“If you focus on this instead of getting the latest and the greatest camera gear,” says Mike Smith, “you will get so much better than you could have ever imagined.” By ‘this’, he means storytelling. It’s an elusive but valuable skill and one that any photographer benefits from. It’s the difference between a nice image and a compelling image.
But it’s not easy. Including any kind of narrative in a still image is hard. It takes practice. “Sometimes I get it and other times I completely miss the mark,” says Mike. In this excellent video, Mike walks us (literally!) through his ideas on how to tell better stories through your photographs.
Mike says that the key to getting better at storytelling is understanding that it’s all about the viewer’s imagination, not yours. The important thing is to lead your viewer on a sort of journey while they look at the photo. But how do you actually do that?
Firstly, you want to only let them see what you want them to see. You don’t have to show them absolutely everything in the scene. That’s where lens selection and in-camera cropping are essential. Depth of field and choosing what you want to be in focus will also play an important role here. It’s all about making deliberate decisions before you press the shutter.
Classic composition rules will also help you. Decide what the ‘hero’ or main object is in the photograph, and then use classic composition devices like leading lines or triangles to draw the viewer’s attention to that.
Mike includes some great examples in the field, and shares his choices and why he’s making them. It’s great to actually see that decision-making process in real time.
The final tip is to try to tell the story of the day in as few shots as possible. “This will really hone your storytelling skills,” says Mike. But he stresses that it’s normal if you miss the mark. Just keep working on it, and eventually, you’ll get there!