Why and How: Creating Impactful Narrative Photos

In this article, I will give you the keys to succeed in your narrative photos. This technique will allow you to make your photos more interesting and more creative.

I will share four great reasons to help you choose this creative direction. I will also share four tips for success when taking those first steps in narrative photography.

This is one of the most powerful techniques I know. I have practiced it many times when I want to attract the attention of people who look at my photos.

An example of a narrative photo. Landscape of Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands in Utah in United States. Photo in black and white by Amar Guillen.
An example of a narrative photo. Landscape in black and white of Canyonlands in Utah in United States.

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.

Preamble

This article of the photographic approach applies mainly to nature photography.

On the one hand, it is my specialty. First and foremost, I am a wildlife, landscape, and underwater photographer.

On the other hand, narrative photography is difficult to build in the studio. All the concepts I am going to talk about are suitable if you practice outdoor photography or in places where you cannot set up or control your environment.

The Story Behind This Article

A few years ago, I went on a trip to La Dombes in France for a photo project about that region. My goal was to propose to the community an exhibition that would increase awareness about unknown aspects or "hidden treasures" of that region.

The final goal was to show that La Dombes was not only about fishing in ponds. I wanted to reveal hidden treasures that were worth discovering.

To conduct this project, I chose wildlife photography and landscape photography. I had 3 weeks. Depending on the weather conditions, I could alternate the two types of photography.

The first week was entirely dedicated to wildlife photography. I photographed birds on the ponds and mammals in the woods and meadows.

The second week, I decided to start capturing the landscape pictures, mainly because the clouds had appeared. I had already done some scouting. I knew exactly where to position myself. However, for 3 days, I photographed the landscapes of La Dombes in vain.

The landscapes were beautiful and interesting. I had beautiful lights. But all my pictures were useless. They had no impact. They were not well constructed.

I was depressed. I had had 3 days of gorgeous conditions, and yet, I had not known how to take advantage of it. I returned to the cabin I had rented and began to spend time editing my project. This is also part of the work. A first assessment is always necessary.

After an hour of organizing, sorting, and selecting photos, I encountered an epiphany. It was all there in front of me. I understood the problem. I was photographing landscapes as well as animals.

Of course, I am not talking here about the settings of the speed, the aperture, or the sensitivity. I am talking about how to show and interpret what I see. I was just putting words and concrete examples to the concepts of narrative and isolating photography.

This day was one of the most important in my life as a professional photographer.

If these concepts are important to me, they may certainly be important to you. Therefore, I decided to share them with you today.

The Two Ways To Make a Figurative Photo

To take a figurative photo, and by "figurative," I mean a real representation of a scene, you have two ways:

  • Isolation.
  • A Narrative.

To construct a photo in isolation is to arrange yourself so that you can isolate the subject in your scene.

Constructing a photo in a narrative way means telling a story by assembling additional different photographic elements.

In this article I will only discuss narrative photography. I will come back to the concept of isolating within a photo in another article.

The Difference Between a Story, a Narrative, and a Narration

I think it is important to clarify the definition of certain words before going any further.

When you want to express yourself, you want to tell something. You will use text, photo, video, audio, etc. This process always follows the same construction:

  • You first define the story. You should set a plot, events. You have disparate elements.
  • To make connections between these elements in the story, you will use a narrative. A narrative can be text, oral, written, or a visual form such as a photo or video.
  • For the story to be interesting and captivate your audience, regardless of its form, you must use means to establish links between the different elements. This is the narration.

Definition of the Word "Narrative"

The definition of the word "narrative" is:

the action of telling and/or of exposing a sequence of events, to describe a situation

Application to Photography

If you want to apply this system of using storytelling or a narrative to photography, the solution is quite simple:

  • The story is composed of the different photographic elements that you will assemble in your composition and framing.
  • The story is the photographic medium. You can also extrapolate by saying that several photos will constitute a story.
  • The narrative is the way in which you will use the language of photography to make your photo interesting.

The photographic narration will allow you to express your emotions, to transmit messages in your photo.

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The photographic narrative is made up of all the means and influences that you will use in your photos to convey your messages.

Photographic storytelling is the act of telling a story in a photograph.

If you want to go further, you can obviously apply this principle to a set of photos in a series or collection.

Photographic Storytelling Is Difficult

In a previous blog post dedicated to a two-step method to make your photos interesting and creative, I had explained that from my point of view, photography can be divided into two models:

  • the unique photo suitable for contests and social media or the public eye.
  • the expressive photo suitable for distinguished, specific, collections and/or series.

The purpose of this second model is to tell a fairly long story. In both models, the photographic narrative is a way to make your photos interesting by giving them meaning.

In my opinion, the use of photographic narrative is the most difficult thing to use. A good photographic narrative is the essential element to define a good photograph. But how difficult it is to achieve success!

Photographic storytelling requires a solid basis of technical knowledge, a mastery of the photographic language, a lot of experience, some empathy to understand the soul of humankind, imagination and audacity to explore new creative songs, and a thirst to be different and to be unique. In short, it is the quest for the holy grail.

Photographic Storytelling Can Make Your Photos Extraordinary

 

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