How to Tell a Story with Your Photographs


We all strive to sculpt a lasting image – a shot so powerful that it entrances viewers forcing them to have a close affinity with the photograph.  But what makes a lasting photograph? What makes a photograph truly stand out?  Is it merely a group of elements shot with skilled techniques?

No, a lasting image is holistic, it sends a strong message when it tells a thought-provoking, emotional story.  So how do you do that?  Next time you go out to shoot, consider incorporating some of the tips below into your photographic routine.

Peter Guttman

Talk to Yourself – Before you lift up your camera to shoot, ask yourself the following questions. What do you want to say? What emotions are you trying to capture? What is your ultimate message? When you go through a checklist like this, it makes it easier to know how to approach any situation.

Get Closer to Your Subject – Every face has the potential to tell a unique story and the power to reveal a person’s past or expose their deepest emotions. In portraiture, getting closer allows for an intimate view into your subject. You can unveil another person’s world for everyone else to see.

Chase Guttman

Background can tell a story of its own – Often your photographic story needs context (why do you think writers include introductions?).  This is where clever backdrops come in. Backgrounds can add a sense of place to your image which is how they enhance your photographic story telling.

For instance, if you're photographing the face of a rice farmer, including the terrace fields behind them will add depth to your narrative. At the same time, be aware of elements that can potentially distract from your message (like someone wearing a New York Yankees shirt in the middle of locals in native dress) and frame accordingly. Choose wisely, and your background can become another weapon in your visual arsenal.

Peter Guttman
Peter Guttman

Emotions engage – Emotions are powerful.  Capturing authentic emotions is the key to stellar photographic storytelling.  They reveal new perspectives and enable the photographer to convey the most engaging message of all.

Chase Guttman

Stay candid – Always allow room for spontaneity and the chance to capture surprising moments.  By being unobtrusive, you can catch subjects behaving more naturally which will enable you to depict them in their truest light.  When you see how people work and live, you can truly understand and more artfully capture their essence.

Chase Guttman
adorable beautiful blur candid
Daria Shevtsova

Take your time – The more time you spend with your subject, the more opportunities you have to better tell their story and the more possibilities you have to shoot.  Remember, the more you shoot, the more likely you are to create a winner.

Capture the doing- Actions help generate a narrative.  Go to where the action is – like local markets, sporting events, festivals and shoot the every day events and labors that define people.  These allow endless opportunities to tell a good story.

Chase Guttman
Chase Guttman

Strong storytelling is part preparation, part perspiration, and all about getting to the essence of your subject.  So, next time you set out to capture a moment,  bring along these tips.

Chase Guttman is an award-winning photographer and a regular writer for Light Stalking. Check out his site or visit his photo tips blog.

About Author

Chase Guttman is an award-winning travel photographer, whose love for travel and adventure has allowed him to photograph his experiences in over 40 countries. You can reach him on his website.

Good article, as usual.

Coming from a narrative filmmaking background, storytelling is an intrinsic part of my photography as well. My fashion shoots are usually based on a concept / loose storyline. Without it, I am lost and struggle for inspiration.

Great article, Chase. Toni and Mark said everything I wanted to say so accurately. I really like the self-talk tip. Knowing what we want to say is the first step to understanding how to say it well. Thanks.

Suggestions to live by! Love it especially the self talk bit. I sometime do it out loud and it makes my subject wonder what the heck I’m talking about.

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