Tell the Story

People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.
–Steven Spielberg

The shortest piece of advice I have for you about telling a visual story is “Show me, don’t tell me”

In other words, make sure the pictures SHOWS the story you want to get across. If you have to explain something, the picture is not successful as a story teller.

This pictures tells a story of a mom and her daughter on a cable car in San Francisco. We know it’s cool because of the jackets. We know it’s sunny because of the sunglasses. And we know they are happy from the smiles. What  else can you tell from this picture’s story? Do I need to explain anything of importance to you, the viewer? I don’t think so, all the elements are there to SHOW the story I want to get across.

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It is a truth that in the age of Instagram and rest, we have collectively forgotten how to tell a visual story. Most people think that angles, plumped lips and a filter tell a story. Not so much, you get a “meh” picture that people promptly forget when they move on to the next “meh” picture. The overly filtered image is just that, a poor overly filter image that doesn’t tell any story.

To have a picture worth remembering, it has to tell the story in that one frame. A beginning, a middle and an ending. You ask how in the world can you do that with a single image?   Look at the image below. We have a young girl with headphones on and some kind of book or journal in her hands and a pretty happy smile. Whats the story?  Is it a gift?  Is she listening to music? Is she sketching ?  You can fill in all kinds of blanks for this story and who’s to say its right or wrong? Does this image successfully tell a story? I think so though it is a story you can use your imagination with to a degree and that’s not a bad thing. Letting people have their own interpretation is a good thing.

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Sometimes we use a single image or sometimes we use a series of images to tell a full story vs just a point in time. Or maybe the story is complex and we want to make sure to tell it all. Or we want to set up a backstory to a key image. The cropping we use on the image or the shape can impact the story. Putting text or a graphic over the image can also help tell the story or be the story. Humans are visual so anything visual can be used to help tell it.

This image is all about the food 🙂 The story being shown talks about Oranges, sweet, tart and crepes which makes us think of a “fancy” treat. Often times we would include a few more shots about the place we are eating the treat at and we would call it a “review” which is just another way to say we are telling you a story about a fantastic dessert we had and where to find it. This is a classic case of shooting the picture to be a “certain look”. You know you are telling a food story so you want good light and you want to make the food look as appealing as possible. This will present the story of the food in the best manner. Do not forget about composition!!  Strong images tell better stories than a weak image. Use lines, angles and shapes to help anchor and set the context of the story.

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This pictures tells a very different story of it being dark, dank, cold and not well lit. This type of story will set a mood or emotion to make you wonder someone was out on a wet day in the darkness like this. People tend to have very strong reactions to dark and poorly lit situations so to see something like will get a strong reaction.  Strong colors can do the same thing but invoking a very strong emotional reaction in the viewer.

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Here is a more “documentary” type of picture. The story is much clearer for the viewer than some of the others.  We have a young woman who is obviously learning to work with electronics and is pretty proud about something she just did. These types of pictures worth so much after the fact when you view them later on. The complete story is there from who it is to what she is doing. All the stuff around her sets the context of the story. It’s not just about her, it’s about what she is doing and when.

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And sometimes the story is just a simple shot to show where you are and what you saw. When telling your story in pictures, think about the emotional impact you want to get across to your audience and which audience. If the image is for social media, it will be different than if it’s for the family.  Sometimes if you want, try to plan ahead a bit of what kind of pictures you want. Are you going to use a series of pictures or just one. Will you use different media like images and text combined? Do you want to document something or just get snapshots? There is nothing wrong with snapshots, we all have them and often times, they are some of our most precious pictures. But, if you get into the habit of thinking before you shoot and think about the story, you will get much better images each time you shoot.

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