Copyright Scott Bourne 1997 - All Rights Reserved

I’ve been trying to mix in some posts now and then that relate to storytelling as opposed to picture taking. The great photographers of our time are all good storytellers. But this word storytellers stumps or scares some of you. You’re looking for a definition you can apply to photography.

It’s not quite that easy, but if you first understand it from a writer’s point of view, you might get further and faster down the track.

Take a look at what American author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and film director David Mamet has to say about storytelling. – (Caution R-rated language.)

Mamet stresses drama over information. And this is the crux of the difference between great photographs and picture postcards.

If there’s tension in a photo – if it pulls in the viewer – if there is some sort of hook – if it evokes an emotional response – if it causes the viewer to ask questions – then it’s probably succeeding as a story.

If it’s merely pretty – it’s probably boring by comparison.

Mamet says that if you are going to be successful as a story teller, you have to cause the audience to be curious about what happens next. He says that the push/pull between revealing too much or too little information is the crux of storytelling. To move that into the photographic realm, we need to remember the old John Shaw saying. “The difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is knowing what NOT to include in the photo.”

When I critique photos, one of my typical complaints is that the photo includes too much. Too many potential subjects. Distractions in the background. Competing colors. Collisions of light, etc.

Start simplifying and start telling the simplest story you can. Introduce conflict, tension and movement. Leave the audience trying to figure out what’s going on. THEN you’ll have a winning photo.


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