How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos – 4 Steps

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When we think of storytelling images, we immediately think of people doing something in a documentary type of photograph. After all, people make the most interesting stories. But landscapes have stories too.

As a landscape photographer, you can create a collection of images that tell a story about a place without having people as the main focal point in the image.

Salton Sea, California by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos

The following steps will help you pull the story out of the landscape and convey it to your viewers.

1. What is the story?

The first thing you need to do is to spend some time thinking about what exactly is the story. Often we go to a place and start making images based on compositional elements in the scene without thinking about what is important to the story first.

Salton Sea California by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

When I go to a new place, I often do a scouting trip first just to have a general look around and get a feel for it. Then I do some research to find an interesting story. If the place is a park, why is it a park? Who made it a park? What is the history? What interesting things happen there now and in the past? Do any animals live there, and if so which ones?

Once you have some background, you can pick a story to wrap your photographs around.

Egret at Salton Sea, California by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

2. The first photo shoot – using different focal lengths

Your first photo shoot will help you bring your plan together. Go back to the places that had the most photographic potential from your scouting trip and while there look for elements in the scene that relate to the story you have chosen.

I usually start out with a wide-angle image that takes in the whole scene. Often I don’t end up using this photo in the final collection, but it helps me in my process of making the collection. When you have your photo that takes in everything, think about what are the most interesting things in the scene. Try to pick at least three things and then get closer to each one of them in turn.

Gulls Flying over Pelicans by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

White pelicans by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

Example

For example, when I went to the Salton Sea in California (a stunningly beautiful location that was created as a result of a man-made disaster) one feature that is most interesting is a layer of dead fish. But how do you make a good photograph of dead fish?

I started by making an image that took in the whole scene. Then I changed lenses to use a mid-range focal length and then a long focal length from where I was standing. Then I started to get closer and closer to the dead fish looking for elements of design such as lines and shapes along the way.

Salton Sea Tilapia by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

Dead Tilapia at Salton Sea, California by Anne McKinnell - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

When I found something interesting, again I tried to use different focal lengths to see how I could convey the feeling of the place in an image.

Make sure you photograph the details of the scene as well as the overall feeling. Finally, when you find a really interesting detail, get really close to it using your wide-angle lens so you have an image with an interesting detail in the foreground that also takes the whole scene into the frame.

3. The second shoot – using the best light

The next step is to pick out your favorite images from your first shoot and think about what kind of light could make them better. Is there a subject with a great shape that would make an interesting silhouette? Is it transparent and might glow with some backlight?

Would it create interesting shadows at a certain time of day? Would it look best with warm light during the golden hour? Does it need a dramatic sky?

Sunset at Corvina Beach, Salton Sea, California - How to Make Storytelling Landscape Photos - 4 Steps

Whatever it is, plan to revisit the location when you have the best chance of getting the conditions you need to make your ideal shot. You may need to go back a number of times, if possible before you get all the shots you want.

4. Putting it together

Whether you are putting the images into a collection display on your wall, using them in a blog post, displaying them on your website, selling them to a magazine (along with your story of course), or simply showing your friends. Having an interesting set of images that are storytelling will always create a larger impact than random photos of a place that are not connected.

Salton Sea Collage by Anne McKinnell

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Anne McKinnell

is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems.

You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • Robert Carter

    Some truly interesting work on display here, Anne . . . outstanding article and work.

  • These are actually eye-opening tips. Thank you for that!

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  • Doug

    Thanks for this…and the pictures are really nice.

  • Koos Franken

    Excellent tips. Thanks so much

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