Telling a Greater Story by Shooting Image Collections

Greater Storytelling Images by Shooting Collections

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You hit the export button and now your shot is ready for your website, blog, Facebook photography page, or an email attachment to a client. Be honest with yourself. Why is it a great image? Many photographers fall into the trap of thinking an image is stellar because of its textbook perfection. Beware. “Regular Joe” isn’t as interested in technical precision as they are the story in the frame.

Many photographers concentrate on leaving a shoot with that one glorious image. However, it is rare that a single picture is powerful enough to tell a larger story. Regardless of the technical expertise of a photograph, most people find storytelling images more captivating. Viewers want to attach themselves to a photograph and invest in a greater narrative. Considering this, you would be wise to ease up on the quest for the “money shot” and begin to devote energy to the search of multiple frames that can be pieced into a collection that relates a much more interesting overview of your subject.

In his article “Telling Stories With Photos” Digital Photography School founder Darren Rowse likens a captivating image to a short story. If you are like me, you would rather use your time for reading a whole novel, than to flirt with a short story. When your single image isn’t potent enough or you fail to capture the impressive shot you initially intended to get, shoot variations of a scene and present them as a cohesive collection. Similarly, learn to view each shoot or location as an opportunity to create a visual essay that presents a grander tale.

Possible Variations in a Collection

The following are common types of photographs included in a multiple image collection. While it is not necessary to have each type of photo in your compilation, it is important that your variations have a logical sequence and rhythm.

Setting the Scene

This is the image that creates a sense of place. The scene setter is typically a great opener for your collection. It identifies location and introduces subject matter to your audience.

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Mid-Range Shots

Pull back a bit and give more information to the viewer. Using a wider focal length includes some of the larger scene. By doing so, the collection starts to take shape and you have prepared your audience for the action of your story.

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Portraits

Most collections will have a human element. The reason why portraiture is so popular is because, as viewers of photography, we personally connect in some way to every other human. People identify with others and by including a portrait in your collection, your audience can emotionally leap into your narrative.

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Detail Shots

There is small detail in every scene that most overlook. Whether it is the trampled confetti on a dance floor or the untied lace of a child’s shoe, the magic is often captured in the minutia. Detail shots also make great transitions in a multiple image collection.

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Differentiation Shots – get outside the box

Have you ever been to a tourist hotspot and seen a clump of photographers pointing their 70-200mm lenses in the same direction, from the same height? Even after the individual photographers edit, I am willing to bet that photographs taken from the “clumps” are, you guessed it, the same. To make your photography stand out and to improve the interest of your collection, shoot variations that other photographers fail to notice.

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Action Shots

Action shots are a great way to identify what is commonly thought to be the crux of any story. However, the action shots are just the gravy on the mashed potatoes. The real story lies in the elements surrounding the action. Think about a wedding. The pinnacle of action of a wedding involves the words “I do” and a kiss. However, the best shots are captured before and after that moment. Many photographers concentrate on the action shot and are left without time or energy for anything else. My advice is to shoot every other variation first so that there is the scaffolding on which to build a larger story.

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Closing Shots

How does your story end? To finalize a collection, think about what lasting image you would like to leave with your audience. Make sure that the concluding shot offers your audience a sense of closure.

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The Greater Story

When you pack your gear for a shoot, remind yourself that a single stellar image is not always the greater story. There is photographic gold to be mined if you give yourself time and allow yourself to break from the paralyzing tunnel vision that plagues most photographers. The next time you hit the export button, make sure that you are telling a greater story by producing variations and presenting them as a collection.

Gear tip: quite often, a scene unfolds rather quickly. Whether it a sporting event, party or field trip, photographers should be at the ready to capture the larger story quickly. While many telephoto zoom lenses do not have the character of their prime lens counterparts, they are extremely useful when attempting to create a collection in a short amount of time. Try a 24-105mm (or comparable) lens to capture both the wide and tight elements needed in an effective storytelling collection.

For more on creating storytelling images read these: 

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Andrew Faulk is an educator and freelance photographer based in Seoul, South Korea. He specializes in portrait and travel photography. Andrew also serves as an adjunct instructor for Flashlight Expeditions for their Korea based photography tours.

  • Keith Starkey

    Wonderful article. Reminds me to pay attention to the bigger picture! Thanks so much.

  • I just wrote a blog post about this very subject for my company’s website. I also relate how my work as a lighting designer is similar in its storytelling aspects: http://thelightingpractice.com/blog/telling-a-story-part-1

  • Thanks Keith. I have to remind myself to pay attention to the bigger picture daily (with photography and life in general).

  • This is exactly the reason why I opened my own blog a year ago; photo sharing pages such as 500px or flickr are great to show individual, disjointed images, but if you wanna go a bit further and include storytelling and narrative into your collections, they fail to provide the necessary context. It takes a lot more time to fully connect a stream of pictures (and text) to tell a story but the rewards, in my opinion, are longer lasting and more powerful.

    By chance, I happen to have a short collection on Thai boxing, same as you; you can see it here if you want: http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2013/07/muay-thai-training-in-low-light-double.html

  • Gonzalo, I agree with you. You have perfectly explained on of the drawbacks of sharing sites (such as 500px). I really enjoyed your Muay Thai snaps. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Thank you Andrew!

  • raghavendra

    i believe the story through the pictures is more difficult than a random single shot.
    very useful tips.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/p/story-through-pictures.html

  • Thanks Raghavendra. I cannot wait to see the collections you produce!

  • Mariana Acevedo

    I just recently saw a workshop about this, where images are turned into stories. Boy the finished work in an album was absolutely priceless! Though I still have a lot to learn, I have found my style at last for when I shoot any kind of photography! Thanks for sharing!

  • Mariana, Glad you found the article helpful!

  • Matt Palmer

    I believe you can tell a Muay Thai story in one image, but it does take quite a bit of skill and it’s much more a short story than a novel as a collection could be 😉

  • Matt, I agree with you completely. Thanks for reading.

  • Allison Radford Thompson

    Very helpful. Thanks for keeping it short and sweet. It’s basic enough that I think I can remember it and hopefully USE it! 😛 Thanks.

  • Allison, glad you found the article helpful. I think that it is pretty basic too. Looking forward to seeing what you get!

  • Great post @andyfaulk:disqus. We, humans, naturally gravitate to storytellers. Storytelling is a part of our culture. I like the idea of shooting collections and telling the story with a string of images as opposed to one image.

  • Praverb, Thanks man. I agree. Rarely is one image enough…

  • Jared Lawson

    I agree this is a great example of using a theme or collection – I have done this for several shoots that have turned out fantastic . Good work, keep it up http://www.jaredlawsonphotography.com

  • Thanks for the support Jared and for sharing your website link. Your landscape work is really impressive.

  • Shawn M. Gage

    Any tips on finding source of such photography? In college it was easy since I always had an assignment for the paper, but being in a totally different field it’s a little bit more difficult.

  • Tony Cullinane

    A very well writen article. I try to incorporate storytelling in my work as a wedding photographer. The suggestion of stepping back I try to do a lot so there is a story in my photographs, not always possible in a fast moving event such as a wedding but I do my best. My site is http://tonycullinanephotography.com/ if you want to see my style. I’m always trying to improve and this article gave me food for thought, tahnk you. Tony.

  • Aayush Yadav

    This is a fantastic article, and amazing photographs too!

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