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  • Dolly Darbar

Storytelling Through Photography

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Apart from the composition and lighting, what is the other thing that draws viewers into the frame and makes them think deeper? It’s the storytelling elements in your picture. Storytelling is one of the important aspects of photography. But do your pictures tell a story?

PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERTO BERNASCONI, MUSEI VATICANI- “Meet the man with keys to the Vatican”

Source- National Geographic

In simple words, a storytelling photograph must show what the story is about. This can be chronological as a series of photographs, where the images are ordered in a specific way or a single photograph sometimes. A storytelling photograph invokes emotions, inspires people, sends an important message, or shows an idea. The purpose of photography is to say something and this is perfectly justified by the phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words, however, this doesn’t mean all photographs narrate a story. In photography, visual storytelling is often called a ‘photo essay’ or ‘photo story’. Through storytelling photographs, the photographer creates enough room and inspiration for the viewer to be involved himself.

So how do you come up with good storytelling photographs?

Context is one of the important elements of storytelling. Context is how the photographer frames his subject and that is why it's important to understand the subject and decide on what visual elements will help tell the story. Photograph your subject from different angles like back, front, near, far away. Include small details in the frame to tell a story - a person’s story is in the details. Experiment with the background to bring out the correct mood and relationship between the subject and the background. One of the key aspects in series of shots is variety, trying to shoot your subject in different focal lengths settings- portraits, wide-angle shots, shots from up high, down low, action shots, zoomed-in detail. Try to include more than one storytelling element in your photographs, as that will help the viewer to understand your image better. Emotions are an important part of the storytelling. Focus equally on composition and lighting. The theme of the photos is very important as it helps to convey the right message. The theme can be objects, colors, styles, etc. In the end, take lots of photos and review each photo while you are in the field because that’s where you can be your creative best.

Brian Sokol’s image of a cyclone victim is full of stories. We share context with this man, we share a known set of variables. We may not know the particulars, but we know what has happened. That is the story.



Here are some more tips to get you started and will help you come with focused stories.

  • Find your story

Ask yourself what will be your idea? What will be the story? By doing so, you will get a clear idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. Take your time to plan out the details of the story. Think about the message you want to convey through your pictures. By answering the above questions you have higher chances of capturing a strong picture.

  • Plan your story

Planning is everything. You must plan ahead to visualize the story and move in the right direction. This includes researching the topic, planning your shots, etc. Think about the ideas for specific shots, angles, people that you might include in the frame. What props, gear, other accessories will you be needing to do your job? Think about the types of images you want to include in your film? When and where are you going to shoot your narrative? By doing so you add practical value to planning your shoot ahead.

  • Narrative structures

In narrative structures, one should consider the beginning, middle, and end. A series of pictures can show storytelling by following a chronological narrative structure. Include a few elements to support your narrative. The beginning of the photo story is considered an establishment shot and should leave the viewer wanting more. It could be the introduction to an important character in the story. Try to include a few details about the person in the frame. The middle shot is the main narrative and your viewer learns more. Actions shots, detailed images combined tell your story. The ending or conclusion of the story is as important as the beginning. It is basically what impression you want your viewer to have of the story.

  • Theme

A theme helps to bring visual consistency to the story. Consider visual themes like the color scheme(warm vs cool colors, complementary colors), shape, objects, etc and stylistic themes like black & white, etc.

  • Take a stronger picture with powerful emotions

Emotions can be included in the story in ways such as expression, colors, props, and body language. The storytelling pictures should have an emotional impact on the viewers. The images can contain any human figure, landscape, or abstract visuals. The chronology of the series of pictures should be decided on the intentional layers of meaning.

Share your thoughts on storytelling photography in the comments below.

PHOTOGRAPH BY WILLIAM DANIELS- ‘‘It’s eerie’: Capturing the emptiness of Paris, a city under lockdown.

Source- National Geographic

1 Comment

Dec 17, 2023

This is awesome 😊. Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing, I learnt a lot from it.

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