The holiday season is in full swing and for many of us it is a time to spend with friends and family, some of whom we may not get to see often. Is it great to have that group shot of long lost friends or 3 generations of family in one frame? YES! But why not test your skills this year at telling a photographic story. Follow these simple steps to communicate just how beautiful, exciting, or sentimental your time was spent over the holidays. Doing so just might jog those memories ever more clearly in the years to come and leave you with something to always cherish.
A good way to start is by considering what your story or angle will be before you even pick up a camera. Plan ahead the shots which will be most critical, whether they are portraits or wide angle landscapes, that best tell your story. Having a loosely memorized shot list will increase your chances of capturing those key moments as they arise, since there will be many distractions while you shoot.
Follow the Same Rules as Writing
Whether you are blogging, sharing on social media, making a scrapbook, or submitting for publication your viewers will need to understand the context of your pictures. As you shoot, remember the who, what, when, where, and why. Your goal is to explain to viewers the reasons for your subject’s actions.
Variety is the Spice of Life
To tell a bigger more compelling story, shoot the subject or event from a range of viewpoints. Understanding beforehand how you would like your photographs to be read will enable you to capture a dynamic story. When you are first starting, it’s recommended to follow the same guide as for writing: introduction, body, and conclusion.
A good cover photo will be one that draws your viewers in and compels them to look deeper. It will most likely be your most powerful image, encompassing an overview of your story with strong visual interest.
Next, you will need a shot that will lay the foundation for your story. Most typically this a shot that sets the scene by portraying a sense of place, or the environment where the story takes place.
Detail photos are generally shot close-up and act as vignettes to the larger story being told. Their purpose is to engage your viewers by offering them a more personal perspective. Capture several details and arrange them throughout your story to create a nice flow of information.
The portrait shot is critical – viewers are more likely to relate to the story being told when you give it a face. The portraits can be a traditional style, composed tightly around the subject, or something more environmental depending on the intention of your story.
Peppering your story with photos that candidly capture your subject involved in an action, whether emotional or physical, will add dimension and relevance to your work. It is an opportunity for viewers to gain insight and appreciation for the chronicle of events. Having this kind of shot can also act as a needed pause to your story and break up any repetitiveness of portrait and detail shots.
The final shot is your chance to conclude the pictures previously viewed. You will want to end with something definitive that works with the entire body of work and leaves your viewers with the content they need to understand your point of view.
Layers of Information
Taking advantage of repeating patterns, lines, and colors that run through the majority of your images will help when sequencing your story. This technique will naturally guide the viewer’s eye and act as a secondary layer of less obvious storytelling.
To continue on this ebb and flow idea that makes for a successful photographic narrative, be sure to have a mixture of horizontal and vertical images shot at varying focal distances. To keep things simple, shooting with a 24-70mm lens on a full frame body will allow you to compose wide angle shots as well as portrait styles, while a 70-200mm lens will help you capture more candid moments because people may not realize you are actually photographing them from the distance you are at. If you have a crop sensor body, Nikon and Canon’s 17-55mm f/2.8 lenses, as well as the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 are great choices to capture a variety of images without having to swap lenses. The mirrorless Fuji X-Pro1 and Sony’s new a7S are great for inconspicuous shooting and pack a punch with their low light capabilities and variety of interchangeable lenses.
Telling a story with pictures can be a great outlet for creativity and can set your photos apart from the less intentional photos being taken over the holidays. To put your best foot forward, have a game plan before you take the plunge. Knowing the point of view you are hoping to tell and the kind of emotion you would like to emote will help you immensely while shooting. Be sure not to shoot from the same angle or focal distance unless it is intentionally part of the theme. While shooting, try to shoot different aspects of the subject or event that will act as your beginning, middle, and end when you are sequencing afterwards. Lastly, recognize any repeating patterns or colors in your work that can aid in your visual storytelling and be a cohesive element to the story at large. As for most things artistic, there are several ways to accomplish great visual narratives. Be sure to share your tips and tricks in the comments below as well as links to your own stories – we would love to see them!