time. We have been spotted but they do not move. They continue to graze. We decide to stay 30 meters (90 feet) from the group. No way to approach.
Suddenly, the young ibex decides to go a little away in a dream setting. We are ready. The cameras are installed on the tripods. We make some photos. Nothing very exceptional. But we trigger to show we have spotted them. For 20 minutes, he hides, goes to bed, gets up. He plays with our nerves. The adults are grazing. Their attitudes are not beautiful.
What a heck! We have Ibex in front of us. They accept us in their circle of security, but the attitudes are not beautiful. We begin to feel cold because a light icy breeze flows through our clothes.
Suddenly, the young Ibex, looks up and gives us a look and a smile that we will remember all our lives. The position of the head on the body is perfect. He has fun with us and charm us. He understood that we were beginning to despair. He makes us this unexpected gift to ask.
We created the photo we wanted.
A Beautiful Story Never Has the Technique as Subject
I often meet photographers who talk to me about their photographs using terms related to the technique.
They tell me about focal length, aperture, depth of field, sensitivity, converters or noise reduction. I listen patiently and attentively because I am also passionate about the technique. But I never talk about it except in my photography courses because it is an important part of the success of photographs.
Listening to them, I try to put myself in the shoes of someone who only uses his mobile phone to take pictures. I tell myself that that person will be bored for long minutes if she is polite and resists.
You have to know that a good photo story is never about the technique. A good photo story must always make dream, make wander the imagination of the person who looks your photographs and listens to you.
For example, you can tell how this photo project was born. You can explain why is so important to you and what gave birth to the photos. Tell what happened on the field. If you unexpectedly met an animal, give concrete examples of the situation. If you have experienced extraordinary emotions in a given light, explain it.
When you tell a story, never forget to mention facts so that the viewer can put himself in your place. If he cannot imagine himself in the scene, he will not remember anything of what you are telling him.
A good story always takes place on the emotional level.
I would add that humor is also a real plus in a good story.
A Good and Beautiful Story is Always Short
If you decide to tell a story about a photo or a series of photographs, be brief, concise.
Never lose sight of the fact that photography is a visual art.
The story must only enhance the impact of your photography. You do not defend an oral text but a photographic work.
Your story should not exceed one minute. Beyond this time, you will lose your audience.
A Beautiful Story is a Lived Story
When telling a photographic story, I advise you to report only facts that you actually experienced in the field.
If you start embellishing the truth and adding details that did not happen, you will lose yourself in your story. Moreover, it is certain that if you tell it several times, all the versions will be different.
You may pass as an inventor who invents stories to be lathered. Your reputation will be tarnished. Never forget that it takes years to build a good reputation. Becoming an authority in a field requires years of work. Losing a reputation only takes a few days.
I advise you to always adopt a frank and honest attitude.
A Good Story Must Be Prepared
In the exercise of my job as a professional photographer, I am always perfectionist and very picky. I conscientiously prepare my photo projects, workshops and conferences.
I always try to limit the place of chance. I know that whatever I do, I will never reach perfection. It is totally impossible. There will always be hazards and unforeseen events.
When I go to galleries or meet collectors, all the stories I am going to tell, are prepared. I write them and repeat them in front of a camera. Then I visualize the videos. I can measure the duration of the story. I can also check that I am not moving away from my subject. I must never forget that I have to defend and put forward a photograph.
I know that in front of my audience, I will have to adapt and change my story. Indeed, each audience is different. I keep the guideline but sometimes I improvise by adopting another tone or specifying other facts.
You will also have to improvise because the questions asked by the viewers will force you to change the angle of attack of your story. But your improvisation will remain credible and quality if you took the time to prepare your story.
Knowing How to Stop at The Right Time Is a Major Asset
In one of the previous paragraphs, you read that a story must be short to not annoy an audience.
But that is not all. If you present a series of photographs and many of them require a story, you must know to stop at the right time. Too many stories can kill your photographic approach. You may become bored. People may shy away from your photos.
Stay simple and concise to provoke the little spark that will make the viewers wander in their imagination. Once this spark has been triggered, stop. Do not go further. You have achieved your goal by enhancing the impact of your photographs.
If You Do Not Have a Beautiful Story to Tell
I already met photographers who showed me photos that did not leave me indifferent.
When I asked them to tell me the story of the photos, they were unable to talk about them. Often, I found that they had something to say but that their natural timidity prevented them from speaking. You do not imagine how many times it has happened. When I think about it, it's absolutely incredible.
If you have the problem of not being able to put yourself forward to defend a creation, practice doing it in front of your mirror or in front of a camera. It is not easy if you are shy, but it is by working that you will obtain results.
Never forget that an interesting photo always has a beautiful story to tell. What a pity to keep it only for you.
Do not forget that you create beautiful nature photos to share your vision of the world!
Nature photography is not just about camera mastery and technique.
Telling a beautiful story will always reinforce the impact of your photos or series.
My experience has taught me a lot in the last ten years. Never neglect the oral aspect to explain a photo. It's a great way to convince an audience and share your passion for nature photography.