Rocky Nook Visual storytelling from the Enthusiast's Guide to Travel Photography
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Rocky Nook

The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel: Explore visual storytelling

The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel by Jordana Wright and published by Rocky Nook talks about storytelling in this excerpt.

Visual storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication in human history. Images transcend language and time by providing perspective and narrative in a clear and universally accessible way. Today, we see visual storytelling so often in advertising campaigns because images remain the most influential, impactful, and concise method of spreading ideas. Consider the failures in the beginning of infomercials. Remember those pathetic, struggling “Does this happen to you?” slobs, followed by the obvious problem-solving product? That’s visual storytelling in all its glory. Advertisers know you’re much more likely to buy a Slap Chop if you identify with the guy who severed his fingers chopping carrots.

Artists and writers are taught to show rather than tell because humans believe and relate to what we see plainly. A strong photograph or sequence will sell an idea more quickly and convincingly than paragraphs of profound explanation.

Creating thousand-word pictures

By now you’ve heard it said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and that is certainly true some of the time. We’ve all experienced those thousand-word images: successful photographs that draw us in, instantly telling us what exactly is happening and why. These images engage us, make us feel, and maybe even cause us to question our beliefs or investigate new perspectives. Picture Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous V-Day photo of a sailor and nurse sharing a celebratory kiss. That photograph embodies a simultaneous sense of proud success, joy, excitement, and relief. Such images speak to us instantaneously, but not all images are so effective. Less substantive photographs are closer to a sentence fragment than a thousand-word manifesto. They might catch our eye initially but provide very little to keep our attention or inspire any thought at all. By examining and recognizing these kinds of distinctions in the images of others, you’ll begin to think more like a visual storyteller yourself.

Feature and “fragment” photos

Cork Harvester, Extremadura, Spain ISO 100; 1/200 sec.; f/4.5; 33mm
A Spanish cork harvester. This photo is a an overview of the story.
1/200 sec. f/4.5 ISO 100 33mm
A tractor following the cork harvester is the story’s feature.
1/200 sec. f/5.0 ISO 100 35mm

So how do you deliberately infuse visual storytelling into your travel photography? Start by considering that not every photograph from your travels needs to be worth a thousand words. Look at any travel magazine and you’ll see that there are often one or two main images per article that convey the most information or emotion while other “fragment” photos provide additional context and support. The first step of creating compelling travel photography is to understand what makes those thousand-word photos so special and effective. Take, for example, the photo above and the one below it which show a Spanish cork harvester in the midst of his work. Because they are active images depicting the process of harvesting cork, they provide much more story and intrigue.

Harvested cork is a visual fragment that supports the story.
1/125 sec. f/5.6 ISO 125 33mm
A Spanish cork harvester. This photo is a fragment of the story.
1/6 sec. f/5.0 ISO 125 17mm

Finding inspiration

To rejuvenate and inspire my vision as a travel photographer, I always look at the work of photographers I admire. Try visiting a few travel websites or perusing travel magazines and create a Travel Photography Morgue—a term used in design to describe a digital or physical collection of images that inspire you. Collect the images that speak to you. Try to find photographs that offer compelling perspectives and techniques you hadn’t considered. Look for images that work together to tell a story. Look for single images that tell a clear thousand-word story on their own. By becoming deeply familiar with the photographs in your morgue, you’ll develop a clearer sense of effective visual storytelling and what appeals to you as an artist. As you travel, practice creating those thousand-word photos by asking yourself when you approach a scene, “What’s going on here?” What is the first thing that strikes you? What attracts you to the scene visually or compels you to compose a shot of it in the first place? Will the image tell a human story? An environmental story? By identifying the scene’s meaning from your perspective, you’ll be better prepared to represent that scene for your viewer. Soon you’ll feel confident in seeking out and capturing thousand-word moments that are not only beautiful but provide deeper connections for your viewers as you travel the globe.

Travel photography is hard work. This series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel Photography” by Jordana Wright is published by Rocky Nook.

See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.

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