I keep writing about this because it’s important. I also keep getting asked about it because it’s hard for some people. Storytelling with a camera is – in my opinion – the highest form of photographic art. But again, it’s hard. Here are some ideas that might help you tell more stories with your camera.
1. Start with a question. Any question. When you decide what you want to photograph, ask a question about where the story and accordingly the photo will go. Will it surprise the viewer? Will it make them sad, or mad? Will it alarm them? Ask these sorts of questions. This will help to focus your efforts more quickly – pun intended.
2. Set a mood. Think about cheery, or sad, or happy or mad. Think in terms of mood. From the background, to the subject to the props, to the colors and exposure, set a mood with your photographs that helps the viewer understand what the story is all about.
3. Writers use metaphors to help give context to their stories. Photographers can use visual metaphors to accomplish the same thing. An elderly woman’s hands knitting a patriotic flag or blanket can be a metaphor for love of country or hard work or – well you get the point.
4. Set and shoot the scene and then revise. Don’t just capture the images you want from one angle – one point of view. Move around. Change it up. Revise, refine and reshoot. Make sure you have all the story’s angles covered.
5. Photograph things that help you establish what you really believe in. The more passionate and knowledgable you are about your subject, the more likely you are to be able to tell a story with your camera.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you’re still struggling with storytelling via photography try these tips and keep at it. It’s worth the struggle because the images you make will matter.
This post was inspired by something I wrote in 2009. Photographers are always trying to improve their portfolio. Here are a dozen ways to make pictures that are guaranteed to improve your portfolio.
1. Photograph the same object over all four seasons or a certain period of time and document it’s change and the changes to its surroundings.
2. Photograph something unique; something you’ve never photographed before.
3. Take a road trip where photography is the only goal.
4. Photograph something inspirational; something that makes you want to do better, be better or hope for better.
5. Photograph something that makes you smile; it will probably make someone else smile too.
6. Photograph something controversial; if it’s controversial, it will cause people to react.
7. Spend a weekend shooting with and mentoring a new photographer. Nothing inspires learning and improvement in your photography like having to teach someone else.
8. Photograph something that gives a sense of belonging; people gravitate toward tribes.
9. Photograph something that tells a story; you’ve heard the phrase “A picture is worth 1000 words?”
10. Photograph something over and over and over; the more you get to know a subject, the better you’ll be at photographing it.
11. Spend time on a personal project. Don’t shoot anything but images for that project for a week. Then select the best image from that project for your book.
12. Photograph something through a child’s eyes. Think about how a five-year-old sees the world. Shoot like that.
Improving your portfolio is not about improving your gear. It’s about improving your eye, your mind, your patience, your perseverance, your dedication, your work ethic, your desire to achieve, your ability to relate and your hope for a better result. Go out and shoot like that.
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