You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. But telling a story with a single image is not an easy task. As you know, there are many essential components of a good photo, both regarding technical quality and the story it tells. Photographers Chase Jarvis and Joe McNally teamed up to discuss storytelling in photography.
In this video, they have focused on telling a story in a single image. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, but there are three components you should include before and during the shoot to achieve it. It takes a bit of preparation, thinking and practice, but it’s well worth it.
Before you start taking the shots, it’s important to know your subject before you go. If you are about to photograph people, try finding out more about them. What are their life stories, how they live, do what they do, do they have kids, etc. It could give context to the image and change your approach to photographing them. What’s more, it helps to create a friendly atmosphere and helps your subjects relax before the shoot.
The same goes if you are taking travel shots. If you are traveling to a particular place, you need to get to know its culture before your trip begins. Read some information about the city and about the objects you plan to visit. Learn some history about the place. If you are a book nerd, read novels and poetry from that particular country or city. I particularly like that reading part, as well as this: listen to music. For example, if you’re traveling to Portugal, listen to fado. All this will give you context and information you will be able to transfer through your photos.
If you photograph people in the streets, you probably can’t learn about each of them, which is where the first part of this advice is not too applicable. However, if you learn about the city, know some of its history and feel the “vibe,” you can put the strangers you photograph into an appropriate context in a way that’s probably better than if you didn’t know anything about the place.
Distil in this case means – simplify it. Keep this in mind: “Busyness is the enemy of clarity.” You need to know what the most powerful elements in the image are and focus on them. In other words – you can’t cram everything in one image and include lots of main subjects in a single photo. This can especially happen when traveling, when you get overwhelmed by the impressions, and you want to capture everything at once. It happens to me very often, and I always need to remind myself that I must focus on one thing at a time.
The way Joe explains why you need to communicate through the photo and make the story clear. You need to give your viewer something to rest his eyes on and/or something to lead him through the image. And this is because you will most likely never meet with your viewers from the other part of the world and explain what you meant and what you wanted to show. It totally makes sense.
The third component is more on the technical side and it includes knowing your craft. You can do your homework, have a perfect context for the image, but if you execute it poorly, it’s all worthless. When it comes to execution, Joe mentions a couple of things that makes it easier. First, know your craft. Then, you should know how your camera relates to the scene and the subject (do you want shallow depth of field or not, for example). In situations like this, it helps to know your numbers and be aware of the technical stuff, so you don’t have to give it too much thought before every shot. Keep in mind that, although this is purely technical, it contributes to the story you’re trying to tell.
For example, if you are photographing a salesman at a colorful market, you will shoot with deeper depth of field if you want to include the surroundings and add the context. If you are creating a personal study of the subject, you want to concentrate on him only and shoot with shallow depth of field.
As you can conclude, these three components require you to devote some time to your photos even before you take them. But with an approach like this, I believe you will to take shots that will contain a lot of context and cause interest in the viewers. Personally, I enjoyed watching this video. I apply some of these things in my photography, like learning some history and information before traveling. But I will definitely keep the rest of them in mind too for each of my next travels. What about you? Do you include these components into your photography? What else would you recommend for strong storytelling in photography?