Why and How Telling a Story through A Photo

Creating photographs of nature is an extraordinary way to communicate, convey messages, or arouse certain emotions in the viewer. In my article on editing in photography, I said that the first step in a project is to define a story for a series. However, a nature photographer knows that a story is not just for a series, but for a single photograph.

It is important to know how to create a nature photo that can stand alone and yet still tell an interesting story. For example, when creating a cover photo for a book, the photographer must convey the book’s overall message to the audience in a single photo. In the opening of a photo exhibition, the first picture presented must captivate the audience and “set the stage” by presenting the general theme. It is possible to choose a strong photograph which tells a story when viewed by itself. For me, as always, this process must follow certain rules.

Animal behaviors are interesting subjects for telling stories in artistic photographs.
Animal behaviors are interesting subjects for telling stories in artistic photographs.

Storytellers and Their Audience

It is a well-known fact that everyone loves to listen to beautiful stories. No one is insensitive to a well-told story. What do a film, novel, song, or poem all have in common? Each has the power to communicate a message or channel certain emotions in the audience. Photography is another way to achieve this, whether it is through a documentary or artistic collection.

Another fact is that all those who practice photography pursue one of the following goals: exchanging ideas with others, or discovering ideas within themselves. In both cases, communication is essential.

For example, in my case, I cannot draw; I cannot paint; I do not know how to sculpt; I do not know how to write long romance novels or sonnets. But I still want to present my vision of this world. How can I do this? The answer lies within photography. It allows me to express myself in a unique way, conveying messages of serenity, tranquility, and joy. To transmit my messages and my passion for nature, I have chosen to show the wonders of nature through photography.

When the audience meets the storyteller, symbiosis occurs. The link between two universes is created. Photography has the magic of gathering even for a few moments people who have nothing in common. It connects the photographer and the person viewing the photo, and for a moment, they may share the same messages and emotions. However, in order to accomplish this, it is necessary for the photographer to know how to narrate a story with a photo effectively and efficiently.

Telling a Story is Telling My Own Vision of the World

Like all photographers, I want to convey my vision of the world. Photography is an art that is meant to be shared. I am used to saying that “photography is never chosen by chance”. If someone chooses photography for fame, money, or any other reason than to communicate, then he will not last long in practicing this discipline. The photographer is missing the motivation of passion. Thus, this chapter of photography in his life will be fleeting.

Communicating with others is telling a story. In photography, I do not talk with written or spoken words. The story is told by putting photographic elements of a three-dimensional universe into a two-dimensional space. This is what a photo truly is.

Many people often think that to tell a story, a photographer must make documentary-type photos.

It is true that telling a story with an animal behavior, an attitude or even an expression is easy. Similarly in photographing landscapes, a photograph showing a storm, or the elements unleashed during a tornado, is enough to tell a story. The spectators will easily put themselves in the place of the poor inhabitants who evacuated their house to flee before the furious natural elements attacked. The suggestive and narrative power of these images is undoubtedly very strong.

A documentary picture often does not need words to be described. The only explanation necessary is the location and date, the “where” and “when” the moment the shot was taken. Each viewer will create his own story by operating his imagination. Documentary photography is certainly the simplest path chosen by many photographers to tell stories.

The narration in documentary photography is often raw and descriptive. It appeals to the very primary senses of the spectator. Documentary photography makes possible to show, to denounce, or to highlight a fact to the eyes of the world. It is a rugged beauty.

Artistic Photography is a Narrative

Artistic photography can be just as descriptive and expressive as a photo documentary. But it is much more complex to implement. Artistic photography is more suggestive. In my artistic photographs, I not only try to convey emotions and feelings, but I also strive to provoke questions on important subjects such as happiness, or the reason for existence. In both types of photography, I always try to tell stories.

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The narration in artistic photography is much more intimate, much more suggestive. It appeals to the senses and the imagination, rather than actual facts or the primary senses of the spectator. The challenge is more complex than in documentary photography. The photographer must transmit emotions, feelings or personal messages in such a way as to provoke further wonder.

From my point of view, it is simpler to tell stories through a series than a single photo. Creating a story with a single photo is complicated but it is possible if you know the tricks to efficiently tell the story.

Technique: Necessary, but not Sufficient

Whether in documentary photography or in artistic photography, telling a story with a nature photograph requires plenty of both experience and time. Sometimes, it will take years for a photographer to achieve this goal.

The beginner photographers are often obsessed only by the photo technique such as how to use the camera’s settings, how to adeptly compose the subject or setting, or how to frame the scene. For example, some photographers only think about the management of sharpness or noise. Others have only one idea in mind: respect the rule of thirds. I am used to saying that as long as a photographer thinks of technique, he does not think of the wonder and beauty of the photo he will create. As a result, the pictures will be “technically correct”, but not very interesting.

Choosing only to think of technique is like knowing how to write sentences without spelling or grammar mistakes, but saying nothing important or unique. The author’s sentences may be grammatically correct, but the meaning behind the words is pointless. Knowing how to tell a story with a photograph is to make the picture interesting to the sight of the others.

To create a photo with a story, the photographer must answer some essential questions and respect some basic rules of communication.

Some Basic Rules for Building a Photo Story


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