A Practical Method to Tell a Story with a Photo

Underwater wrecks are perfect subjects to tell stories and to make working  the imagination of the viewers.
Underwater wrecks are perfect subjects to tell stories and to make working the imagination of the viewers.

What, When, Where and Why?

In a photo report, the golden rule is "What, when, where and why". The photo journalist should always ask himself these questions before making photos. He must develop qualities of listening, observation, and contact before triggering his camera. For the nature photographer who wants to make narrative pictures with impact, finding an answer to these 4 questions (the golden rule), “What, when, where, and why,” before pressing the trigger, will be an undeniable help.

Whether in documentary photography or in artistic photography, the photographer will be contributing his own perspective, or in other words, his “vision of the stage”. This is accomplished through the golden rule.

The narration of a single photo or series will be reinforced through the photographer’s ability to connect the subject and audience. Let’s take the concrete example of a deer. Photographing a deer in the mist or with some morning frosts will enable the viewer to locate the season. Showing a deer bellowing is important, but one must also provide the answers to the questions “where?” and “when?” by providing the location and date of the photo. This will reinforce the emotional impact.

The formulas which I have just described are effective ways to create high-impact narrative pictures. However, I also have an alternative method.

My Method of Telling Photographic Stories

My method of telling stories is to set up an intellectual process that allows me, as photographer, to stay focused and refrain from distractions on field. This method breaks down into three distinct stages.

Identifying Interesting Themes

Usually, a photographer takes the best photos when he likes the subject and knows it well. A photographer must always strive to define what pleases him most because this will affect his shots. For example, I am not interested in insects. I never take close-up photos on land, although I like close-up photos underwater. On land, I enjoy viewing wetland birds or big mammals. All of my photos thus revolve around these themes.

Once a photographer has identified his favorite themes, he will have to focus on them. If he scatters, he will never be able to focus on creating interesting narrative photos with high impact.

Moreover, repetition results in intensive practice. It allows the photographer to progress and improve his story telling.

When a photographer focuses on a particular area, he eventually becomes an expert. Moreover, with experience, the photographer will discover unique and creative paths. Finally, he will develop his instinct and concentrate his efforts on his goals, ignoring distractions along the way.

Completing Multiple Tests

Once the photographic domains have been well defined, the photographer will have enough information to define his vision of scenes and places, thus developing his technique. He will endeavor to improve techniques such as framing, compositions, choice of lights, depths of fields, creativity, etc.

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Each time, it will be necessary to carry out multiple tests in order to uncover modified methods.

Building Stories

Once the foundation, of well-defined themes and creative techniques, has been laid, it is time to weave the story.

Before looking into the view finder or the back screen of a camera, the photographer must have an idea of what he wants to show. He must have a clearly defined photo project. If this is not the case, the photo session will end badly, resulting in a loss of time.

The photographer must learn to quickly spot different elements like the background, the foreground, the negative space and the points of interests within a scene. Then he must create visual interactions between all of these elements. Above all, he must identify the disturbing elements in the image. These are the ones that bring nothing to the story, and often disrupt the picture. These elements must be removed from the framing.

Once all of the important elements have been spotted, he must ask himself what message he wants to convey. For this, he must analyze what he feels by looking at the scene or the place. When he has identified these emotions or feelings, he must identify a way transmit them through the photo. Technique is used for framing, composition, and etc. It may also be used to establish reinforcement elements for the audience.

The photographer must not forget that technique is the servant, and not the master. The photographer is not dependent on technique. If a technique is not suitable for taking a picture, he should find a more suitable one. A photographer should avoid wasting time by using a technique that does not fit the scenario.


Creating high impact narrative nature photographs requires experience and know-how. Photographers must never forget that photography is a choice. The perspective of the photo illuminates the photographer’s expression of himself. It is an apprenticeship that requires time, tenacity, and patience. All of the photographers whose ideas continue to impact this generation had one thing in common. They each had time, tenacity, and patience. Their pictures are self-explanatory and self-sufficient when viewed. I hope that this article will make you want to follow their footsteps, progressing from the stage of passive photographer to active photographer.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


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