Some Essential Rules for Telling a Story with a Photo

Landscapes are perfect scenes to suggest emotions and questioning. Landscape in southern Texas along the Rio Grande.
Landscapes are perfect scenes to suggest emotions and questioning. Landscape in southern Texas along the Rio Grande.

Some Basic Rules for Building a Photo Story

The photograph that will be produced will not necessarily be technically perfect. It could, for example, be noisy. It might miss a bit of crispness or sharpness on some parts. A photograph may be imperfect, but the moment of its impact is very strong on the public. Technique is nothing compared to emotional power.

I believe that once all the photographic rules have been acquired, it is important to forget them, sometimes, to create an original photograph. It is interesting for a photographer to create his own rules from the moment the realized picture has impact. For example, I often make photos with centered points of interests. I often do not respect the rule of thirds.

The technique must be at the service of the photographer. In no case should it guide his gaze and his emotions. Technique is not necessarily a priority. Primarily, the photographer must be moved by the scene. Then, he uses the technique to convey his vision of the scene. Framing, composing, using black and white, or color, and using all the elements of the reinforcement of the reading must help to create photos with strong impacts on the audience.

Framing must be varied. The photographer must focus on whether he is taking the scene vertically or horizontally. The most interesting photograph will be retained during the editing phase. In the heat of the action, it is not always easy to see and check the best framing using the viewfinder or the control screen. It is better to take many pictures and delete the less interesting ones later.

The angles of view must be varied. The photographer must use techniques of low angle, bird’s eye view, or at the same level of the subject. For example, in wildlife photography, the pictures with the most impact are those where the eyes of the animal are at the height of the lens. Just as for framing, the best shot will be retained at the time of the editing on the computer. Shooting at a low angle makes the animal dominant to the viewers. An angle of view at the same level as the animal’s eyes implies adoption or equality to the viewers.

By varying the framing and angles of view of the photographs, a wide variety of potential images are produced. It is for this reason that the technique must be instinctive. I often tell the participants of my workshops that the technique is the "third arm of the photographer". It is instinctively used without realizing that it is actually present.

Also, the photographer must vary his compositions. For westerners who write from left to right, the sense of reading from left to right induces notions of escape, imagination or progression. A sense of reading from right to left for a westerner induces regression, confinement, introspection. The photographer must not forget that the sense of reading causes the transmission of messages in a different way.

I advise photographers not to use the technique of compositing. It means adding elements in a scene to make it truer. I think that you should stay in the photographic field and not go into the “photographism” which is another artistic discipline.

In the case of an artistic photography, it is interesting to create a picture with a lot of poetry that enables the audience to dreaming and equip their imagination. The bokeh technique is a real plus in this case.

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Once on the field, whatever the place, I always advise the photographers to soak up the atmosphere of the location. This is true in landscape, underwater, or wildlife photography. Nature has a particularity to always release extraordinary odors. The morning or evening shaving lights create contrasts and lights that give the photographed scenes a rare dimension which normal daylight does not provide. The more a photographer is in fusion with the scene he is to photograph, the more his photos will be expressive. This is because the scene will be saturated in the magic moment “where all is one”.

Soaking up the ambiance of the scene or the place to photograph also requires the photographer to keep all of his senses alert. The emotional sensation of fusion is not sufficient. The photographer must look, listen, touch, and feel all of the natural elements that are facing his lens.

Often, a photo session is not enough to capture all the nuances of a scene. A photographer needs persistence and must come back often in order to more fully capture the entirety of the scene. And even then, it will never be enough. In my case for example, I sometimes go back ten times to the same location to capture different shades of light. I even return at different seasons for photo projects that last for longer durations of time. Therefore, the end result might be hundreds of pictures of the same subject or scene, yet at different times, capturing different moments. It is at the time of editing that the choice of the best photos will be made.

Last but not least, I often advise that a photographer must learn patience to create pictures with great narrative power. This is true in both wildlife photography and landscape photography. Persistence and tenacity is not always sufficient. Indeed, at each return to a given location, the photographer may have to wait hours before the perfect moment to push the trigger of the camera.

Patience and tenacity are the two greatest qualities of photographers who wish to tell beautiful photographic stories.

All of the tips I have covered so far are essential to creating a narrative, high-impact photo. Nevertheless, I often reinforce my photos with a technique known as "photo report".

What, When, Where and Why?


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