5 Tips to Improve Your Narrative Photos and Their Impact

Example of an underwater narrative photo taken in the Red Sea off Egypt. Photo in colour by Amar Guillen.
Example of an underwater narrative photo taken in the Red Sea off Egypt.

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

To build a narrative photo, you must place the photographic elements correctly in your composition.

The first step is to place three essential photographic elements.

  • The first is the introduction to your narrative.
  • The middle is called the theme. It is the development of your narrative.
  • Finally, you must construct the conclusion of your narrative.

Vous devez les placer de manière harmonieuse dans votre composition afin de raconter une histoire.

You must weave these pieces together harmoniously in your composition to tell a story.

The foreground, or introduction, should not take up much space in your photo. You should think of it as a step that invites the viewer into the picture. If you include a very large foreground, you will create an insurmountable obstacle. People will not be able to enter your story. Similarly, avoid foregrounds that are too dark. They give the impression of an impassable wall.

The foreground can be blurred or sharp. It depends on what you want to suggest. If it is blurred, you suggest uncertainty, lightness. If it is sharp, you suggest certainty; you know exactly where you are taking the viewer.

An introduction should be short, interesting, and pique the attention of the viewer. For example, in a landscape photograph, you can include a flower in the frame of your foreground. It will serve as an eye-catcher. It will suggest that it is a nature photo. Since it is small, it is just an invitation, not a grand display.

The middle shot, or development, should show the focus of your photo. This is where you want to take the viewer. It must be sharp, contrasted. This is where the strength of the photo lies.

The background or conclusion should close your story. Either you have for example multiple shots to take the viewer into the dream, or you enclose it with the woods. Regardless, you end your story.

Technically, the purpose of the background is to emphasize the intermediate plane by contrast. In the narrative, it concludes the image. Often, in narrative photography, the background must be sharp.

This comment leads me to point out that you should use very small apertures with your lenses. You should always have the greatest possible depth of field.

Tip #2 for Creating Narrative Photos: Prepare Your Story Well

I must remind you that storytelling is the action of weaving a timeline and characters together. The photo is your story about an experience you had.

In order to tell a story, you have to come up with a plot. It must be plaudible. If you have not thought about a plot and characters and setting, you cannot tell it. You will not be able to create a narrative photo. You will just make a descriptive or illustrative photo that is similar or nearly identical to one you have probably already made.

Eventually you will realize that you are wasting your time.

Personally, before starting a photo project, I list all the stories I want to tell. I use my tablet or sheets of paper to write. I write short sentences with a subject, a verb, and a complement.

For example, when I created my photo art project about Death Valley in California, USA, I listed phrases like:

  • a journey with a non-return.
  • Traveling alone in a barren and lost land.
  • To know loneliness without being able to call for help.
  • A world where nothing is possible.
  • And if this was the end of the world.
  • etc.

I created dozens of little stories for myself. I always had them with me in the field when I was shooting.

The advantage with this method is that I could easily find my points of view. I did not waste time. I had goals.

Let me take another example. This is the one about the deer bellowing. For each year, I create new phrases. For example, this year I had listed these stories:

  • Elegance is an attitude. It is not a question of means.
  • Grace should be present in every gesture.
  • Power comes through the eyes.
  • Light is vital to happiness.
  • Perception is reality.
  • Curiosity is an essential element to move forward in life's great adventures.
  • etc.

In the field, during my sessions, I was trying to set up these stories.

It is true that I am very attracted to symbolism. I like to suggest human behavior through my images.

But regardless, I do not make a landscape or deer photo because it is a landscape or a deer. I try to tell a story.

Then on the field, I place my photographic elements for my narrative.

Tip #3 for Creating Narrative Photos: Get to Know Your Audience

I always repeat this during my nature photography courses. If you want to create interesting photos, I recommend you learn a few things about psychology.

You must learn to listen to others. Knowing your audience's wants and desires will help you make the pictures they want. This is essential for you.

Accept one of the previous paragraphs about the photographic virtuous circle. If your audience is happy, you will be happy. You will continue to take pictures. It is a virtuous loop. If you make photos just to flatter your ego, you will not get very far. You will suddenly stop using your camera.

Listen to the comments about your photos either during exhibitions or on social networks.

If you are shooting for competitions, look at the results from previous years. Get to know the juries.

No matter how you are going to use your photos, you need to know what you like and do not like.

Then, all you must do is write your own narrative to show your difference and create interesting photos that will catch the eye.

Tip #4 for Making Interesting Photos: Use Secondary Photographic Elements

In the tip #1, I mentioned using three primary photographic elements. These are the basic elements.

But reading reinforcement elements, primary or secondary focus attributes, and negative space are all elements you should use in your narrative.

To detail their function in this column would be much too long. If one day, you can participate in a training course with me, you will discover all the formidable power of these elements that you never used.

Tip #5 for Creating Narrative Photos: Keep It Simple

I often say, "Just doing one thing is hard. It takes a lot of time and a lot of experience."

When you start making narrative masterpieces, you will wonder how to do it. You are not going to be satisfied with the result.

This is normal. It is even a good sign. You are stepping out of your comfort zone. You are no longer in stage 1 of photography, which is taking descriptive pictures. You have moved on to stage 3. I will describe stage 2 in another article.

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But keep in mind the idea of being simple.

At the beginning, we are all the same. I am the first. We take complicated paths. We explain simple concepts with complicated words and phrases. But we must start somewhere, don't we?

Little by little, simplicity will impose itself as you gain experience.

When telling the story, consider that there is always a beginning, a central theme, and an end.

Look for simple scenes. Avoid disruptive elements in the construction of your photos.

Think that the person who is going to recast your image is going to spend 1 second evaluating it, no more. Address them as you would like to be addressed.

The simpler you are, the more you will be heard and understood. The more people will like your pictures.


In this article, I gave you the keys to building and creating narrative photos.

Keep in mind that storytelling is the action of telling a photographic story. The more you think about the narrative of your photos, the more interesting and creative they will become, and the more you will hold the attention of the viewers.

Always remember to keep it as simple as possible.

But above all, learn to be empathetic and to listen to others, for that is the key to any artistic success.

This article will help you understand how to implement a new tool in your photography toolbox. By implementing it, you will make your photos even more interesting and instill in them true meaning.

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