4 Reasons to Create Narrative Photos

Example of a narrative photo of a landscape. Torrent in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Photo in colour by Amar Guillen.
Example of a narrative photo of a landscape. Torrent in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.

Photographic Storytelling Can Make Your Photos Extraordinary

In my opinion, photographic storytelling can allow you to create photos that are different from others and resemble your style and contain your spirit.

The trick is to learn how to control it.

Take for example, a photo of a mountain landscape. Everyone can trigger the camera in front of an exceptional panorama. Everyone can freeze eternal snows on a summit.

Some people who are good at technique will be able to manage depth of field or mass balance well. Many photographers can do this because it is just technique. You just need to have had the benefit of learning this and then you can easily apply it to your work. Boom. It is done. However, this is not a sufficient way to differentiate yourself.

Other people expect stormy weather conditions with clouds and heavy skies. This can make excellent photos, but all the photographers will present similar results at the same time which will cause the photos to look the same.

I could multiply the examples concerning the technique, the external conditions, and the quality of the lenses or the cameras.

The conclusion would always be the same: today, given the quality of the material and the level of the photographers, many photos will be successful.

But are they interesting? Do they make sense? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Despite the improvement of the equipment, the globalization of the exchanges between the photographers' communities, the wide diffusion of knowledge, the number one problem of photographers is to create photos which have sense, which express something, and which address and maintain an audience.

Why is that? The answer is simple.

Most photographers do not know how to use photographic storytelling.

This is not only true in photography. It is true in all art forms.

Take literature, for example. If you learned to write in school, you can create a story. You have heard stories about good guys, bad guys, and so on throughout your life. You can find the elements of a story. And yet you are not a writer or novelist. The reason? You do not master storytelling. You cannot tie the story elements together to engage an audience and keep their attention.

You certainly have other qualities, but you have not learned to develop this one.

In the world of photography, I see the same thing. Many photographers think that proficiency in technique, knowledge of the photographic language, and experience in the field is enough to create interesting photos.

They have forgotten the essential elements of photography. The stories they tell are of no interest to anyone. They look like stories that have been presented repeatedly. The photographic narrative is the essential factor for your photos to have body, for them to have a soul.

To make photographic stories different from others, even if they tell your personal story by making you dream, you must know how to use photographic narration. It will allow you to take your audience into your universe.


The Isolation Photo Is Not a Narrative Photo

In a previous paragraph, I distinguished between narrative and isolation photography for figurative photography.

It was during my trip to La Dombes that I understood the difference between the 2 ways of creating a photo.

I will come back to how to incorporate isolation in photography in a future article.

But I do want to touch on the fact that this way of photographing does not involve photographic narration.

An isolation photo can tell a story, but its implementation is mostly technical.

It is much more complex than a narrative photo.


An Example of a Narrative Photo and an Isolation Photo

At this point in the article, you are probably wondering what an isolation photo and a narrative photo might look like. I will give you some examples without going into too much detail. I will come back to this in a later paragraph.

Narrative photo of a landscape taken in Monument Valley in Arizona. Photo by Amar Guillen, artist photographer.

An example of a narrative photo. The story I wanted to tell in this photo is "even after we are gone, the good things we did in life remain in the memory of those who knew us".

For the narrative, I chose the dead tree in the foreground to illustrate the fact that we will all disappear one day. The mounds in the middle ground symbolize our legacy and the memory of those who knew us.

The background is open, with a bright sky. It is the hope that during our existence, we will have made a small contribution to the building. We will have helped humanity to progress.

Narrative photo of a landscape taken in Valley Fire in Nevada. Photo by Amar Guillen, artist photographer.

An example of a narrative photo.The story I wanted to tell in this photo is "existence is not a straight path. It is winding and full of pitfalls. No one can tell where he is going.

As far as the narration is concerned, I chose to start the road at the bottom right. This first shot symbolizes a moment in our lives.

The road in the middle plane shows that our existence is winding. We may sometimes have to take complicated paths.

The background shows that the road has no end. We never know how our life will end.

In the rest of the column, I will only discuss aspects related to narrative photography.

Let me share some good reasons to illustrate my point.

Photo isolante d'un gorgebleue à miroir en Charente-Maritime en France. Photo de Amar Guillen, artiste photographe.

An example of an isolation photo.In this photo, we only see the bluethroat bird. The whole scene is built to create the contrast that highlights the subject.


Reason #1 For Creating Narrative Photos: Interpreting the World Around You

If you practice photography, it is because you want to show the world around you. You want to share your perspective or your view of it. You may want to show things that others have not seen.

But you must be careful not to show the world in an obvious way. By this I mean that you should not show it at face value, in a way which shrouds the extraordinary in a mundane approach. Be personal and unique, take the time to stand out.

Interpret the world around you. This suggestion is the first reason to create narrative photos.

To interpret the world around you through your photographs, you will tell your own stories about an experience which you lived. To engage an audience, you will need to focus on quality storytelling. You must master photographic storytelling.


Reason #2 For Creating Narrative Photos: Express Yourself

The photographic interpretation I mentioned in the previous section can be objective or subjective.

If you want to convey private messages, emotions, or share your aesthetic values, you need to express yourself. Be aware that this is not always the case. Many photographers make pictures only to testify, to be like the others, to have fun. Few photographers choose photography as a means of expression.

If you are in this case, you must use narrative photography as a technique. This is a second reason to make this type of figurative photo.


Reason #3 For Creating Narrative Photos: Be Unique

Your photographic goal is to create a loyal audience of people who will enjoy your photos and your photography business.

Here is the virtuous circle of photographic creation:

  • You will make people happy and content.
  • You will be satisfied.
  • You will be encouraged.
  • You will continue your quest by creating new photos.
  • You will be fulfilled.
  • You will start to propose new photos again.

This photographic virtuous circle allows you to be happy in your life and to fulfill your personal satisfaction.

To achieve this goal, your photos must be interesting. They must attract the interest of other people. You need to create unique photos. This is the third reason to make narrative photos.

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Since you will be telling stories, use a personal angle that will differentiate you from other photographers. No one else can share your experiences and your perspective. This is what makes you special.

Telling your own stories with your own narrative style will create interesting photos.


Reason #4 For Creating Narrative Photos: Having an Impact

A photo that has impact is a photo that holds the attention of a viewer.

It is a photo that strikes a feeling or emotion in the heart of your audience. It can raise the spirits. It will remain in the memory of the viewer and can even influence their choices and actions.

The impact can be caused by the nature of the photographed scene, by the development of the photo, and even by its construction.

This is the fourth reason to make narrative photos. By using this technique in your photos, you will cause a lasting impact.

Why? Because by thinking about how you are going to build and create your photo, you are developing the narrative. You will put forward the strong points of your dish. You will have an impact, and thus create a legacy.

Tip #1 for Creating Narrative Photos: Place the Photographic Elements Correctly

I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos